Press conference quotes: Mike Riley

Nebraska Football
Weekly Press Conference
Monday, Oct. 30, 2017
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Pre Northwestern

Head Coach Mike Riley
Opening Statement
“I’ll start with the injuries. As you know, Luke Gifford didn’t play the other night. He has a hip problem that I would say the best way to describe it right now is still questionable. We’ll know more as the week goes on. Antonio Reed re-injured his knee. We hope he is going to be OK, but I guess there’s still a question mark there. Aaron Williams re-injured his neck. It’s all soft tissue. We hope that he comes back and can play, but I’m not sure right now. Eric Lee is going through the concussion protocol. Michael Decker is out indefinitely, probably for the season. Tanner Farmer is out for an extended period of time with a high-ankle sprain. Jaylin Bradley actually also sprained his ankle. We hope that comes along so he can play this week. Zack Darlington was sick and missed the game. Hopefully he will be getting better this week. Tyrin Ferguson is out for an extended period of time. So that’s kind of our list from there.

Summarizing the game, it was obviously great for our team to win. It was all hard. I think the thing that we’ve been in and talked about so many times this year is games are won late and you just have to keep playing, so I appreciated the poise and the perseverance and the performance almost in all areas in the last 10 minutes in particular to win the game.

Defensively we gave up six explosive plays. A lot of those were due to missed tackles. We were good in the area of third down; they were 3-for-13 on third down. On the missed tackle deal, we gave up 45 yards after contact, which resulted in some of those big plays. I was especially proud of guys that were kind of the next man in. We had all the safeties back and all of a sudden it seemed like they were out and Marquel Dismuke went in and did a nice job for our team. Jacob Weinmaster went in for a bit and made some plays, that was neat to see. Collin Miller went in and made some plays, that was good to see. I think when you talk about guys defensively that played well, Chris Weber had one of his best games. Mick Stoltenberg had one of his very best games. Lamar Jackson played really, really well in the game and Marcus Newby did a great a job.

Offensively, when you talk about the players that played well, you start with Tanner (Lee). I thought he had an outstanding day. Tyler Hoppes, that’s what I’ve been waiting to see there at that position. JD (Spielman), Stanley (Morgan Jr.) and De’Mornay (Pierson-El) all made some nice plays and then Jaylin Bradley went in and gave us a spark. We had 10 explosive plays offensively. We were OK on third down, not quite 50 percent but pretty good. Tanner’s numbers were good with no interceptions and Jaylin Bradley, like I said, he made some good runs and did a good job.

Special teams, the distance wasn’t great but (Caleb) Lightbourn put the punts where they had no return yards. Luke McNitt had a nice day on special teams. Collin Miller made a big play on the kickoff. Eli Sullivan got in the stat books for a tackle, that was neat to see. Jeremiah Stovall continues to do real well on special teams. He’s a factor in there. Drew Brown was outstanding, and I don’t know if you noticed it as the game was taking place but we had a new holder in there because Zack was sick. Isaac Armstrong went in and that was kind of seamless which is not that easy to do when you are used to your holder after such a long period of time. And then I thought De’Mornay did a great job catching short punts. I think their net was somewhere 34-ish, something like that. So we won the field position battle on special teams.

We’re facing a Northwestern team that is a really good, solid football team. They have an experienced veteran quarterback that’s now played a long time, seems like he’s been there forever. They have an outstanding running back (Justin Jackson) that we are going to have to contend with. They spread you out, throw the football, and use the running back in a very smart way, and then their defense is really, really stout against the run. They’re well-coached and they play hard. Their middle linebacker (Paddy Fisher) is really a good player, as is their nose tackle, number 1 (Tyler Lancaster). It’s going to be another one of those kind of games. It’s going to be a tough game. They’ve won two overtime games in a row, which says something about their team, too, about how they play.”

On having conversations with Coach Danny Langsdorf about being patient with the run game
“We’ve had long talks last night and this morning about the running game and what we’re going to try to do and what’s the best way to attack this. They’ve been really good…run defense… I think being selective and probably having a run or two that is repeatable. I don’t think it is wise to have a whole bunch of stuff to try to execute against this defense. I think if we can get some balance going and some counter-type plays going, you know curve-ball plays to what might be a base run or two would be good. But something that is repeatable that we can do, because you got to get a feel for them. All the teams, you know, Wisconsin, Penn State, for a time, had a hard time finding the run so we got to be very selective with that and try to find that good balance in the game. We don’t want to lose that idea at all but it does have to be very selective as we look at it.”

On why the run game is struggling so much
“Well you know I think that it’s probably pretty simply the whole idea of winning the one-on-one match-ups so much, and then you know from there, being able to do that kind of repeatedly so you have good running stats at the end. I don’t have any other magic formula, you’ve got to block them, and then you know I think we have good runners. I think we did miss a couple of opportunities the other night, running the ball actually in the ball game, but you’ve got to block.”

On whether or not Riley is surprised about the run game
“We certainly never intended it to be like this with the running stats. We’re going to continue to try to strive to be that team, and then do what we need to do to win the game.”

On Jaylin Bradley increasing his role when healthy
“You know that’s a good question. We will talk about that more as the week goes. We see him and we certainly intend to play him. That was our intention in the last game. We were going to try to get him more carries.”

On the offensive line starting Matt Farniok and when Boe Wilson will play
“We are looking at what you just said at first, and Boe will be the next man in at guard. I actually like Matt Farniok at guard a lot. I think that will be his position now and in the future, I think that’s where he’s best suited physically, he’s strong and I think he will be a good fit in there.”

On why offense has struggled near the red zone
“One thing that you start with there Sam, is the best way to score near the red zone is to run it in, and we’re not running very well. And then the passes are, there’s smaller windows, it doesn’t help but we just missed some opportunities to make some plays. But I think if you can actually run more effectively, I’ve been waiting to get in the situation where we are down in there and you could use a good play-action pass or a bootleg that we’ve got ready for the game. But the situation, because the run hasn’t been very good, it hasn’t been very good for that either, we get third and goal or something and those are tougher. We’ve got to make the plays and like I said we just missed on a couple opportunities to make those plays, that’s really the issue is the balance down there too I think.”

On Brenden Jaimes starting deep into the season as a true freshman
“Well for any freshmen, we will start with that, they always, I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but maybe it is, and how repetitious it is through time, it’s more football than they have ever played. You know, starting from fall camp all the way into it. You know we’ve always worried about all these freshmen and talked about it in our past, and hitting that, whatever it is, that block out there, it’s like they’re affected by that length of time and that grueling schedule. Jaimes appears to be really, really pretty stable every day, same guy, comes to work, you know he did play in a very good football program in high school that played well into the playoffs. I don’t know if they played 15 games, maybe they did, so he’s used to a lot of football, maybe that helps him, or maybe who he is personally helps him more than that. But I haven’t noticed any of that with him, hitting the ledge.”

On Tanner Lee’s struggles in the red zone
“I think it’s those windows that are smaller. Like I said, he’s off the fingertips two or three times in the game. So it’s very finite, or small, what you have to do to accomplish the execution down there. And then for us we always have to reassess exactly what we are trying to do and have a good plan against each team. Those balls often are bang-bang throws, slants, underneath routes that go in. We don’t live off of the fade down there. But similar-type plays to that. Those layer-type plays. We’ve got to be better at them, we’ve got to be thoughtful about what we do, and the execution has to be on.”

On the difference a big, tall receiver can make on a football team
“You know I think that is a really good point. When we’ve been good we’ve had that guy that can slant or fade catch, big. And then when we’ve had a guy like Brandon Cooks we’ve actually were able to do him on some moves stuff, in and out, he’s so quick, it’s just bang and come back out, we’ve had good success with people like that. And that’s where looking at what you do is really, really important, and who you do it with is just as important and what they can do.”

On how much the Huskers are living on the edge by putting pressure on Tanner Lee
“You know Sam asked the question after the game about that, you know, you have to play the game you’re in. We were in it, and this is what you have to do to get back in it, then you do it, in a more perfect world, the balance would help the quarterback, the balance would help the line if we can run better than we are running. I think that we’re not necessarily in that perfect world, we are trying to find it, we’re going to continue to try to explore that best way to establish that running game that helps our team better than it does right now. But like I said when you’re in the game like we were in the game the other night, we had to do what we had to do. And I think that the quarterback played real well and made some real tough plays and got hit a lot too. Not sacked too much for 53 passing attempts he got sacked three times, I’m not bragging about that but that’s not horrible, it could have been a lot worse but he got rid of the ball and made some plays.”

On mixing up the tempo
“You know I have thought about that, absolutely. We’ve done that sometimes historically. We’re OK built for it. It’s not like we can’t do that obviously. But we have thought about that and I have thought about what that might mean in the middle of the game.”

On how performance affects perspective on struggling areas
“You know that’s kind of a trap. I think that somebody can’t overlook in victory what you would never overlook in defeat. What we didn’t do, we didn’t necessarily tackle great all over the place, so we have to face that and improve that. There were some interior stuff defensively that allowed them some gaps that were open. So we’ve got to correct those things and you’ve got to look at all that. Once the game’s over it’s just a tool and it’s going to be in the win or the loss column but no matter what you’ve got to look at it to make yourself better. We know our flaws offensively, we’ve already talked about them today, and so it’s really important that we try to go back and make sure everybody understands that after the game. There were a lot of positives about that game in winning it, but there were a lot of things that could have made it so much better. The red zone is one of them. We kicked four field goals for a long time there we had pretty good drives and not bad numbers offensively but it wasn’t resulting in any points. That puts us down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.”

On tackling this season
“I think that for the most part our tackling has been better this year. I really appreciate how our defensive coaches coach tackling. We do it virtually every day and then one day a week it’s a pretty lively session. Tuesday’s practice is a pretty lively tackling session. But even with that, without necessarily taking guys to the ground all the time. The emphasis put on position for tackling, the actual technique of tackling is really well coached by our coaches. So it becomes very obvious where we miss a tackle or what we can go back and work with that player on doing and how that goes. I think the emphasis for it in our practices has been good and frankly tackling in the game is never perfect, but you hope you can go back and help each individual and then it’s going to be really easy to point out in the video with the players today of what those mistackles meant to those drives. That’s how they got at least three of their explosive plays is mistackles at the line of scrimmage.“

On if there were returns on De’Mornay Pierson-El’s fair catches
“Not all of them. Probably half of those were with our defense still in the game, because they were in that kind of gray area and what we were calling kind of a safe punt return, so we were playing defense first, covering down, preventing fakes. That team had historically, from Western Kentucky, had been a big fake team, and so we were aware of that, so we stayed, and when we leave our defense in, we don’t have a great punt return set-up, however most of those punt returns were short and high and fair catch balls anyway. And I think the job that he did fair-catching the ball provided us a good net. When you’re talking about 30-40 yards, that’s not bad. That’s not bad.”

On clarification on pass interference from the conference
“Nothing official from the conference. But that stuff has just gone in and we have had no response. We are pretty sure that we know what the deal is.”

On whether the officials gave any indication that they missed the call
“They did not go that far, but I could tell they were thinking about it.”

On Tanner Lee’s journey from where he started and where he is now
“I think it says a lot about Tanner himself. I think you have to have quite a mentality to play the position. It’s got to be that kind of next-play mentality. Because you still have to go out there and make throws now, and he never has backed down from making the throws, and he made some of them under real duress the other night. So I admire that part of it. I also think that he is more comfortable with the offense. So the more comfortable he gets and the fact that he will still make the throws and not be hesitant, that’s what will kill you. You’ll throw a couple of interceptions and then you’re kind of holding on the ball and are kind of hesitant to do anything with it. He did his best job the other night of looking down the field for the throw and hitting the check-down. And those were valuable to us down the line. I admire that growth and I think it has a lot to do with he’s a tough-minded guy that is still standing there and will make a throw even if it hasn’t gone that well. And has been able to overcome the fact that that’s a real arm that everyone was talking about. You have to be pretty tough mentally to do that and I admire that in him. And then like I said, I think he’s more comfortable with what we are doing, and where to go with the football.”

On Nebraska not recruiting the junior college ranks as aggressively as in the past

“I think that, in an ideal world, if you can sign a freshman and develop them through a period of time, that helps your team most in the long run. Frankly, if you can get a freshman and he’s the right guy and you redshirt him, then by the time he’s playing, he’s had well over a year of just practicing and developing physically with you, and is more prepared to for you for a longer period of time. But, there are instances right now that we are looking at junior college players probably a little bit more. Whenever we did that, one year we hit it right on with five guys that really impacted our team. Sometimes, I think you’re just kind of lucky when you get that kind of a year, a corner, a linebacker, two defensive linemen and a backup running back, that went in when he got to play and gained 100 yards. That was a good year, and it was right, and when you recruit a junior college player, you need to be right about their ability and their character. You’ve got to have a real plan for them, because if it doesn’t work, he knows his clock is short, so he’s unhappy, and nobody’s happy. So, you’ve got to be right on the deal. We have had little success, ever, with offensive linemen, although we are looking a little bit right now. More success with receiver, linebacker and a runner.”

On Big Ten teams as a whole recruiting junior college players less than the rest of the nation
“I’ve never noted or heard anything conference-wide. It does make sense to me, because you don’t see a lot of it in the Big Ten. I think that everybody that talks about admissions and graduation are, I would use the word ‘aware,’ of the issues that might be involved there, with graduating this person, of them being able to fit in academically, maybe conference-wide, but for sure here, an awareness of that.”

(Follow up) On if that has been communicated to him
“No, I’ve just felt it, as you look at guys. And, like I said, we haven’t looked at a lot. We’ve brought some up, we’ve evaluated some. But I’ve never felt anybody say ‘no’ or a real pullback, but I think there is an awareness of that. And I think that, like I said, if you’re going to join a guy like that to your team, you want the right ability, the right fit, ‘this is our plan for you, this has got to work,’ and then they’ve got to be the right person, too.”

On knowing the top-ranked junior college (Iowa Western) is close by, and the relationship between his coaching staff and Iowa Western’s
“I think good. I think we’re in contact with them a lot. We’ve looked, Billy (Devaney) and I looked at a couple players on that team, and they’re impressive.”

On Chris Jones’ performance the last three games coming off an injury
“I think that’s a good point for all of you to recognize, how hard it is to just join in part way when you haven’t played football for a long time. It’s not just getting back on the bike, necessarily. When you talk about, he’s had a couple weeks of practice, he missed all of fall camp, he missed all of the initial, kind of the inauguration into the season. He missed all of that, and then all of a sudden, the speed of the game and what you have to do is all right there in front of you. So, I know he’s probably disappointed, but it’s not totally surprising, and you hope that both ability-wise and his mindset is, is he’s learned from that.”

On the group of reserve offensive linemen
“That’s a million-dollar question that we have to stay on top of, as far as (John) Raridon and Boe Wilson, all the rest of those guys, and I’m going to leave some guys out, there’s even some guys redshirting that we have to be thoughtful about their continued growth, their readiness to play. I really like Raridon and Boe Wilson, physically, and so we’ve got to get them ready to go when the time comes for them, either to play or to compete to play.”

On if the win at Purdue recharged him
“Oh, I’ve been charged. I don’t need any recharging. These games are all exciting to me, game by game. Obviously, we all know the situation. As far as the team and getting ready to play, it’s all a vacuum for me, week to week, and the games are all really, really important and really exciting, so I’m fired up for the next one.”

Source: Nebraska Athletics