Nebraska head coach Mike Riley offered an injury update Thursday after practice, and outside linebacker Luke Gifford remains sidelined with a hip injury.
The starter missed the Huskers’ last game against Purdue as well, and though Riley said the injury doesn’t appear to be serious, Gifford will miss a second straight game. Riley did not provide an update on Gifford’s backup, sophomore Tyrin Ferguson, who also missed the last game, leaving Marcus Newby as the presumed starter once again.
Right tackle David Knevel (ankle/foot), safety Aaron Williams (neck) and safety Antonio Reed (knee) all went through practice in some form or fashion this week and Riley said he expects all three to be available on Saturday.
“Aaron Williams has practiced for the first time today, on Thursday, and will be available,” he said. “Not necessarily full time, but will be available probably to play if everything went well today, and I haven’t heard yet.”
Reed has “practiced some” during the week and Riley said they “anticipate him being able to play some role” on Saturday.
As for Knevel, Riley said he has gone through multiple practices this week but true freshman Brenden Jaimes will remain the starter at right tackle.
True freshman tailback Jaylin Bradley, who had his best game of the season against Purdue last Saturday with 42 yards rushing on seven carries and 31 yards receiving on three catches, is nursing an ankle injury sustained during the game.
“[The ankle] hasn’t responded very well,” Riley said. “He hasn’t done anything yet. That’s too bad.”
Riley said “we’ll see” when asked if Bradley’s lack of practice time so far would rule him out for Saturday, adding that “perhaps he could be an emergency guy.” Bradley’s absence would leave juniors Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon as the only two scholarship options in the Husker backfield.
Cornerback Eric Lee Jr. is still going through the Huskers’ concussion protocol.
The Huskers have one day of practice left before they face Northwestern at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Other news and notes
>> The Nebraska running game has been sporadic, at best, this season, but Riley said he still thinks the Huskers have “capable runners.” They just need to do a better job of “playing around them and supporting them by good blocking and good blocking schemes.”
>> The buzz word coming out of the Husker locker room following the come-from-behind victory over Purdue was “springboard,” but Riley said Thursday he didn’t really feel a change in his team’s preparation this week following the win.
“I think this team has been consistently a fun team to coach this year, week to week, so I don’t want to make anything up,” he said. “I think they did obviously enjoy finding a way to win that game but it’s not been a lot different. The preparation has again been good. Now we’ve got to put it into the game.”
>> Riley said he thought his team has done well against up-tempo teams this season in terms of how they communicate on defense.
“As I hear the defensive communication and communicate with them during the game, I really like that communication and how it’s called and how the players get it,” he said. “I think most of the time we’ve been in pretty good shape when the ball is snapped.”
>> Due to attrition at the linebacker spot, freshman linebacker Collin Miller played significant minutes for the first time all season against Purdue.
“I’ve got real high expectations for him and I’m glad he’s playing more,” Riley said. “He’s done a nice job on special teams and he’s starting to do more on defense.”
Miller isn’t the only first-year player that saw extended run against Purdue. At one point in the second half, Nebraska had five freshmen on the field on offense at the same time. That growth and experience is encouraging to Riley.
“It’s good and they’ve kind of earned those stripes a little bit,” he said.
>> With center Michael Decker going down for the season and starting right guard Tanner Farmer also being lost for an extended period of time, Nebraska had to once again shuffle its offensive line this past week in practice.
Junior Cole Conrad, who began the season as the starting center, will once again be the man in the middle and redshirt freshman Matt Farniok will slide over from tackle to guard to fill Farmer’s vacant spot. It will be the fifth different five-man grouping the Huskers have used up front this season and Riley feels the extra week of preparation will be a benefit to that group as they try to build some chemistry together.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.