LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) No one ever told Mike Riley coaching at Nebraska would be easy.
Three games into his first season in Lincoln, Riley is 1-2, his team has been hamstrung by blunders on both sides of the ball, a third defensive starter is out because of injury and a player used social media to blast critical fans.
Unprompted, Riley told reporters Monday he could predict one of the narratives leading into Saturday’s final nonconference game against Southern Mississippi (2-1).
”One of your obvious questions is, how is this team going to be?” Riley said.
”I’m not going to assume anything negative about them practicing or preparing because we haven’t encountered that,” he said, recalling the team’s response to the season-opening Hail Mary loss to BYU. ”This is an unforgiving game, and it’s all about finishing and winning. A couple of plays different, a couple of seconds different, we’d be undefeated and having to address probably a different topic.”
Riley said even if BYU hadn’t connected on the Hail Mary and the Huskers had been able to finish their fourth-quarter comeback and beat Miami, it wouldn’t change the fact they’ve been sloppy. Receivers dropped at least a half-dozen passes and the Huskers committed 12 penalties in the 36-33 loss to the Hurricanes.
”We need to grow and teach, accentuate those things we’re doing well and improve those things we have to get better at,” Riley said.
Pass defense will receive a lot of scrutiny. Cornerback Daniel Davie, who struggled on deep balls against South Alabama the previous week, was burned multiple times against Miami and benched before halftime. Davie was still listed No. 1 at left cornerback on the depth chart released Monday, but he’s not promised a starter’s job come Saturday. Riley said changes are possible in base, nickel and dime packages.
The front seven continues to be beset by injuries. Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey hurt his groin against Miami and will be out at least four weeks. Defensive tackle Vince Valentine, who suited up but didn’t play against the Hurricanes, is week to week with a high ankle sprain. Defensive end Jack Gangwish, who injured his left elbow on the last play against BYU, will miss at least another week.
Another unpleasant surprise for Riley was offensive lineman Alex Lewis’ middle-of-the-night Facebook rant this past weekend. After Miami’s Corn Elder intercepted a pass in overtime, Lewis was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving Elder when he was out of bounds. That allowed Miami to start its overtime possession on the 12-yard line instead of the 25, and the Hurricanes kicked the winning field goal.
A number of fans tweeted disparaging remarks at Lewis. In the wee hours Sunday, Lewis wrote on Facebook that he would prove to himself and his family that he’s ”better than these fair-weather fans.” He added: ”You will kiss my feet when im done with you! So screw everyone who ever doubts me.”
Lewis is a team captain and will remain one, Riley said. The coach said he knows Lewis regrets the post, which was deleted before noon Sunday. Riley said Lewis is a ”good guy” who is ”sensitive.”
”You don’t need to gain your identity from social media and react like that,” Riley said. ”Secondly, you don’t generalize like that about a group of people. He knows that.”
Riley said he has no rules about social media but does advise players on proper use.
”There are consequences to portraying our team in the wrong way with a situation like that,” he said.