Getting to 100 wins isn’t easy, and neither is winning your home opener by 33 points. You’d think Nebraska head coach Mike Riley would be pretty happy considering both were the result of his team’s performance against Fresno State.
You’d be wrong.
Something seemed off as he walked to the podium for his usual postgame press conference. He didn’t seem all that interested in talking about his running backs or how the game plan offered Run The Ball Guy® everything he wanted and more. When asked about second-half adjustments, Riley aired his frustrations.
“I have many mixed emotions about this game. Obviously, there was some good football. When you rush for that many yards, you’ve done some pretty good things. I thought defensively, it seemed like we made a lot of good plays. Games get pretty cloudy for me when you get a punt blocked and when you have a procedure penalty that takes away a first down,” he said.
He wasn’t done:
“When you get a big penalty when you’re going to get a team off the field, you get a targeting foul that gives them new life. So I have really mixed emotions about this game. There’s lots of stuff that has to change. Sometimes you feel like you can’t make a good play without a celebration penalty, which is silly to me.”
This was my first opportunity to see Riley truly irked at how his team played when, let’s face it, the other guys should be even more battered and bruised. It was that feeling you got in grade school when someone was called to the principal’s office. After hearing him speak, you got the sense that Fresno State should’ve been trotting their backups out come the start of the fourth quarter at the latest.
“I think it’s all frustrating. I think that we have to be better than that. I thought we’d take a step forward with penalties and it didn’t feel like it. I thought we’d take a step forward without lining up illegally. Getting the punt blocked is just horrible. Fielding punts, guys running into each other is just sloppy. It just doesn’t feel real good.”
This Husker team will get an earful early in the week. No doubt it already has.
While I feel it’s unfortunate that Riley was unable to enjoy win No. 100 as much as any coach probably should, I admire the fact that it was just another 60 minutes of football.
The good news is that “they” say you improve most from game one to two. If that’s the case and Riley’s able to get his message across using his unique brand of firm guidance, that spells trouble for the Wyoming Cowboys. They opened as a 24-point underdog to the Big Red while their conference mates from Fresno couldn’t manage to stop Nebraska from covering a 29-point cushion.
Riley acknowledged that his team did some good things against the Bulldogs such as not turning the ball over (the Huskers actually ended up with a plus-two turnover margin) and rushing for nearly 300 yards, but it’s just not enough.
Ultimately, I believe all this to be a net positive. It shows that no, Riley won’t settle for the type of play that will result in a six-win season, especially when the talent on hand knows what it can do when playing disciplined football.
Indeed, Riley’s irritation should make all Nebraska fans feel content about what they’re going to get out of their Huskers.