The Cornhuskers may be 1-2 but give new head coach Mike Riley time to make this his program
To whom it may concern,
I knew we’d have this talk at some point during the season. I was hoping it wouldn’t be this soon, but part of me is glad it is.
The Cornhuskers have lost two games that they didn’t have to this year and that’s tough. BYU was a solid comeback effort to be lost on a gut punch pass. Miami, well, you gotta admit that was one heck of a turnaround to even get into overtime.
Let’s get to the heart of the problem, though. Why you’re so stressed. It’s Mike Riley, isn’t it?
Believe me, I knew I’d hear the complaints about him being a “.500 coach” or “the next Bill Callahan”, but these claims simply aren’t true.
I’m not going to just pat you on the back and say “trust me” while ending this column with some flowery words and asking for hope. I’m going to explain why you’re not looking at 2004-07 again or even the past seven years.
College Football Podcast: Week 3 Recap and Analysis
It’s tough for me to figure out where to begin, so I’m going to start with the overall team. This is a group of talented guys, but the depth is razor thin.
Let me ask you a question: if Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp, Terrell Newby and Maliek Collins all were magically ruled out for the rest of season tomorrow, how many more wins could you see this team getting?
Maybe a better question is how many games do you see Nebraska being within double-digits of winning?
Yes, it’s been difficult watching pass defense, but that starts up front and my friend, we just talked about depth. Vincent Valentine and Jack Gangwish weren’t available against the Hurricanes. That’s half of the starting defensive line.
We also know that linebacker is a thin position and we’ve seen a noticeable talent drop-off once you get about seven in.
I’m not trying to spin losses, just drive home that if you take out a shaving razor and look at its edge, you’d have a perfect metaphor for what Riley and his staff are working with.
It’s not like these guys had a spare Prince Amukamara, DeJon Gomes or Ndamukong Suh lying around when they walked through the doors for the first time.
I want to talk to you about something that maybe you don’t care about until it’s announced in the papers or maybe you follow it all year long: recruiting.
Fortunately, you’re talking to a guy that loves it and not only is this staff stepping up their efforts by planning out 2017 and '18 recruitment, they’re taking care of business in the here and now.
Verbal commitments to other schools mean nothing. This staff plays Big Boy College Football and I can tell you that you’ll enjoy what Nebraska wraps up in a bow for you this February. Not only that, but the Huskers are in on more four- and five-star prospects than I can ever remember for next year.
Perhaps more importantly, my friend, let’s talk coaching. Let’s talk about that main concern you have.
The Omaha World-Herald’s Sam McKewon put it well enough during the last game:
This 1st half reminds me a lot of 2nd half of 2013 UCLA. Nebraska just looks outmatched.— Samuel McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) September 19, 2015
Being down 33-10 in the fourth quarter, that’s certainly a time many teams quit, but Riley’s didn’t. His set the Twitter world ablaze with comeback chatter (the good kind) and no doubt the cheers around the world would partially deafen us for the rest of our days.
There are plenty of people that’ll call me a “hater” for saying this (and you may be one of them), but Bo Pelini’s team doesn’t get to overtime. His team doesn’t score another point in the fourth and might even give up another three or seven.
This isn’t because I dislike Pelini at all; it was just his MO at Nebraska. When the going got tough, the tougher ran away with the win.
Now look, I realize that seeing a 1-2 Nebraska team for the first time since 1981 is upsetting, disheartening, whatever words you want to use for it. Don’t be unfair and blame all of the Huskers’ current woes on Riley.
It takes time to instill a culture, to recruit and to create a program in a coach’s image. There are going to be growing pains and right now, Husker Nation is feeling some. Between BYU and Miami, that’s enough for the season.
The good news is that this team, fragile as it may be, still has a shot at a Big Ten West Division title. De'Mornay Pierson-El may be just the glue this squad needs to truly come together and he’ll be back soon.
Riley isn’t the problem. It’s timing and he’s going to need your patience. Now, what you ultimately think of him, call him, all that is up to you. However, I think if you take the time to ride the roller coaster and cheer along the way, you’ll be pleased with the end result.
This isn’t about who’s a “real fan” or who isn’t. Three games into a fresh start simply isn’t a time to damn the new guy.