The last time Mike Riley coached a game in Oregon was his last game at Oregon State, the critics were out in force afterwards. Ken Goe of The Oregonian summed up his column by writing that changes were needed at Oregon State “because what the Beavers are doing now is not working.” Zach Hall of the Bend Bulletin went further:
In his post-game comments, Mike Riley admitted just as much, saying that his offense simply wasn’t competitive anymore:
And Riley did make changes, though I’m pretty sure they weren’t the changes he was thinking about after the game. 36 hours after Oregon State’s season ended, Riley took a call from Shawn Eichorst, and Riley changed time zones. In 2015, Riley tried different personnel in his system, which didn’t work well at all. In 2016, Riley tried adapting to his mobile quarterback, and got the Huskers nine wins. But all the while, he kept developing his old pro-style system on his scout team as Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien sat out. People who talked optimistically about the 2017 Huskers repeatedly pointed out how these quarterbacks better fit Mike Riley’s system.
Which, while technically true, may not be a good thing.
It’s just two games in; declaring Riley’s system a failure is waaaay premature. But just the same, maybe the expectations for Lee and this offense this season started a little bit unrealistic. Lee was a 53% passer at Tulane who threw 23 touchdown passes with 21 interceptions; in two games at Nebraska, he’s a 52% passer who’s thrown 5 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Will he get better? More than likely, yes. But maybe, just maybe, it’s probably a good idea to lock away all of the “NFL” hype.
Likewise, fan expectations for the defense may have gotten a little ahead of themselves. Bob Diaco’s defense was bad once again in the first half, but remarkably good in the second half. You like the adjustments at halftime...but making them in the first quarter would be more helpful. But it is a new system, and we should expect some growing pains. (Yes, I’m being more forgiving of the new defensive coordinator than the veteran head coach and offensive coordinator.)
With that, here’s this week report card. As always, your comments and feedback are always welcome in the comments below.
I-Back: Our Brian Towle picked this little gem out of the game notes:
big stat that went out when Tre Bryant went out— Brian Towle (@BrianRTowle) September 10, 2017
Bryant rushed 13 times for 81 yards on first down in the game.
6.2 yards per carry on first down is pretty solid; his 20 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown was also very good. There’s no word on the severity of his knee injury, though. For whatever reason, the coaching staff is still resistant to letting Mikale Wilbon carry the ball; that may have no choice but to change this week. It seems strange to play Wilbon in passing situations, knowing how Wilbon struggles with pass protection. (Really bad miss this week.) We still don’t know why Devine Ozigbo hasn’t played yet either; if Bryant and Ozigbo still aren’t able to play this week, we may see true freshman Jaylin Bradley this week. Grade: A-
Quarterback: Let’s contrast Bryant’s first down production with Tanner Lee on first down: 16 pass attempts, only five completions, 96 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a sack. That’s a lot of awfulness: it resulted in Oregon’s second touchdown and more often than not, bad second, and therefore as well, third down situations. Lee struggled with his decisions, frequently throwing into double coverage, and his accuracy. There are lots of team reasons why things went awry, but as the quarterback, he’s ultimately responsible. Lee’s completion percentage steadily worsened as the game went on: 57%, 55%, 50% and finally just 31%. That’s the second straight week where Lee’s passing turned awful in the fourth quarter; not acceptable for any quarterback when the game is on the line. And if we’re down on the defense, let’s not forget that two of Lee’s interceptions put the Ducks in scoring range, resulting in 14 points. Grade: D
Wide Receivers: Stanley Morgan gets a large portion of the blame for not making the catch on the first play of the game. (Some want to give him all of it, though it wasn’t his fault the ball was thrown into double coverage. This discussion got rather heated in the CornNation Slack room during the game.) As the game went on, he came up big - none bigger than reading the corner blitz and being ready for the quick hit for the easy touchdown. Tyjon Lindsey’s bobble of a third down pass play cost the Huskers a first down completion, as he finally gained control short of the marker. Grade: B-
Offensive Line: Matt Farniok might have put himself in position to take over at right tackle permanently; the freshman wasn’t perfect, but was solid enough. On the other hand, John Rairdon got beat badly on his one play. Cole Conrad continues the tradition of high shotgun snaps that has formed the last few seasons; that’s going to blow up at some point. Overall, the protection was merely OK, though the run blocking seemed fine. Grade: C
Defensive Line: I like what Mick Stoltenberg is doing at nose tackle; there were a couple of times where he brought pressure without any blitz help. Deontre Thomas is also making things happen in the middle. Grade: B-
Linebacker: One of the big problems with Diaco’s first half defenses is playing base coverage. With spread teams, defenses simply can’t put linebackers on slot receivers. For example: Mohammed Barry on Charles Nelson. But when Nebraska went more nickel and dime, the linebackers definitely upped their game. Grade: C
Secondary: Let’s be honest...the young cornerbacks struggled in this game. But when Joshua Kalu tweaked his hamstring, Aaron Williams played huge: 12 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Same with Antonio Reed, forcing that huge fumble that gave Nebraska a chance late. Grade: C-
Overall: C Hard to believe after that first half that this grade would be anything other than the first letter of Jon’s favorite expletive, but a valiant second half comeback nearly erased that debacle.
Oregon is now up to a 14-point favorite on Nebraska. ... What am I missing here?— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 6, 2017
Josh Rosen thinks Nebraska has Oregon right where it wants them.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 9, 2017
For what it’s worth, I think Nebraska’s defensive issues are going to be easier to fix than the offensive problems.
How would you grade the Huskers against Oregon?
This poll is closed
A I slept through the first half; liked a lot of what I saw in the second though.
B A few issues on defense, nothing that’s not fixable.
C Average offense, awful defense the first half, good the second.
D Disappointed with both sides of the ball.
F Can’t believe that the Huskers effin’ played like that.
Elsewhere in College Football
Rutgers: F Eastern Michigan is now 1-58 against Power Five opponents. Ouch.
BayLOLOr: D Couldn’t happen to a more respectable institution.
Minnesota 2nd Half: A+ For those of you who headed to bed early instead of watching #Pac12AfterDark, you missed the Gophers water-skiing behind that row boat. Jonathan Celestin might be named B1G defensive player of the week for this hit:
Ohhhhhhhhhhklahoma: A+ The horseshoe cleared out early; Urbz has some problems to work out.
Georgia: A Bulldog fans pulled a Nebraska on Notre Dame.