LINCOLN, Neb. — Two days removed from his team’s blowout loss at the hands of Ohio State, Nebraska coach Mike Riley told the gathered media on Monday that football is a game of choices. And Saturday night in Columbus, the Cornhuskers failed to make the right one — over, and over, and over again.
“It was bad choices and it turned into bad football,” Riley at his news conference. “There’s no way to sugar coat it. We played badly.”
The defense, which gave up 62 points to the Buckeyes, overcompensated. It did things it hadn’t done all year, such as safety Aaron Williams giving up a long pass play at the beginning of the second half or the defensive line and linebackers not being able to seal the edge on run plays.
“I think that basically we eventually fell apart in the fact that we were a little bit frantic almost defensively,” Riley said. “Guys were trying to do somebody else’s job because this wasn’t getting done or that wasn’t, and we fell apart assignment-wise.”
On offense, the Huskers mustered just 3 points. Demons that had quietly plagued the team all year — such as the inability to run on first down or throw effectively — exposed themselves on national prime-time television.
Now? Nebraska needs to start back at Square 1.
“We’ve got to reemphasize the basics of how we play,” Riley said. “We have to do a great job of coaching, our players have to have a great week of focus, focusing on those kinds of issues that have hurt us at times and really hurt us the other night.”
Nebraska now sits in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten West Division with Wisconsin and Minnesota, all sporting identical records of 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the conference. And the Cornhuskers are no longer in the division driver’s seat. To make it to Indianapolis for the conference title game, Nebraska has to win out win out and hope Wisconsin loses. Minnesota, winner of four in a row, visits Lincoln on Saturday.
“We’re going to play a good, sound football team,” Riley said.
But Nebraska might have to do it without senior QB Tommy Armstrong, who is in the concussion protocol and is considered day-to-day. Riley said Monday that senior backup Ryker Fyfe is the current starter.
Fyfe is 7 for 23 for 93 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception this season, and took over for Armstrong on Saturday.
“We’ve been in so many close games in the second half, it’s too bad we didn’t get him in more often,” Riley said of Fyfe. “I believe he is always well-prepared.”
You can’t run away from the Ohio State loss, Riley added. You can’t flush away the loss. And he’s not going to just stop liking this team. He still does.
But Riley expects his team to react to this adversity the way it has all season.
“I’ve got a lot of faith that we’re going to have a good reaction,” Riley said.