MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — You would be hard-pressed to find a member of Nebraska’s media whom coach Mike Riley doesn’t know by name. Once he meets someone, he never forgets them. It’s an admirable quality.
During Riley’s postgame news conference, he used those names as he addressed questions about Nebraska’s 54-21 loss to Minnesota. He looked the people who asked him questions right in the eye and said their names. It’s hard not to like Riley.
Yet, being nice is only worth so much. Through the niceness, it never felt like Riley said much to address the issues against Minnesota.
“You guys saw the game. It went from bad and went from there,” Riley said. “The opening kickoff was really a setback for us. It didn’t need to be a killer and I thought we responded pretty well, and then we responded again after that and then got stopped on fourth down and never really did stop them from there even if they had a long field.
“It kept mounting from there and it’s an old story of…”
Riley trailed off. He turned his focus to Minnesota’s strengths on Saturday, addressing the Gophers’ ability to run the football in multiple ways. He even called Minnesota versatile and productive.
Here’s the kicker, though: Minnesota’s offense wasn’t all that productive prior to the matchup with Nebraska. The Gophers were previously scoring an average of 23.4 points per game, 319.2 yards per game and 4.79 yards per play. By the end of the second quarter, Minnesota had 30 points, 311 yards of total offense and was averaging 8.9 yards per play.
“It’s really hard to say. … Here’s what happened: They moved the football, and we couldn’t get them off the field,” Riley said.
Riley was pushed a little further on that in regards to intensity. And he knows the score didn’t show much from Nebraska. He tried to stay positive about it, but his answer felt forced. The reality is that he simply might not have known what to say.
“Like I said, we responded but never got our feet on the ground at any time, that I can remember defensively,” Riley said.
Riley is now in an interesting spot. Plenty are calling for his job, and that likely won’t settle down any time soon. Nebraska’s trip to State College to face Penn State is on the horizon, and the Nittany Lions will be a tough challenge for the Huskers. And after that, Nebraska gets Iowa at home with only 5 days of preparation.
There’s always a chance Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos could make a move in regards to the coaching staff before next weekend. With two games left in the season, the future of the Huskers’ current staff feels more uncertain than ever. And that’s mostly because it no longer feels like a matter of if, but now when, for what ultimately happens.
Until a decision is made though, Riley and his staff will move forward. That’s all they can do at this point.
“I think that it sounds like a broken record, but the coaches will get together to plan and prepare the players. I think we’ll just have to call upon their own personal pride to do the right thing. Whether or not [the players’] lights have been on all the way, whatever that is or the opinion of what it looked like today, these are good kids. They have worked hard. They did prepare. We had a plan.
“We were surprised by it, but I will continue to say that they had good intentions and tried in every way to get ready to play.”
It’s hard to doubt that Riley had the best of intentions for this game. He likely did. The problem is that those intentions aren’t winning football games.
And though it’s nice to be nice, it doesn’t mean much when the game never goes your way.