LINCOLN, Neb. — Sometimes, Nebraska coach Mike Riley said, coaches have a hard time enjoying wins.
Especially after a big win, like Nebraska’s 35-32 victory over Oregon on Saturday. Because there’s always another game, and with the Big Ten West now seemingly wide open after Iowa’s loss to North Dakota State last weekend, the emphasis now turns to growth, Riley said. Nebraska should enjoy this win, yes, but not for long.
“It is an awesome win, our effort was outstanding and our will to win was at the top and we deployed our best ball and made big plays down the stretch, which was really good to see,” Riley said. “You have to build on those things.”
Nebraska will go into Northwestern this week ranked No. 20 in the AP and Coaches polls and will face a wounded 1-2 Northwestern team. But Riley knows the Huskers can’t just walk into Evanston and expect a win. Or anywhere in the Big Ten, for that matter
“We know what we’re getting with Northwestern,” Riley said.
The first road game, and first Big Ten game, raises challenges for Nebraska, he said.
The grass field in Evanston, Ill., for instance, which Riley called “the tallest grass you’ll ever see,” will be a challenge. Plus, Nebraska will face a tough, gritty Northwestern defense led by coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has given Nebraska trouble in the past few seasons, especially last year when the Wildcats kicked around Nebraska in Memorial Stadium.
“I think this can be one of your toughest things as a coach,” Riley said. “There is kind of a euphoria of winning the game and a reality of watching the video, and you have to take it like for real. You gotta convince the players that this is real.”
The main mindset Riley wants to convince the team of is that this game is essentially the same. Nebraska will stay at a hotel the night before the game, and then will go play a game the next day.
“Just getting to the hotel is a little different,” Riley said.
Some other notes from Monday’s press conference:
- Riley liked the play of special teams, especially kicker junior Drew Brown and freshman punter Caleb Lightbourn. Lightbourn was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday.
- Riley also mentioned he thought the biggest turning point in the game was De’Mornay Pierson-El’s punt return late in the second quarter. “I think that it can be great for him personally,” Riley said. “He’s a gifted athlete and had a great freshman year and then had a really tough past year. For every step that he makes, whether it’s a reception or a return, and to have that return, if I’m him that’s all about confidence.”
- The offensive balance was also something Riley was proud of — Nebraska ran for 228 yards and threw for 200.
- Nebraska will practice on grass this week in preparation for the grass field at Northwestern.
- Riley thought senior DE Ross Dzuris played the best overall game of all the Huskers.
- In terms of Big Ten scheduling, Riley is in favor of the new nine-game conference schedule.
- Riley coached against a Fitzgerald team before, when Fitzgerald was a player. It was in 1996 in the Rose Bowl, when Fitzgerald played for Northwestern and Riley was the coach at Oregon State. However, Fitzgerald missed that game with a broken leg.
- Nebraska will wear alternative uniforms against Northwestern. Why Northwestern? Riley’s not sure. “It’s the road so we wear white, I guess,” he said.
- Final image for Monday: According to safety Kieron Williams, Riley dances with Williams and WR Stanley Morgan Jr. after wins. Williams gave Riley’s moves a seven out of 10.