Monday Rewind: Huskers 'Should Be Hungry'
Mike Riley wasted no time in reviewing footage of his Nebraska football team’s 42-35 loss to Oregon on Saturday.
Riley pulled out his laptop and watched the game on the team’s charter flight home to Lincoln.
No, the result hadn’t changed.
Nebraska still fell behind 42-14 at halftime while surrendering 409 yards.
The Huskers still rallied in the second half with the help of seven straight defensive stops, including two forced turnovers.
And they still fell short, the defeat sealed with their fourth turnover of the game.
Video doesn’t lie.
“It is really disappointing,” Riley told reporters at his weekly news conference Monday at Memorial Stadium. “It really feels like a lost opportunity. It was just a disappointing game.”
Riley had entered the room with his usual smile and greeted people with pleasantries while he grabbed his cup of Pepsi.
But over the next 30 minutes or so, the third-year Nebraska coach began showing more frustration and emotion over a defeat like he never had shown before in Lincoln.
“We should be so hungry to practice today,” Riley said. “When they look at that video, if they haven’t yet, they should just be sick, and they should want to get out there and work to be better than that.
“I don’t care if we’re playing the Green Bay Packers or whatever, it should be about us knowing we can be better.”
Nebraska’s next opponent, for the record, is Northern Illinois on Saturday in Lincoln. Kickoff is 11:05 a.m. on FS1.
The Huskies are basically the third version of the same spread offense the Huskers have played, and Riley is hopeful his team has learned a thing or two through the first two weeks of the season, and can put it to the test in Nebraska’s nonconference finale.
“I just think we all can get more from what we do,” Riley said.
Riley is hopeful sophomore running back Tre Bryant will return to practice by Wednesday and be ready to play Saturday.
Bryant left the Oregon game after the first play of the fourth quarter and didn’t return after running 20 times for 107 yards. Two trainers carried him off the field as Bryant winced in pain.
Riley offered mostly good news Monday, though, in that Bryant, who’s had a bothersome knee ever since arriving in Lincoln, sustained no new or further injury.
“We’ll see what he’s like Tuesday and Wednesday and be able to make a better decision about him playing this week no later than before Wednesday’s practice,” Riley said.
At that point, coaches will need to go “one way or another” with Bryant, who’s rushed for 299 yards in two games, the most by a Nebraska running back in the first two games of a season since 2007, when Marlon Lucky rushed for 323 yards.
Coaches had been keeping an eye on Bryant’s knee throughout fall camp.
“It’s just kind of who he is,” Riley said, joking how Bryant’s knee is older than his age. “So we are aware of that, and we have, from the beginning of camp, managed Tre in a way that we don’t overwork him. That thing in the game, the way he was bent, he aggravated it. But there was no new injury where something else happened."
Who’s Behind Bryant?
If Bryant sits out the Northern Illinois game, every running back on the current depth chart will move up a notch, Riley said – junior Mikale Wilbon to No. 1, junior Devine Ozigbo to No. 2 and true freshman Jaylin Bradley to No. 3.
Neither Ozigbo nor Bradley has taken a snap at running back this season. If fact, Bradley hasn’t played, period, but Riley backed up his August statement of saying Bradley would not redshirt by saying Monday “we’re going to get Jaylin Bradley going."
Bradley, a graduate of Bellevue West High School, will move to special teams and play against Northern Illinois, Riley said, and will also train as one of the running backs this week.
So, where does that leave Ozigbo?
Nebraska’s third-leading rusher last season, with 412 yards, hasn’t had a carry through two games, a topic Riley addressed.
“I think it’s really hard for Devine,” he said. “Devine cares a lot, and I think that it is one of those times that our advice to him is continue to work, just like I would do for any player that gets in this situation.”
Ozigbo last season ran 76 times for 318 yards through the first five games of the season before suffering an ankle injury. He played in six of Nebraska’s final eight games, with 21 carries for 94 yards, including a 42-yard against Tennessee in the bowl game.
“It’s hard. He has played, he’s a good player, he’s worked hard, he has gotten better,” Riley said, “and so has everybody else, and we made a decision. It’s outside of anything he can do about it; it’s what we decided to do, so what are you going to do? Are you going to pout? How are you going to handle it?
“If you pout, then when your chance comes, chances are you won’t be ready because you’ve been thinking about this instead of getting ready for that. So it’s one of those hard things in life. We acknowledge, I know, it’s hard, because he cares, he works hard, and he’s a great guy.”
Other Injury Updates
While Bryant is hopeful to return this week, two other Huskers won’t likely play against Northern Illinois.
Senior safety Joshua Kalu (hamstring) and senior tackle David Knevel (ankle/foot) are both doubtful for the game, Riley said. Knevel, who missed the Oregon game, will be listed week-to-week for the time being.
The good news is that Knevel’s replacement at right tackle, redshirted freshman Matt Farniok, performed well in his first career start, in Riley’s eyes. Farniok, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, became the sixth Husker to make his first career start this season.
Quick Look at the Huskies
Northern Illinois comes to Lincoln with a 1-1 record and will be playing in its first road game of the season.
The Huskies, coached by Rod Carey, defeated Eastern Illinois 38-10 last week after losing at home to Boston College 23-20, a game in which Northern Illinois’ game-tying field goal attempt with 21 seconds remaining hit the crossbar.
Of note, Chad Beebe, the son of former Buffalo Bills and Chadron State receiver Don Beebe, is the Huskies’ leading receiver through two games with 10 catches for 25 yards. He’s also the team’s top punt returner.
“He is gutsy, tough, quick, good football player,” Riley said. “Their tailbacks are good, tough runners.”
The Northern Illinois offense will be similar to what the Huskers have already defended in games against Arkansas State and Oregon.
“They were probably more of what you’d call a pro-style offense a year ago,” Riley said. “But they’ve gone to a lot of spread stuff, with the fly-sweep, with the run off of the fly-sweep, with the quarterback run off of the fly sweep, with the faking all of that, and then throwing in what we’ve been getting a dose of all week – the bubble screen, smoke routes to the outside receivers.
“It looks like some more of that.”
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.