Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Monday Rewind: Leadership Crucial In Prep for OSU

By Brian Rosenthal

Perhaps now is a good time to hearken back to words we heard over the summer from leaders on the Nebraska football team.

Let’s start with junior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg.

“Obviously, there were things that happened in some games last season when we got beat pretty bad,” Stoltenberg said in August. “That’s something I think about every day when I come into work. I think it's important we think about that stuff. It’s motivation. It really is.”

Or this from senior captain and linebacker Chris Weber, from Big Ten Media Days in July in Chicago.

“We had some tough workouts, and it would be easy for guys to complain or not get up for that, and I didn’t feel we had any of that,” Weber said then. “I felt like guys wanted to get better, and that’s the environment we need.”

Especially when No. 9 Ohio State comes to town Saturday (6:30 p.m., FS1) on the heels of Nebraska’s 38-17 loss to last week’s No. 9 team, Wisconsin.

This marks the first time in program history that Nebraska will face Top 10 opponents in consecutive weeks at Memorial Stadium, and the Huskers (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) must bond tighter than ever to keep the powerful Buckeyes in sight.

“It’s also about playing for each other,” Stoltenberg said in August. “I feel the unity is tighter now than it ever has been. I feel guys really playing for each other, really holding each other accountable, taking care of each other, giving each other advice.”

Fast-forward to Monday’s weekly news conference, when Stoltenberg and quarterback Tanner Lee stressed to reporters how important leadership will be throughout this week as Nebraska prepares for Ohio State (5-1, 3-0).

“If this week starts out wrong and we don’t prepare well right off the bat, it’s definitely one of those games that can get away from us,” Stoltenberg said, “so we need to just step up and bring everyone along and make sure we’re on the same page.

“After things don’t go your way, it is obviously a lot harder to come and be motivated the next week and it’s something, like I said, that needs to start with the players and with that leadership we have.”

Lee, a team captain, said players have no other option than to put the loss behind them, what with half the season remaining and many goals still attainable.

“So we’ll focus on that,” Lee said. “Especially as leaders and captains, it is our job to steer the ship and make sure everyone is doing the right things and continuing to work hard, and bringing a focus and motivation this week to get a big win.”

Lee did hearken to last summer, when he felt this team built a family atmosphere through conditioning and other team activities.

“I think it has helped us,” Lee said, “as we’ve gone through some adversity this year, and I think it’s definitely something I have been able to lean on and just kind of have the trust in my teammates that they’re always going to be there for me and for each other.”

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said a team’s ability to bounce back while facing adversity begins with the make-up of its character.

While not built overnight, Riley said, but through time, Nebraska’s character is such that he believes this team will respond well and focus.

“So it’s a process of every week, building confidence,” Riley said. “Sometimes it is harder, because you come off of a loss and you wonder how that’s going to be. But if you’ve built up a foundation of ‘This is how we do things,’ and we don’t have to change it because of how we feel, and we’re stronger than that because we’ve built that up, then you have a good chance of getting ready to play the next game and win.”

Nebraska, which lost a heartbreaking overtime game at Wisconsin last year, hit the road again the following week. The results weren’t good, as the Huskers lost quarterback Tommy Armstrong to a head injury, and the game as well – 62-3.

Riley is confident another Memorial Stadium sellout crowd will do its best to give the Huskers a home field advantage, much the same way it did last Saturday night against Wisconsin.

“That atmosphere, that kind of crowd, that kind of excitement is the identity of Nebraska,” Riley said, “and the whole country sees it, and I know they’ll bring it again.”

 

Bryant’s Mystery

While too soon to summon the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, the Mystery of Tre Bryant has yet to be solved.

Or has it?

Riley’s answer wasn’t entirely clear.

“I think that Mikale Wilbon has gotten better and we’ll see how he rolls this week,” Riley said, “and see what kind of work he can do today. And actually, maybe the same thing with Tre Bryant. There is a real mystery there on how that is and how much he’ll do, if anything (Monday), but we will see.”

Bryant hasn’t played since Week Two against Oregon, when he left the game one play into the fourth quarter with a knee injury. Riley confirmed that a medical redshirt is possible for Bryant, should he not return this season.

“We’re going to be real careful with every decision made about Tre Bryant,” Riley said. “First of all, we want him to feel good and healthy, if he does indeed play again.”

A decision about sitting out and applying for a medical redshirt, Riley said, would be a discussion between the staff, Bryant and his family.

 

Jones’ Return

In his first game this season, Chris Jones played fewer than 20 snaps, which is roughly on-par with what the coaching staff expected from the senior cornerback, who had knee surgery in July and returned ahead of schedule.

Jones, who came off the bench, finished with two tackles against Wisconsin.

“I don’t think, again, he’s ready for that full-time, all-the-time status,” Riley said, “but the ability to rotate and play four corners instead of three, to let guys concentrate on boundary corner, field corner, and focus on that, is a real focus for us right now.

“We feel like there are four guys there that can functionally rotate in the game like that, and that’s a good thing.”

In other injury updates, safety Joshua Kalu and linebacker Marcus Newby “made it through” in their first games back from injury, “and hopefully we’re better for that with those guys playing,” Riley said.

Safety Antonio Reed suffered a knee injury against Wisconsin and is questionable to doubtful to play against Ohio State. Tackle David Knevel should be healthy for practice, while safety Aaron Williams has a “muscle, soft-neck deal” that will hold him out of practice Monday.

Williams, bothered in recent weeks by his neck, had a career-high 11 tackles, including eight solo stops, and returned an interception 14 yards for a touchdown against Wisconsin.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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