Husker Dan: Time for a gut check

No. Illinois 21, Nebraska 17

Let that sink in for a while. Nebraska finished the non-con season going 1-2 against three unranked teams. And the lone win was against Arkansas State in a game that came down to the last play. And with that scare, Nebraska could very easily be 0-3.

And what is going to happen once conference play begins? This season could get ugly. Real ugly.

Tanner Lee had another subpar performance today against NIU, but Lee’s O-line didn’t do him any favors. He was sacked, hurried and slammed to the ground far too many times even after he released his passes. If that keeps up, Tanner Lee won’t hold up. He’ll be too beaten up.

Will (or should?) Husker O-line coach Mike Cavanaugh suffer the same fate as former Husker assistants Mark Banker, Bruce Read and Hank Hughes, who were fired by Mike Riley? Or is it too late for that?

To be sure, Nebraska’s starting center, Cole Conrad, was injured during the game and Matt Farniok (RFr.) started in place of senior David Knevel at RT.

But clearly, something must be done. And it needs to be done quickly. If this coaching staff continues to produce this kind of shoddy product, there will be empty seats at Memorial Stadium this fall and will likely continue until the product is greatly improved.

The sellout streak will likely stay intact this year, but only because of the tickets that have already been sold.

Mike Riley is going to have to decide whether or not to bench starter Tanner Lee. Again, Lee needs an O-line that can protect him. So it isn’t all on Lee.

Why not try true freshman Tristan Gebbia? I know Patrick O’Brien is the next in line, but Gebbia may be the elusive threat NU needs at the QB spot.

It’s true that today, the Huskers had to play without their starting running back (Tre Bryant), a starting safety (Kalu), and their starting RT. But Northern Illinois had to play without some of their starters, too, including their QB.

Clearly, NIU was the better team today. They were better coached. Their players were usually in the right position and they had a great game plan for Nebraska.

The one real bright spot in the last game and a half has been that of DC Bob Diaco’s Blackshirts. Over the last 6 quarters of football, his defenses have given up a total of 7 points. Nice work.

Can Mike Riley get his team out of this morass in time to salvage the season? Some are wondering why Shawn Eichorst didn’t hire NIU head coach Rod Carey three years ago after Bo Pelini was fired.

Great question. Carey’s records in his four previous years as the Huskies’ head coach were:

2013: 12-2
2014: 11-3
2015: 8-6
2016: 5-7

Winning percentage: 66.7%

Mike Riley’s career winning percentage stands at about 55%.

So does Eichorst get rid of Riley? If he does, there will probably be another 3-4 year “rebuilding” period. Do Nebraska fans have an appetite to go through another coaching change? Which is worse, getting rid of this coaching staff, or keeping Riley and hope (and pray, if you’re Eichorst) things get better?

In the end, it will be the fans, donors and their checkbooks who will have the final say in what happens to Mike Riley and his staff. Stay tuned, Husker fans. It’s going to be an interesting next few weeks.

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