Nebraska Football

Riley Defends his Defense, Talks Diaco Talking and More

September 4, 2017
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In case you missed Brandon Vogel’s column following the Huskers’ 43-36 win over Arkansas State Saturday night, head coach Mike Riley essentially said the exact same thing Monday morning when asked about the Huskers' defensive showing in their season opener.

“[Arkansas State] had yardage, and we anticipated a lot of what they were going to try to do and they did it well,” Riley said.

Arkansas State racked up 497 yards of total offense Saturday, including 68 pass attempts for 415 yards. As Riley pointed out though, the Red Wolves only had five truly explosive plays. The longest run was a 14-yarder, and the longest pass (29 yards) came by way of a busted coverage. Most of the damage was done through the air, but Riley and the coaching staff expected that from the spread offense.

“They’re going to get some yardage with a style like that but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to get the points needed to win,” Riley said. “It’s not going to be so much about yardage and how that fits, it’s really about points.”

And for the most part, the Huskers defense didn’t surrender points easily. There were just mental mistakes that Riley says they need to avoid in the future. There was the kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter and the safety in the second quarter. “We don’t need to just give them nine points,” Riley said.

Riley wasn’t pleased with the punt return, but he saw it coming. He said anytime there’s a muffed punt, the coverage team collapses, instead of staying in its lanes, and guys get the chance to break free. That’s exactly what happened on Blaise Taylor's 63-yard return. He wasn’t happy about the late hit out of bounds on the ensuing punt after the safety, and he wasn’t happy about the personal foul on safety Antonio Reed on the Red Wolves’ final possession of the game.

“We hurt ourselves," he said. “We anticipated a hard game in the fashion that you saw. This team is a good football team with all those parts.”

Other news and notes

>> Senior wideout De’Mornay Pierson-El will not practice Monday while dealing with a shoulder injury.

“We’re hopeful that he can do some stuff tomorrow,” Riley said. “It’s going to be one of those things that we do not anticipate him, as the week progresses, missing the game.”

Pierson-El had two catches for 20 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s game, as well as two runs for another 23 yards. Linebacker Marcus Newby will also sit out Monday with a hamstring injury, but it, also, doesn’t appear serious.

“We hope he can do some stuff tomorrow,” Riley said.

>> Sophomore tailback Tre Bryant got almost every carry Saturday, 31 of 38 in total, and Riley said that was a difficult decision to make.

Aaron Babcock
RB Tre Bryant on one of this 31 carries from Saturday's win over Arkansas State.

“The decision to do what we did with Tre Bryant was hard because we had good competition, but we decided not to overcook it and complicate it with different substitutions,” he said. “Mikale WIlbon didn’t play a lot but he still went in and scored a touchdown, so we feel confident in that. And Devine, I think, is probably playing his best ball. We have three better backs than we did a year ago, they just happen to be the same guys and that’s okay.”

Riley was pleased with the production from the running game though, adding that Nebraska was able to sustain drives and stay on schedule. He was happy with the balance that the offense displayed, 225 rushing yards and 238 passing yards, and said that always gives them “a great chance to win.”

Bryant, however, will get a few days off this week to rest a swollen knee. Riley said it’s nothing serious, and an issue that Bryant has been dealing with off and on while with the Huskers.

>> Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco ducking the media after Saturday’s game was more miscommunication than anything else, Riley said Monday.

“His thoughts were that it would be great after a ball game for one voice, giving him time to watch the film and then review it with you guys,” Riley said. “It was a discussion we had and frankly it was my fault because I never revisited that conversation with him.”

Riley said that conversation happened a few weeks before the season opener, but Riley forgot to revisit with Diaco and finalize anything. The two were simply on different pages when the game ended and Diaco left.

“That was what I think was a pretty innocent thing that turned into a bigger thing,” Riley said.

Diaco is expected to meet with the media after practice Monday evening as well as after games moving forward.

>> The Huskers have been working against a 3-4 defense all of fall camp, and after facing a 4-3 front from Arkansas State, will be back to a 3-4 look from the Oregon Ducks this upcoming Saturday.

Riley is hoping Nebraska’s familiarity will help in preparation.

Aaron Babcock
The 3-4 front Oregon ran last year should feel more familiar to the Huskers this time around.

“We hope that having worked against the 3-4 in practice so much that that will be helpful,” he said. “There’s no guarantee but now I think it’s a better transition than playing against the 4-3 all the time and then going by week getting ready for the 3-4.”

Riley also knows his team will need to be better when facing Oregon. Partially because the Ducks “got off to a great start” with a 77-21 win in their season opener, but also because Riley remembers just how loud it can get in Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.

“It’s one of the great, tough environments that I coached in,” he said. “The stadium for whatever reason, the way it’s built is one of the five top noisiest stadiums that I’ve ever coached in.”

Riley said they’ve been working to simulate the noise the Huskers will face on Saturday as well as working on silent cadences to try and prepare.

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