Mike Riley press conference transcripts September 26

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Courtesy: UNL Media Relations

Coach Mike Riley

Opening Statement
“We’re on what we call our ‘Big Three’. We’re doing a little bit better. Penalties are down. We had an offensive chop block, we had a couple hands-to-the-face penalties, and we had a facemask penalty. In explosive plays we were good. We had 14 explosive plays offensively. We gave up two on defense. In the turnover deal we were even. We were doing better in general, and we still want to cut down our offensive turnovers which turned into fumbles in this last game. We broke even in the last game. Positive things about the game were I thought our team competed and kept their poise when we squandered a couple opportunities. There could be a nervousness to that that I was a little worried about, but we kept playing and made the plays that we needed to make. We ran the ball well, and our receivers did a nice job of blocking downfield that allowed for those explosive plays to occur. We made nice interceptions, one of them that sealed the game at the end. We had very good balance offensively, and we were pretty good on third downs (7-of-14). We were decent on third-down defense, they were 5-of-14. We had four sacks, and we didn’t give up any. Some of that was due to Tommy’s [Armstrong Jr.] mobility too, but that was good. We succeeded on our fourth-down call. Some of the negatives, we missed those opportunities to score points, which can always come back to haunt you. We missed some more tackles this week, we gave up an unnecessary play on a touchdown pass, we gave up some bad position defensively and we had some missed passes and some dropped passes. We missed a couple of opportunities to down the ball inside the 10-yard line, which we have been good at. Our kickoff coverage was very average at best. Coaching staff wise, we wasted a timeout on a transition when we were getting our punt return team on the field, so that wasn’t good. Some areas we have to improve are tackling, and taking on blocks. We got cut a lot against Northwestern. Of course our ball security has to be better. We have to be smarter with the ball. We have to be better on the offensive line with handling movement. We didn’t get as much consistency on our inside running game as we would have liked because of the movement that Northwestern gave us, so we have to pick that stuff up better. Defensively, our communication wasn’t great in coverage, so I thought we gave up some unnecessary yards in coverage because of that. Most of them were underneath patterns, but still they weren’t necessary. We have to do better on our ‘hang-ten punt’ when we’re putting it in, and we have to improve our kickoff coverage again this week. That will be a focus in that area. Guys that played well were Dedrick Young. He had his best game of the year. Marcus Newby added some stuff with the pass rush. Chris Jones had an outstanding game. He made some good plays and had some good coverage. Aaron Williams made plays tackling and in pass defense that were nice. Kieron Williams is a tough guy. He makes plays. Nate Gerry made a lot of tackles, Josh Kalu played well. Kevin Maurice had his best game playing at the line of scrimmage against the run and rushing the passer. He did a nice job. Carlos Davis had a good game, and it was good to get Nick Stoltenberg going again. He had 20 plays which is about right for him coming back. He had too many a week ago. But he was good for us when he was in. Of course Tommy’s [Armstrong Jr.] game was good. Nick Gates and Corey Whitaker who filled in for us graded the highest in our offensive line. All of the receivers did some good stuff and we were really happy about their blocking. That’s part of the game where they don’t really like to talk about, but boy they make a big difference when they do that. [Terrell] Newby and [Mikale] Wilbon had some good runs and looked good. It was good to get Mikale Wilbon going. He’s a talented guy, and it gives us one more guy that we can put in our mix and feel good about. Brad Simpson, Chris Weber continue to be special teams leaders. [Drew] Brown and Jordan Ober were good at the specialist positions.”

On Illinois:
“Illinois had a bye week to get ready. Their defensive front is the best one that we will face so far. We had trouble with their defensive end, No. 91, last year. They have two defensive ends that are good, they have defensive tackles who are good. So their front will be tough. They play a four-man front. There will be a lot of man-to-man coverage, and mix in a little bit of three deep. In passing situations they play cover-two. Offensively they are a pro style. Their quarterback is a senior and they have two good running backs. Their rush is very effective when we take it in for a field goal or extra point because of that front. They have a good varying punt returner named (Darius) Mosely.”

On explosive plays:
“10-plus on a run, and 20 on a pass. 15 is our ideal. I think it’s a big factor in winning games and getting big plays. Offensively, we need some big chunks, and defensively we don’t want to give them up. At this point, we are doing much better on that defensively than a year ago. I think that’s a big factor in the games.”

Going for it on fourth down:
“I think the biggest factor in making a call like that is confidence in knowing your team. You have to have a good realistic view point of what’s going to happen there, and you don’t want any surprises. The better you know your team, the better you can make a call like that. It also has to do with how you feel it has looked to that point. Now that was pretty early the other night, but you have to feel good about your plan and your team and the opponent.”

On Tanner Farmer and Alonzo Moore:
“Those guys a doubtful for this week. Tanner is probably out. It’s a high ankle sprain. So we’ll see about that. I’d say Alonzo is doubtful because he has played two games like that, so our initial thing is let’s just get him healthy so he doesn’t have to play like that. He still does a good job, and I wouldn’t rule him out totally. But our inclination is to get him healthy.”

On being 4-0:
“It just feels like a new year. So I didn’t bring that up to our team once, but personally, it does feel like that. I suppose as you spend longer in the league, you get a sense of how you feel about those upcoming games through a history. I certainly had those thoughts for years in the Pac-12 year-to-year, but it’s really for us, more than just coach speak to stay in the moment and enjoy the preparation. We certainly have many areas to improve in that we have to focus on. We’re going to play a team that has had a week extra preparation, so we just have to be ready to play a good game, regardless of history.”

On players not standing for the national anthem:
“Michael Rose-Ivey approached me about it the night before, and we had a discussion about it. He asked if he could speak to the team about it, which he did at the walk-through the day of the game. He very eloquently expressed his position and why he was going to do that. So I thought it was all well done, the preparation of it.

On the challenge of getting everyone on the same page:
“There are 140 guys. We’ve all grown up differently. The very first word I use at the start of each year is respect. Because we have guys from all kinds of backgrounds, and from all parts of the country, we have a real nice melting pot. I love it. Then you have a bunch of kids who are also in college. You gain a whole new awareness of the world as you go, and you start to form those opinions that are going to make you who you are for the rest of your life. So it’s a real interesting thing and it’s a really special opportunity for us to be involved with these kids at this time in their lives. There’s a lot going on with them. They’re discovering a lot of new stuff, and gaining ground on what they really believe in. But what you try to do with all of that is appreciate and respect the differences that you have in the room. Basically, when you’re a member of a team, you don’t let those differences affect what you’re doing as a football team. And that’s probably a big chore, but it’s a reality of how it works and a reality of their life for the rest of their life. So it is a special time, and you do run into a lot of different things. Our guys have come across this issue that is not new to us in this world, but there’s more social awareness of what’s going on. They’ve also dealt with it just recently in the death of a teammate. So they go through a lot of different things in their life, and they will form their own opinions as they see the world.”

On the aftermath of players not standing for the national anthem:
“I haven’t seen or heard anything. I’m sure there is talk. But nothing that I aware of at all. Nobody is going to see this in the same way, so there’s going to be a ton of different opinions. That’s what makes America what it is. People have a right to their thoughts and opinions.”

Mike Riley on the difference in race on his team in Alabama:
“Well you know for us as college kids as we were in it, I don’t think until years later I realized the impact of that situation. You know I was coming from the West Coast. I was not necessarily probably as socially aware of what that meant right there in Alabama. But you know the beauty of a team is that it was never talked about by any of us. I mean it was, I guess a really really special time and a great time. And I’m not sure we realized how great it was at the time. Because we were just playing ball and going to school. But I’m very thankful for it at this time in my life.”

On athletes’ awareness of world events:
“I think that there’s way more awareness. I think that these kids are exposed to way more stuff than we probably ever were just because of the information that’s available. And I guess that’s… you know a lot of times it probably presents things in their lives not necessarily like these issues that make it hard. Because they have to deal with negative reactions sometimes just the way they play on social media. So they got a lot of different stuff coming at them all the time that is way different than I think it was in our day.”

On Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s confidence running the ball:
“Well you know most of the time when Tommy’s running we hope it’s part of the design. We don’t want him to have to run because the pass protection is broken down. Now he made one great adlib play out of the pocket on a scramble that was a big third-down conversion for us. But a lot of the stuff is off of what can be a quarterback run. And sometimes there are options involved with that run whether you can pass it or hand it off. And the other option of those would be him carrying the football. So you know it’s a great weapon for us right now. The advantage of having a quarterback that is versatile enough to do that you know has paid us a ton of dividends early in this year.”

On Lovie Smith:
“Well we have certainly been aware of Lovie [Smith] for a long time and had a great respect for the work that he has done in football. I think that the players that I have known that have played for him really really appreciate him as a coach and as a person. So you know our paths actually have not crossed that much as far as interaction. But I’ve kind of watched him from afar, just you know from the platform that where he’s been. So I think it’s probably a real good thing for Illinois to have a guy like that coaching there.”

On Lovie Smith making the transition from NFL to college football:
“I think that the thing that is definitely different is the day-to-day interaction with your own team has many different parts, other than just the football part of it. And that’s probably the biggest deal about college coaching that’s different is that you know how these guys do socially, how they do academically, and how they do football are all tied into what we do.”

On learning something from the ending of the Illinois game last year:
“We certainly spent a lot of time studying all of our situations and taking other teams’ situations and looking at them. And trying to be real definitive in the packaging of what we do in situations, that you know it might be the end of the game but it might be the end of the half, it might just be just regular situations in the game, how you want to handle them. So this thing about football whether you’ve coached a few years or 40 years, there’s still an awareness learning process that has to take place for me personally and for what is passed onto your team, so you react better. But I think having been in those situations and the number of guys we have returning, I think they’re now actually tools and can be helpful for us. Because I think there’s a special emphasis to how important those seconds are, how important that execution is, and those critical situations like that. And so I think that the emphasis and the preparation has probably been the best thing that’s come of that since that happened.”

On having Keith Williams back on the sideline for Saturday’s game vs. Illinois:
“I told him today we better win, otherwise he’s going back in the box. I think it’s going to be great to have Keith back, that was a hard, no-good situation. I think we’ve been through the consequences of that, so we’re excited to have him back now, full-fledged into the practices, the games, and the whole part. It’ll be real good for the Huskers to have him back.”

On how Keith Williams has handled the situation over the past month:
“I think he’s handled it exactly as we would’ve wanted him to. The suspension part, that might have been the hardest, when he wasn’t even here. For the receivers, for everybody. And then the next part of it, which was not in the games but he could come to practice, it was good to have him back at practice. I think that he was full-speed into preparation, full-speed into practicing with the guys, and then did what he was supposed to do on game day. And now the re-entry will be in total, and will be good.”

On how player recruitment has gone and what Nebraska’s goal is for recruitment:
“Let me see if I can remember, I think we have 14… 15… 15 commitments, I think we’re shooting for somewhere in that 22 range, right in there. We feel really, really good about the buzz that’s out there with the guys, we had a meeting yesterday about our very, what I would call ‘active’ recruits that were on. We’ve got our new designated phone call list out for that group for this week. But we feel good about the buzz that’s going on about Nebraska, and the sense of the feeling that I get about the kids that I’ve talked to, I feel real good about. So we’ve got a ways to go with some of them that are going to make later decisions, but we’re going to stay with that and compete like crazy for that. But I think in general it’s real good right now.”

On how recruitment has gone for new Assistant Coach John Parrella
“John is really, really… I think he grabs kids in a great way, I think he’s one of those guys it’s hard to say no to. He works at it real hard but there’s a special uniqueness that you guys already know, because of his background at Nebraska. There’s a passion that he brings to his recruitment, so I think he first of all believes in Nebraska, and so he recruits to that well, but I also think that he believes in what we’re doing, and so he can combine that real well as he recruits, it’s a great combination that he brings.”

On John Parrella’s ability to reach the defensive line after the absences of four key 2015 defensive linemen (Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen, Kevin Williams)
“When I look at the room in total, what does this room look like, then what I see is a group of very engaged guys that all need growth. I think that we have a couple of stable, older guys in [senior defensive tackle] Kevin Maurice and [senior defensive end] Ross Dzuris, but for the most part, this group is full of novices almost, and I think that the buy-in of the older guys and the character of those older guys coupled with the teaching that everybody’s getting- John is a real detailed teacher in what we’re doing out there- I think that combination is great. I think you see a real vibrant room. I love it. I think these guys stay hungry, they stay on an edge, he [John] doesn’t ever let them relax. That part of growing, I think that’s a really, really important part of learning and getting better, it’s really an important part of the season. You’ve got to do that within your team if you’re going to have a good year. So you need that continual push, and there can’t be any staying just satisfied with what’s going on, and I don’t think John will ever let them do that.”

On subbing players in last minute on defense vs. Northwestern
“Sometimes, you know, you’re subbing according to what the offense is doing, you are allowed a matter of seconds to make a substitution if they substitute. These teams that go up-tempo offensive, if they don’t substitute, sometimes it’s hard to substitute, but sometimes we will still try to get somebody fresh in there. But you are allowed to match up with the offense if they substitute and change personnel, so sometimes it might look late, but you’re actually getting that iron cross by the officials, where you have three seconds to respond when they substitute so you can get a guy in the game. So sometimes it might not look like it’s right on time, but it’s basically a reaction to the other team’s move with personnel.”

On who Nebraska would choose as a guard for this week if need be
“That’s a real good question because we are moving [freshman offensive lineman] Boe Wilson back into this picture a little bit, so he’ll be in there. [Redshirt freshman offensive lineman] Jalin Barnett, who’s been hurt a little bit in practice, he’ll move back into that picture. We’re getting kind of thin there, we lost two scout players as a matter of fact, so our offensive line depth is not great.”