LINCOLN -- Moments after Nebraska’s 42-35 loss to Oregon on Saturday, Mike Riley sat under a white tent assembled outside Autzen Stadium for postgame interviews and readily admitted disappointment, but also pointed out the silver linings.
Defense came together. Nobody quit. Learning experience.
By Monday, an edge had set in on the Huskers' third-year head coach.
“We should be so hungry to practice today,” Riley told reporters at his weekly news conference. “When (the players) look at that video, if they haven’t yet, they should just be sick. And they should want to get out there and work to be better than that.”
Riley certainly seemed perturbed two days after what looked like a blowout in the Willamette Valley turned into a close game. Perhaps that day it felt like a long shot because of the lopsided halftime score and the rarity of digging out from a 28-point hole.
When he watched the film on the flight home, though, he saw a game ripe for the taking.
“There’s a chance to build off how we finished and a really, really good opportunity to learn from how we started,” Riley said Monday, recalling his first-blush comments. “Saying that, after the game, I think that was right. But the reality of it is … it was really disappointing. It really feels like a lost opportunity.
“I just think we all can get more from what we do.”
Over the course of 30 minutes Monday, Riley at one point or another pointed out positives from just about every position group on both sides of the ball. He repeatedly came back, though, to reminding that periods of productive play are not enough in the middle of September.
The bottom line: “To be called good, you have to be consistent,” he said in some variation at least three times.
For the defense, consistency lacked in the first half before an effective close.
“Second half was obviously a lot better, but that doesn’t really excuse what happened in the first half,” defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg said. “We need to prepare harder, we need to be ready to play at the beginning of games. It’s very vital to set the tone, especially as a defense, getting out there and making sure you get some stops early to help out the offense a little bit.”
For the offense, inconsistency was an issue throughout. Riley called the performance, “sporadic,” and “way off-balance.”
Senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El said, “It’s a lesson learned. Definitely some stuff that we missed capitalizing on. We were in it, we fell short and that is all that matters.”
Husker players have Sundays off, so as they reported for meetings, film and practice Monday, they began to prepare for Northern Illinois. The Huskies are a 4-3 defense, run a spread offense like NU’s first two opponents and stand at 1-1 after a 23-20 loss to Boston College and a 38-10 win over Eastern Illinois.
But Nebraska players will also review the Oregon tape.
“Any time you don’t start a game well and then you finish how we did, it showed what we we're capable of,” senior linebacker Chris Weber said. “We were capable of that the whole game, so yeah, absolutely, we’ll be sick watching (the film).”
Added Stoltenberg, “Just seeing all the opportunities missed. I’m sure there’s tons of them. When we go over the film today as a team, I’m sure we’re going to see them. I totally understand what (Mike Riley) says about being sick. ... I think it’s definitely going to be motivation for us going forward. Maybe not thinking about all the specifics, but just technique things like that that you can definitely improve on during the week.”
Riley, as usual, answered every question asked Monday. It was clear, though, that he did not care to think about the big picture — a Big Ten game week is six days away and NU is beginning a stretch of four home games in the next five weeks — the way he did last week with a trip to a familiar West Coast location looming.
He wants to see improvement and see it fast.
“I don’t care if we’re playing the Green Bay Packers or whatever, it should be about us knowing we can be better,” he said.