Mike Riley: Monday presser, 2017 Ohio State

By NU Athletic Communications
Nebraska Football

Nebraska Football
Weekly Press Conference
Monday, Oct. 9, 2017
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Pre-Ohio State

Head Coach Mike Riley
Opening Statement
“I suppose, this must be the second part of that stretch [we] were talking about last week. So anyway, I think I will start out with our injury situation. I think that Mikale Wilbon has gotten better and we’ll see how he rolls this week 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 today, but we will see. Aaron Williams has had that muscle, soft-tissue neck deal that we have to get settled down, so I don’t think he’ll work today. Josh Kalu, Chris Jones, Marcus Newby made it through and hopefully we’re better for that with those guys playing. Antonio Reed hurt his knee. I would say at this time he is questionable, leaning to doubtful for the weekend. But (David) Knevel should be healthy, healthiest that he’s been for a while today in practice. Cole Conrad has had that ankle. He re-turned it last week some time but he should be better today. Any questions about that? Wisconsin review, when you look at statistics and you see that one team ran for 360 and the other team didn’t, it’s not hard to pick the winner. So in talking about that, I will say that on our side Devine (Ozigbo) ran hard and had some good runs. Our running game, it’s feast or famine. It’s some good runs, but too many nothing runs. So we’ve got to be more consistent in our running game. The early pick-six obviously hurt us. Starting out, we had a couple good plays and a good drive started. We were in the position to get some points, and then we allowed that to happen. When you’re in the red zone and you’re one for three in a game like that, that’s not good. Our second half production was obviously tell-tale in the ending of the game and how it finished. We had some good moments on special teams, but failed on a couple of great chances to put the ball inside the 10. I think that those kinds of situations in that game with the other team the way they were, those are all big. I think in looking at all that, there were some guys that really had good games. I think you have to make note of Luke Gifford’s game, for sure. He’s getting better all the time and really has found a home in this defense. Chris Weber had a good game. Dedrick Young might have had his best game. Aaron Williams made plays. Josh Kalu made a lot of plays. Tanner Lee, considering all, made some really good throws and really hung in there. We didn’t [give up] any sacks, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t harassed or hit and he hung in in great shape and made plays. Devine ran hard. Actually, we had some good play from receivers making some plays. De’Mornay (Pierson-El) made some plays. JD Spielman, obviously is being productive for us, and Stanley (Morgan Jr.) had his plays. They were good. And Caleb Lightbourn, I think that as we go with Caleb, there’s definitely improvement in his consistency, but consistency is the thing that he has to shoot for to be that guy. In that game, you can see the talent that’s there, and he really hit the ball well a few times. I think that in an answer to what happened in the run defense, when you’re playing a team like that, that is a condensed offensive team, tight end’s involved, sometimes the receiver’s in tight and involved, the magnitude of not being in a gap, or being in position on the wrong side of the head of somebody can be magnified into plays. And it was magnified in big plays. That one, particularly, before the half. There were a couple of points in there that I don’t have to go back over that were major parts in the game, when we hit the pass, and then they responded with the run. When we had the pick for six of our own, and they responded with that drive, those were crucial drives, difference-making times in the game, and they made it and we didn’t. And then I think sometimes when you’re struggling in run defense, and somebody’s trying to overcompensate, it’s got to be real team defense across the board, and we weren’t always perfect in that way. Somebody’s trying to overcompensate with what’s happened, and it gets you into more trouble. Ohio State preview, there’s not much not to say. I think about the way they’re playing right now, they’re playing at a high level since that one loss and outscoring opponents. They’re versatile and productive offensively in almost every category, near the top (nationally) in everything. Same thing defensively, so it’s a major, major challenge for us. I know there will be a question about where our team is mentally, but I think this group will come back and work hard today. We’re working to get this team better each day, and we’ll do that through the week, and they’ll be ready for their best on Saturday night.”

On the play of both the offensive and defensive lines against Wisconsin
“There were moments that I think both sides of the ball, we did OK, but I would probably leave it at that with both sides of the ball. When we’re talking about those things defensively, playing that gap responsibility, being in the right position, not getting reached. I don’t really want to single anybody out, because everybody had their moments, and some good ones, but again, the consistency in doing that was probably the key factor there, and probably the same thing on the offensive line. We had our moments. We had some good-looking run plays. The protection, in general, was better. We didn’t get sacked, but that doesn’t hide from the fact that it wasn’t all perfect, either. So, when I single out players that had good games, that’s for a reason that’s above-level, people that I think you should know about. If I don’t mention them, then there’s some inconsistencies involved for anybody else. So, I’m pretty specific in those names that I do mention as having good games.”

On the development of Nebraska’s defensive line and outside linebackers
“That’s a great question, especially with morphing into the new defense. I think the recruitment of those kinds of players, and they’re different, that boundary linebacker is probably that guy that might be considered that hybrid-type guy that plays some pass, more in the mix. Where we are in that development, I think that we have players in that mode of development now that are relatively young in it as we go forward. Probably, I’d say the same thing as we develop through the whole group in the offensive line. There are some of those guys that might be considered as they’re older, and as they get to their finishing point. As we look at the future and recruit, it has to be a balanced class between skill players that we get, big skill players that we get, maybe you’re talking about those outside linebacker types, and then as we have seen, and saw, you’ve got to get the linemen. I think that the development of that Wisconsin line is through the years. It hasn’t changed much from when Paul (Chryst) was there as a coordinator, to leaving, to coming back, it’s that same growth, and it hasn’t changed much. So that is a big, big emphasis for us in the future recruitment of the guys that we need to go to that next level.”

On how do you get this team to win
“I think that its everybody, I think the coaches’ energy and preparation in getting ready for the next game. Many times when you have what we have, a solid group of kids, they’ll feed off of that. And I would be surprised anyway in a sense, this team hasn’t changed much from the beginning of how they have come to work every day. It’s definitely something you have to keep an eye on at this stage of the year. What is a disappointing loss and another great opponent following right away, there has to be real energy and excitement to the luring of an opportunity here in order to succeed. I know the staff will be like that and I really trust that the players will be too.”

On Tre Bryant injury and if he could be considered for a medical redshirt
“Absolutely. We’re going to be real careful with every decision made about Tre Bryant. First of all, we want him to feel good and healthy if he does indeed play again. And then that next part of your question about redshirting would be a discussion with our staff and obviously with him and his family. “

On Chris Jones and his future
“Well Chris Jones gives us exactly what we anticipated in the spring. I don’t think, again, he’s ready for that full-time all-the-time status 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.”

On whether or not Coach Riley watched tape from last year’s Ohio State game
“There wasn’t a lot there that’s going to be real exciting where we say this is a good thing. But we look at it, we look at it because they’ll look at it. And we review it. And basically see now we’re different a little bit offensively and defensively. So that part of it will not be as helpful as it once would have been.”

On splitting the Marcus Newby/Luke Gifford workload
“I think our initial plan going into the season with Luke [Gifford] and Marcus [Newby] was they play the same position, they’re both doing well, and if we can help them physically by rotating them through the year, that was the initial plan. Same position, good player, let’s keep them fresh and playing throughout the game. They both had injury issues in the past and we thought this might help in that regard too.”

On comparing Ohio State’s running back to Wisconsin
“When they’re good, they’re good. It’s kind of apples to oranges. Coupled with some of the stuff they obviously do with their quarterback, it makes it one more step that you have to defend, but he’s a real good player.”

On Ohio State four-game winning streak since losing to Oklahoma
“They’ve been hitting on all cylinders for sure. Defensively, playing fast, and they’re talented, and they play fast, and they’re well coached, and same thing offensively.”

On Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett
“Guy’s had a lot of experience playing football. I think that it shows more and more all the time. I think the comfort level he has is high.”

On what message Coach Riley has to fans to create a Memorial Stadium atmosphere this Saturday night
“That atmosphere, that kind of crowd, that kind of excitement is the identity of Nebraska, and the whole country sees it, and I know they’ll bring it again.”

On how long it takes for younger players to develop
“It’s a real good question. How long does it take a group, individually it’s different right. So I think what the Davis twins are doing today will be great for them tomorrow, and tomorrow I’m talking about the future. I think that they both have ability, they’re both really getting their feet wet a lot, they’re both getting to play, and playing really serious minutes and play numbers in games. I think that will do nothing but help them. And I think their future physical development, they’re going to be that much different next year. A guy like Deontre Thomas gave us a big curve ball, to play now, would he be better off in the weight room as a redshirt, maybe, but he’s a factor how he is. But a guy like Damion Daniels, could be playing physically right now, but this year will do him good, and the impact that he would have right now at that particular position wouldn’t be as big as it will be next year. So the group in total, should grow year-to-year, in a good way with those young players we just mentioned like that. And then how we have to compliment it is that group that’s developing right on the perimeter of them, that outside linebacker group. “

On Devine Ozigbo
“I think he came on with a bang, right. He came on when he played physical and that has continued. I think that running backs feed off the experience of playing. So I anticipate him continuing to do well.”

On what the team falls back on to overcome a loss and play a tough opponent
“It starts with a make-up of the character of the team from the very beginning from how you respond to different things because there’s always some stuff, usually in seasons, that are going to be good, and some things that aren’t going to be so good. It’s not something that is just invented overnight but something built up through time. I think that this team will respond, and the whole focus has always been finding those things that you can get better at during the week and then obviously the coaching staff putting together that specific game plan that fits that next opponent that these kids can latch onto and then execute during the week. So it’s a process of every week, building confidence. 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.”

On measuring Nebraska against Ohio State as a “standard” of college football
“I think that probably is a good thing that you have to do for sure. That’s where we want to go. And if you want to win the championship then you look into that team that’s at least competing for that for quite a few years now. I think I’ve said to this group before, I’ve experienced that before, as one team rises like that, they’ve been there for a while now, but as one team rises like that, you take a look and you either get better or you get left in the dust. SC (Southern California) did that when Pete (Carroll) went in there and changed that landscape like that, and I think it made the whole conference stronger, and I think you’re seeing that in this league. Yes you have to take a look at that.”