Pre Penn State Press Conference - Mike Riley

By NU Athletic Communications

Nebraska Football
Weekly Press Conference
Monday, Nov. 13, 2017
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Pre-Penn State

Head Coach Mike Riley
Opening Statement
“Obviously a very disappointing weekend. I fully understand whatever those differing thoughts and opinions might be. We’ve got ourselves a situation where he have a big, big job ahead and absolutely doing everything we can to prepare our team for the next game. That’s what’s looming in front of us and our coaches right now are focused on our team and being with our groups, focusing on real things that can help them as I’ve mentioned before and continuing to recruit. So that’s kind of our job description anyway, and everything you want to be coaching right now is right out there in front of you as far as all the parts. So that’s what we absolutely have to do is put a plan together and have a good start to the week today as we begin with our team later this afternoon and get ready to go. That’s actually the one part that remains constant in our life and how we approach it. The players need our support and coaching with every bit of passion and preparation that we can have. That’s where we have to go. If you want a quick summary of the last game, all you have to do is look at the rushing statistics and the explosive plays and those things kind of tell the story.

Our injury situation, we’ve kind of reached a point with Luke Gifford where it was decided that the best thing for him would be to have surgery this week and begin his process of getting ready and better for his next go in the future, so that’s what will happen with Luke. Connor Young hurt his ankle, had a high ankle sprain and will be out for the game. Tanner Lee is in concussion protocol at this time, so as you know that’s a process that we go through day-to-day and that’s where he is. Eric Lee has remained in that concussion protocol. Connor Ketter is possible this week. We’ll see how his back gets as the week goes on. Jaylin Bradley should be more ready to go. I think he was pretty close for the game, probably could have played in the game, but he should be ready to go. Mick Stoltenberg has had a little bit of a knee problem but we anticipate him being okay. Chris Weber has had that neck, came in and out of the game a little bit, but he should be ready to go. Dedrick Young has had a lower back issue and we are hoping that he is going to be ready to go.

I think you all know Penn State is a very good football team all around. Great runner, they’re very versatile. I really like the quarterback. I think he’s a great fit for what they do and their defense is physical, lots of movement, it’s a good defense. So we’ll have our work cut out for us for sure.

On reps between Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien
“I think that with the protocol you go through there won’t even be early on in the sequencing, he (Tanner Lee) won’t get any reps. Obviously he’s played a lot and a decision about him can be made later when cleared if in time. But at the same time we are today practicing Patrick O’Brien as if he’s going to start and that’s because Tanner won’t be able to do anything. (Andrew) Bunch is No. 2, he’ll step in to the No. 2 quarterback.”

On if he rules out Tanner Lee for the Penn State game Saturday
“I don’t rule him in or out right now. He’s in that protocol, you know how that goes. That’s a day-to-day thing that only the medical people will come back and say if and when he’s cleared to play. The timeline on it, I don’t know.”

On his impression of redshirt freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien in the second half of the Minnesota game
“I was proud of Patrick, actually, his first significant time. It’s a horrible time to have to play in the game where you’re just passing almost all the time. They’re teeing off on blitzes and rushes so they get pressure. I thought he hung in there and made some beautiful throws and appeared to have a lot of poise as he played so I was impressed with that. I think everybody can see he’s got a big-time arm and can make some of those good throws. He actually showed good mobility getting out of the pocket for the first down or two. I was proud of him in that way.”

On Tanner Lee’s concussion
“A guy kind of fell on his head. First half, it was right before halftime.”

On injured players
“I don’t want to make too much of it because it’s all individual and we’re all disappointed when guys get hurt. It’s hard and it’s hard on the team and it gets amplified when you talk about losses. Knowing as a coach that you need every available person that you can to help win a game, but at the same time in different circumstances we would probably appear, I don’t know, somewhat normal. In some of these I’ve mentioned are kind of post-game things that guys go in for. Nick’s [Gates] got that knee historically so it’s aggravated a little bit so I think he’s going to be alright. Dedrick’s [Young] has got a bad back for a while, but he’s played and will probably play again. Chris Weber has had his finger. I just mention them because they’re getting treatment. You might see guys with a few less turns and wonder what’s going on. Aaron [Williams] I think will practice today and if everything goes well through the week, his is deal is what happens on the first contact. So we’ll try to help him with that when we get into full gear later on and see how he responds, if he responds favorably, that will be good.”

On areas of improvement for defense
“There are two things in general we [need to work on]. One of them, for sure, we missed some plays. We had opportunities to sometimes make a tackle and didn’t make the tackle. Then on some of them, we were committed with a lot of people to stop the short yardage for instance. One guy misses a tackle, there’s not going much left as you guys saw. You got to make plays. That was part of it. The other part of it, you know we got beat on two speed options, and it was basically about getting reached. When you have a certain responsibility and the guy is blocking you, you’ve got to stay on the right edge, otherwise the perimeter play that you are susceptible to. Both parts are technically. One of them is defeating the blocker. The other one is making a play, making the tackle.”

On helping players
“My first thought when I get that question after a loss is I don’t think of our team that way. I don’t want to be blind to it either, I think the way the season has gone when you open the game with a kickoff like that, and there might be some fragile parts that might be more nerves than it is desire. I can’t put a tangible thing down and say this it. Like I said, I really don’t want to think of our guys as not giving the right effort. I believe they can and I believe in our players. My first reaction is look at the film, how can we help these guys.”

On responsibility
“There’s lots of parts to the preparation. The coaches’ responsibility is the enthusiasm for the preparation and …. motivation and exciting for anybody that’s learning anything. Even if it’s a history teacher walking into a room, if they’re engaged with what they are talking about, it’s important how the students are going to listen so I think that those are parts. The other part is getting a good, real practice where you know that you get a feel for what’s going to happen in a game and you build confidence through the week. That’s what’s disappointing as a coach, when you have all of us come basically when it comes to pass. I know people are working at it and when it’s not working, you got to go back and say why? In the meantime, we’ve got to maintain a deal where we’re accepting responsibility, nobody is playing the blame game. I’m not making excuses about it. It’s what happened. We’ve got to help the players, help the team and all those parts. When I say that about all of those parts, it’s what you can come out and make use of it when times are hard and you got a team that hasn’t achieved what they had hoped to, wanted to up to this point then you’ve got a lot to do.”

On player growth
“Here we are, we have some young guys playing in the game so there’s no end to how you can help that guy for his total future in football, be a better tackler. You keep working on tackling. You keep working with the guys about defeating blocks and on this play where you have to be. So you just continue to coach. You have to be real about your plan. If we do this, this is how it’s going to work. We have to defeat this guy. So much of football comes down to 1-on-1. It’s who’s going to win the 1-on-1 battle. It’s an open–field tackle. It’s me and you. Am I going to win by tackling you or are you going to win by beating the tackle. If it’s a block, if it’s coverage. So much of it comes down to who’s going to win the 1-on-1. Our job is to help put our players in a good position to try to do that and teach them what needs to be done. That will never end. That is always a process of growth. One of the things I like most about coaching.”

On just letting Patrick O’Brien play
“I wanted to let Patrick [O’Brien] play and take some shots and I know I hated doing that actually, but I wanted him to… here we are in a situation we’re in the red zone, he hasn’t played much, who knows if he’s going to play next week, at that point I was just going to give him some more snaps. I know that’s not very popular. I know people don’t like that. That’s simply why I did it.”

On Patrick O’Brien’s growth
“I think Patrick [O’Brien] has had the benefit of time being in the room and I think Patrick has really stayed the course as far as his work, weight room, and football and meeting room. I think it’s kind of natural growth for a kid that has redshirted and then come into a backup role at a pretty young age to be the No. 2 quarterback is pretty decent shape for a guy positioning for the future. I think he’s been working toward that. I think that’s why he was somewhat poised and confident when he went into the game and made some plays in the game. Like I said I was proud of him so there’s no doubt he’s developed. There’s no doubt he’s been engaged and he is undertaking that part of becoming a college quarterback that you have to go through to be a good one.”

On if he has an emergency quarterback
“Yes, we do. Last year we used Zack Darlington and we are talking about possibilities there. I’ve kept that room small for a reason, and then at times like this I wonder why.”

On how many points and yards were left out on the field
“I failed to mention this when I talked about a short summary of the game, and in a game that turned out like that this will sound probably not very important, but 4th-and-1 at the five to tie the game up again, haunts me. I think that you look at winning on those plays, of whether it’s a block, or beating a man, or making a tackle, that’s what we have to do better in those situations.

On offensive line personnel movement
“I thought Michael Decker was coming on in a good way and growing. The whole continuity from the center over to the right tackle has been interesting at best this year. The one thing that is good for the offensive line is chemistry and continuity, working together. I will say this, not necessarily about last week but the week before, I was proud of how Cole [Conrad] stepped back in there. Cole has been a guard, he’s been a tackle, he’s moved into center, he’s been a good teammate. He was always vying for a starting spot somewhere, in that way we have to still be able to function. We’re kind of proud of how he stepped in and did, and if we can continue to grow that thing with the young guys on the right… and we’ve also talked about playing David Knevel more, somewhere. David is an experienced guy that at one time was a starting right tackle and got hurt, and we like how (Brenden) Jaimes has come along and there’s growing pains there but its good. We are talking about different things that might help, David is in the discussion about playing some or doing something that will help in the interior.”

On if the offense can utilize the quarterback run game with Patrick O’Brien
“With looking at that, he has, as you saw, he is a very mobile guy, and made some plays with his feet for us to transition into a running play with the quarterback, might be a little different right now for our offense. What he can do, when the situation calls for it for a quarterback, and there’s a great feel for that, about when is it time to say okay enough is enough or I’m going to make something happen here or move up into the pocket to throw but maybe end up running, those are split-second decisions that are made and they’re okay. I think that I would like them to better protect themselves when they go down the field and be smart about it, but I have never told a guy not to do that.”

On when the quarterback should decide to run
“I think it’s personal. What they see and what they can do. Tanner (Lee) has made a ton of plays stepping up with people in his face and doing that. So, it’s really what they see at the time. If they can’t see it, then running is that option. And frankly, a more experience guy might see more in that situation too. And that’s where you might see a guy like Patrick (O’Brien) run a little bit more. He doesn’t have that experience of seeing all the stuff that Tanner necessarily has seen.”

On if other than experience, everything else would stay the same with a new quarterback
“I think it will all come down to the preparation of the quarterback and what he knows well. And if that ends up being a little smaller package, that’s probably smart. We’re obviously going to be playing a good defensive front, we’re going to have to block and execute against, so less may be more in a game like this for our new quarterback, if indeed he is our quarterback.”

On the challenge Penn State’s Trace McSorley brings
“I think McSorley is really a versatile, competitive guy who makes plays on his feet, on the run and throwing. I think as I have watched him through the years he’s never out… their comeback in the championship game a year ago is interesting and I thought his play was understanding in that game so I have a lot of admiration for how he plays.”

On if Saquon Barkley is the best player in the country
“You know I definitely think he is in that discussion. I don’t know enough about all the other players to say that he is the best player in the country but I would like to see better. He is certainly in that conversation and belongs there, as far as I know.”

Level of concern on Barkley’s rushing attack
“There is no doubt about it. We have just come through a game of 400 rushing yards and we are playing a back like that so we’ve got a big job ahead of us.”

On the Husker offensive line
“Well I never anticipated the disruption in the offensive line that we have had personnel wise. You have to be ready for it but in saying that then I would say we are not anywhere offensively as far along as I hoped we would be. We have to score more points in the future that part of it has to change. You know, we have to score more points. It is very interesting to look around at teams that are doing well and what is their formula. Some teams are just going to score, outscore people, like Ohio State goes 49 against a good team last week, and they are just going to score. Other teams do their thing offensively and play good defense, Wisconsin in the 20’s maybe and sometimes bigger later in the second half but there is a formula for it. But, from where we are right now we’re not scoring enough points.”

On where he thought the team was at the beginning of the season
“I thought we would a balanced team with the run-pass and I thought with that balance we would… I anticipated also a balance between offense and defense in a way that I don’t know if I could say we would be more like Wisconsin than we would like-there is probably somewhere in between there.  Being realistic about where we would be on both sides of the ball. But, I certainly anticipated a season where we would be more balanced and score better.”

On the defense’s statistics
“When you are seeing a team like last week that is a zone-read type team, you know, getting beat on different pressures can be difficult, probably at times. But, the bottom line is true of what you said that is where we are statistically in those areas that can change games. So, it is something I think strategically we are looking at some things that we know are missing in the factor of winning games.”

On playing Bo Wilson at fullback
“That was a goal line, specific for a goal line defense and it worked well, it worked nicely, he did a nice job. If we could pull back in time and think about that 4th-and-1 on that deal that might have been a good call. I am saying that just like you are, in hindsight, but that is definitely possible but it was set up specifically for a goal line.”

On the season’s schedule
“Lots of elements there, I think that all we can do is… I try not to worry too much about the logistics about what we just did, we are back here it is Monday and the kids were in the training room yesterday and doing their stuff the day after the game and we are going to practice today and meet with the team. So, we have an ample week to prepare. I try not to make a big deal about travel. You know, every Friday night we are going to get on a bus and go to a hotel, there might be a plane ride in between there but you know I try to just minimize that part of it. I don’t think that has to play a big role in it. Then we have already been through one short week and we are going to have a similar pattern of how to get ready and we will be ready for that and we just have to this stuff. In our state, I can make excuses about it but it’s shallow. But we will have a plan for each one of these things and how we do it and get ready to win.”

On the fans
“I am obviously, I mentioned right off the top, I know everybody, and when I said that players, coaches, fans, everybody is disappointed in what is going on. This place has maintained their passion for their teams and Husker football for a long time and I am certain that they will continue to do that and they should. I love this team, I love their approach every week and we have had very few issues except for the games and I appreciate that. The work that they try to do to get ready and the same with the coaches. I am positive the fans will forever love their team.”

On if the season can be saved
“We never discount that as we get ready for the next game. We will always anticipate making a plan to win the game. In doing that we will feel better for the weekend and then we go on to the next one.”

On believing in winning
“The best way to do that is to teach them and bring them in. I think this is a really important time for each position coach to stay close to his group for the coordinators and the staff to have a good solid plan and present it with some energy and enthusiasm for it, believe in it. We have some veteran people who have been through a lot of different things in coaching and so I am not really worried about that part of it. I don’t think we are at a point where anybody has lost faith in what is going on. I think that there is a trust with the coaching staff and the team that they will come to work each day. It has been consistent to this point, I am hopeful that it will be the same today.”


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