Photo by John Baker

Monday Rewind: Coaches' Turn to Rise to Occasion

By Brian Rosenthal

Nebraska put together the right recipe for all the wrong reasons in Saturdays’ 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois.

The ingredients, third-year coach Mike Riley said, “were all over the place.”

From four turnovers to rushing for fewer than 100 yards to ill-timed penalties to sacks and hits on the quarterback, Nebraska inadvertently concocted a vicious formula.

So bad were Saturday’s results that Riley said “you wouldn’t be human” if some doubt and lack of confidence didn't seep into players’ minds.

That’s where this coaching staff – the “adults,” as Riley frequently referred to them – must step up in helping the Huskers find the winning formula heading into Saturday’s Big Ten Conference opener against Rutgers at Memorial Stadium.

“The bottom line and summary is everybody has to be really, really tough, mentally tough, physically tough,” Riley said Monday at his weekly news conference. “Our adults have to be the teachers, and they have to be at their best right now and arming our players with a way to get better. The big battle, as everybody knows, is getting the mind in the right place.

“We’ve got a great group of kids. They have the best of intentions, and we just have to help them in how they are doing and give them concrete stuff to get better. I think the most important part in coaching right now will be really, really good teaching on ‘this is how we can get better.’ ”

When things look dire, Riley said he accepts responsibility to help in whatever way necessary. That begins with examining game preparation and the staff’s process for getting ready for a game.

“We have looked at that, examined it with individuals and with the staff, trying to find a better way,” Riley said. “I see it as teamwork, it has to be, and everybody has to play their part. This group has been successful, and I have all the confidence that they need to be, but we do need to re-examine exactly what we are doing in the process of getting our team ready.”

Riley even considered taking over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, something he did while the duo coached together at Oregon State. At this time, though, he’ll refrain from making such a drastic change.

“We took a step back for sure Saturday, so we’ve got to fight to get that back and more as we go, and we will,” Riley said. “These things, if handled correctly, can be cyclical. We can do better, and we’re going to fight for that.

“I don’t think you can coach anywhere, especially here, without those kinds of aspirations. That’s exciting to us, and we want to continue to plug towards that.”

 

Communication Key for Line

Nebraska allowed Tanner Lee to be sacked three times by NIU, and the junior quarterback received multiple other hits Saturday.

To improve protection, linemen must communicate better, offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said after Monday’s practice.

Yes, the veteran assistant also harped on assignments and adjustments to his players.

“But the first thing I talked about was communication,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s huge. We have to echo calls. It’s all the way down the line. It’s just not one call. What’s the call? It’s got to be echoed. So we’ve got to do a way better job at that.”

Coaches are also searching for a starter at right tackle for Saturday’s game. Senior David Knevel (ankle/foot) is still questionable after missing the last two games, and redshired freshman Matt Farniok, who’s started the last two games, suffered a broken bone in his wrist and won’t practice this week.

If neither player can go against Rutgers, true freshman Brenden Jaimes and sophomore Christian Gaylord are the next two in line, Riley said.

The two split practice reps on Monday.

“We’ll make a decision pretty soon,” Cavanaugh said. “We have to watch the film and see how it looked.”

Jaimes, from Austin, Texas, was among the furthest-along players along the offensive line in fall camp, Cavanaugh said.

“Jaimes, I think, has a lot of great tools. He’s a guy who doesn’t really flinch. He’s a good athlete. He loves football,” Cavanaugh said. “Gaylord is a guy who’s athletic.”

 

Injury Update

Knevel and Farniok aren’t the only Huskers questionable to play Saturday.

In fact, senior linebacker Marcus Newby has already been ruled out with a hamstring injury, Riley said, noting Newby “will be out for a while.”

Meanwhile, running back Tre Bryant remains questionable with a sore knee, and senior safety Joshua Kalu is still questionable with a hamstring injury. Neither played against Northern Illinois, and neither practiced Monday.

Also, safety Antonio Reed (above) made it through and played with his cast, Riley said, "and my hope is there that he will just get more and more comfortable, because it will be awhile before he gets that cast off."

Receivers coach Keith Williams said his son, Keyan Williams, could return this week after missing the first three games.

The coach joked how his son’s hamstring issues could be inherited.

“My hamstrings are like guitar strings,” Keith Williams said. “They aren’t even hamstrings. I just said, ‘Son, I apologize.’ ”

Message to Recruits

Recruiting never stops, especially after a surprising loss.

Riley and his staff were in contact with recruits on Sunday, continuing to sell their vision for the program.

Keep strong relationships and staying consistent, Riley said, is key.

“Frankly, ones that are committed understand our vision to where we are, and where we want to go, and do they want to be part of this as it comes back,” Riley said. “So, we kind of stay the course with that thought with those guys.

“The other recruits, if the relationship is strong, if you stay with these guys, and recruiting anymore – we’ve got the beautiful stuff, maybe the best. But everybody’s got nice stuff, nice facilities and all that. But the relationship that’s built and the vision of their life at the place is the key. So, when those relationships are strong and you have a bump, you can get through it. You just keep building that and keep recruiting.”

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

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