LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — With a new athletic director on the way and Nebraska having an open date this week, the future of embattled coach Mike Riley has been the hottest topic in the state and among Cornhusker fans everywhere.
Riley joked after practice Wednesday night that he wanted to borrow the sign that hangs over the desk of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, the one that says “Just coach the team.”
“That’s all I’m going to worry about,” Riley said, “and then we’ll let the rest take care of itself.”
Bill Moos, who’s coming to Nebraska from Washington State, begins his new job next week. If he’s undecided on whether to retain Riley, the last five games of the regular season could be considered an audition for Riley and his staff. Moos said at his introductory news conference Sunday that “as we speak right now, he’s my football coach, and I’m going to support him.” Later, he said he doesn’t believe in firing a coach in the middle of a season.
As it is, the Huskers (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten) are coming off a 56-14 loss to No. 6 Ohio State , their most lopsided home loss since 1949. That followed a 21-point home loss to No. 5 Wisconsin.
Nebraska is practicing three times this week and many of the coaches will go out of town to recruit beginning Thursday. Preparations for the Oct. 28 game at Purdue already have begun.
Riley, 18-15 in three years at Nebraska but a loser in eight of the last 13, said his players need to concentrate on the goals that are within reach. Nebraska must win three of its last five to be bowl-eligible, and it can still finish second in the Big Ten West and is mathematically alive to win the division if Wisconsin stumbles.
“Motivation comes in all different packages for people,” Riley said. “I have 128 guys and there might be 128 different buttons. Whatever it is that turns you on, let’s push it, let’s go. It might be you being the best player you can be; you being a senior and you want to have a great finish to your senior year.”
Quarterback Tanner Lee has completed 60 percent of his passes and thrown one interception in the last three games after getting picked off nine times in the first four. He was one of the few bright spots against Ohio State, going 23 of 38 for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
Riley said Lee, who came to Nebraska from Tulane, has settled down and found a better rhythm after sitting out last season because of transfer rules. The offensive line has done a decent job protecting Lee, and he has made better decisions about when to throw away the ball.
“It was really, really hard — difficult in every circumstance — against Ohio State, because you’re getting beat badly and throwing too much, and he’s still making good plays,” Riley said. “I was impressed with that. So I think we’re just going to keep going with him.”
But even with Lee’s improvement, the Huskers have been inconsistent. They’re 11th in the Big Ten in scoring (25.9-point average), not nearly good enough to offset the 31 points and 395 yards a game the defense is allowing.
“In this day and age of playing football, with the points that are put on the board,” Riley said, “we have to be more productive.”
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