LINCOLN, Neb. — Ok, Huskers fans, time for a pop quiz.
How much does Nebraska special teams coordinator Bruce Read make a year?
The answer: $450,000 a year, third highest among the Huskers coordinators. And if you don’t know that off the top of your head, you’ve clearly never been on Twitter during a Nebraska game, particularly when Nebraska’s special teams runs out onto the field.
After two blocked punts this season, no return touchdowns on kickoffs or punts, and the overall discombobulation of the special teams unit, Huskers fans are sick of the special teams.
On Monday, Riley showed a similar frustration and called the group a “mixed bag.”
There are parts he likes, particularly kicker Drew Brown. And he also likes the kickoff coverage.
Everything else? Not great, Riley said.
In Nebraska’s 24-17 over Minnesota on Saturday, punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El had negative-3 yards in three returns. Freshman punter Caleb Lightbourn had a punt travel negative-2 yards in the second quarter. And to make matters worse, Nebraska’s punt return unit got flagged for 12 men on the field on a fourth-and-1, which extended a Gophers drive that ended in a touchdown.
“The punt return is a lot better than a year ago, and having De’Mornay going helps, but I’m disappointed we can’t get him more room,” Riley said. “He doesn’t need a lot and if we can just give him some space, that’d be good.”
Riley’s also frustrated with the punt team, which is second-to-last in net yards this season in the Big Ten.
“In general, it has been less than 50-50,” Riley said. “Protection is not always great, Caleb is young and erratic, obviously, and at the same time has a lot of talent, is a good worker. I think continued development to work with him and coaching is a big factor.”
Riley did not necessarily grade coach Read, but he did say he wants to evaluate the special teams in the offseason so “what happened this year doesn’t happen again.” Riley called Read a “meticulous, detailed worker,” and his scouting reports come with a ton of thought.
Riley also shed some light on how the special teams is coordinated. There are three coaching units for the punt return, punt coverage, kick return and kicking. But the special teams failures still fall on Read’s doorstep, Riley said.
“He is ultimately responsible,” Riley said. “We certainly have to have a better job. There are some glaring things there that aren’t good.”