Nebraska kicks off its 128th season this Saturday with a matchup against Arkansas State, the defending Sun Belt Conference champion. The Huskers are coming off a 9-4 record in 2016, while Arkansas State posted an 8-5 record last season.
Nebraska heads into Head Coach Mike Riley's third season with game- tested experience on both sides of the ball, while also introducing new faces at several key positions. The game will mark the Husker debut for starting quarterback Tanner Lee, who spent the first three years of his career at Tulane. Defensively, Nebraska returns significant experience in the secondary and talented players at all three levels of the defense, which will feature a 3-4 look under new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
The Red Wolves ended last year as one of the nation’s hottest teams, winning eight of their final nine games en route to earning their fifth Sun Belt title in six seasons. Arkansas State has played in a bowl game each of the past six seasons. They are led by Head Coach Blake Anderson who has posted a 24-15 record in his first three years.
Date/Time: September 2, 2017 7:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE Capacity: 85,458
Surface: Field Turf
Opposition Blog: Check out Underdog Dynasty for Sun Belt and other mid-major conference coverage
Series Record: This game is the third meeting between the two schools, all at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska was victorious in 2009 and 2012 matchups with the Red Wolves in Lincoln.
TV: The game will be televised on BTN with Joe Beninati, Play-by-Play; Glen Mason, Analyst; and Elise Menaker, Sidelines. It can be streamed on BTN2Go with a login from your service provider.
More streaming options: The official Huskers app is available on iTunes. The app is free but accessing live audio costs $4.99 (per season). The app is available for Android users for free but the live content requires an in-app purchase. I often use the TuneIn app for game audio.
Weather: At kickoff, the temperature will be 82 degrees with sunny skies and 0% chance of precipitation. Winds will be negligible from the north-northeast at 8 mph.
Odds: Nebraska is favored by 15 points
Nebraska is a perfect 12-0 all-time against current members of the Sun Belt Conference, including a 2-0 record against Arkansas State.
Nebraska has won 19 consecutive home night games at Memorial Stadium dating back to 2008. Overall Nebraska is 45-5 (.900) in home night games at Memorial Stadium.
Coach Riley: On Bob Diaco’s teaching ability
“I think that first off what Bob did is study the players on the team as much as he could physically, gathered as much information as he could and did a very thoughtful job of the placement of players. There’s a profile in the 3-4 defense as there is in every defense, but he has a very specific idea of what the profile of a guy looks like at each position. For certain players to be looked at and placed and then selected for that position is motivating to those people. For instance, Luke Gifford, who hasn’t really played that much, all of a sudden found in this 3-4 defense a spot and grew because of the confidence put into him to place him. ‘This is you, as that outside linebacker to the field. This is why you fit in.’ He grabbed onto it, he was taught well, he’s now in the time we’ve had him practice playing the best football I’ve ever seen him play. Now, let’s go play in the game. I think it’s been really energizing for individuals. Chris Weber is the same way, latching onto that inside linebacker, leadership role right there. Through that leadership role of playing, calling the defenses, the team recognized that and elected him a captain. He found a whole new life like that playing in it. I think a guy like Alex Davis, new position, had his hand down for all that time before, playing out there fits the profile. Grabbing onto something that is his, he has some ownership and then he’s been taught really well. That’s what’s been exciting for me, I think Bob does a great job of painting a picture for a player. There’s a ton of emphasis placed on how to play. This is your position, this is what you have to do. The repetitions in practices over and over again, but done in a way that always keeps the player on the edge of learning.”
Coach Riley: On coaches he admires
“I think I go way back to my first job. Ad Rutchsman was a teacher of how to play football, my first boss. I’ve always admired that in people, everybody can have a scheme, but it’s really what goes on in the inside of it that helps players play better. Ad was adamant that everybody did that on our staff, that you had to teach guys how to play, very specific technically, how to play and I love that part of it. That appears to me to be what has taken place with our team, each guy, the repetition of what they do, how they have to play, it’s been a fun process to watch.”
On the team chemistry
“I think when you get a quality in a team that appears to be that this group is really consistent. We had virtually no one showing up late for meetings, everybody participating in the stuff that is kind of out of our eyesight, but part of their day, whether it’s the ice tub or the rehab or the conditioning that’s taking place when we’re watching film. There was no drama in that area. When you get all that, what you’re really getting underneath it all is an engagement that shows that they want to do what’s right for the big group. What I think that does for you is when it is hard, or when you have invested a lot, they won’t quit. They’ve invested in doing in the right way, I’ve asked them for 20 days that it was just going to be football. We weren’t in school, we just wanted 20 really good days and it would take a sacrifice on their part to make sure there was no distraction, and the distraction is being late, not showing up, not wearing the uniform the way you’re supposed to on the practice field, just stuff we don’t want to deal with. Let’s do this right so we don’t have any drama. Let’s get ready to practice football and this team did a good job of that. As far as the message, this team wants to do the right thing.”