Husker Notes: New opponent to end regular seasons in 2020, 2021; Mike Riley Gets Contract Extension

Husker Notes: New opponent to end regular seasons in 2020, 2021; Mike Riley Gets Contract Extension
World-Herald News Service

Nebraska will not face Iowa to end the regular season in 2020 and 2021.

The Huskers released their conference football schedules for those seasons on Tuesday, and they will face Minnesota instead of the Hawkeyes during the final week. Those games will also take place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving instead of Black Friday.

Nebraska and Iowa have met on the day after Thanksgiving each year since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011 and will continue to do so through 2019. Each team has three victories over that stretch with the Hawkeyes winning the last two meetings.

The 2020 season will be the first Nebraska doesn’t play on the day after Thanksgiving since 1989. The Huskers faced Oklahoma on Black Friday from 1990-95 and Colorado from 1996-2010.

Nebraska will also open its 2020 season with a conference game. The Huskers will face Purdue on the opening weekend that year, NU’s first season-opening conference game since 2003 against Oklahoma State.

These conference games are added to nonconference games that have already been scheduled for those seasons. In 2020, the Huskers will face Cincinnati (Sept. 12) and Central Michigan (Sept. 19) in nonconference play with one spot on the schedule left to fill. In 2021, NU plays Northern Illinois (Sept. 4), Buffalo (Sept. 11) and at Oklahoma (Sept. 18).

Below are Nebraska’s 2020 and 2021 conference schedules:

2020

Sept. 5: Purdue

Oct. 3: at Northwestern

Oct. 10: Illinois

Oct. 24: at Rutgers

Oct. 31: at Ohio State

Nov. 7: Penn State

Nov. 14: at Iowa

Nov. 21: at Wisconsin

Nov. 28: Minnesota

2021

Sept. 25: at Michigan State

Oct. 2: Ohio State

Oct. 9: Northwestern

Oct. 16: at Purdue

Oct. 30: Michigan

Nov. 6: Iowa

Nov. 13: at Illinois

Nov. 20: Wisconsin

Nov. 27: at Minnesota

Mike Riley’s contract extended through 2020 earlier this year; Huskers expect to add another season in December

LINCOLN — Nebraska football coach Mike Riley’s contract has been extended by one year through the 2020 season, and NU President Hank Bounds told The World-Herald on Monday evening “I believe we’ll do that again in December.”

“I have great confidence in Mike, to extend his contract to four years,” Bounds said. “I expect us to compete, and I have every confidence that we’ll extend it again in December.”

Bounds said the contract work sends a message.

“If you look across the landscape, contract lengths are all over the place — from three years to a much longer term,” he said. “It was prudent at this time, as a signal, to show to everyone our support of Mike.”

According to Bounds, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green requested a one-year extension for Riley “earlier in the year,” which Bounds approved. The date wasn’t immediately available because Bounds didn’t have the paperwork nearby. The Husker athletic business office was closed for the day by the time the interview was conducted.

Was a raise involved?

“I’m almost certain his salary remained the same,” Bounds said. Riley’s pay for the 2017-18 fiscal year is $2.9 million.

In August, Bounds said, Green requested another one-year extension for Riley and a one-year extension for Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, whose deal runs through June 2019, according to a chancellor’s document provided by NU.

Bounds said he told Green on those two requests “let’s visit that in December.”

Riley, whose original contract was five years, has signed the one-year extension, Bounds said. Two weeks into Riley’s third season, his record is 16-12 (.571) after Saturday’s 42-35 loss at Oregon.

In a statement relayed Monday night to The World-Herald, Riley said:

“I am honored to be the head football coach at the University of Nebraska, and I am so appreciative of the continued support and confidence in me and what we are doing, shown by Shawn Eichorst and our administration.”

Eichorst, in a statement, said: “The extension given to Mike is indicative of our great belief in his leadership of our program, and in our future with him at the helm.”

At Nebraska, as at other schools, neither extensions nor praise guarantee that a coach or administrator will be around to the end of a contract.

In 2007, then-Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman fired A.D. Steve Pederson less than three months after giving him a five-year contract extension — a move that cost the school $2.2 million.

In 2012, then-A.D. Tom Osborne fired men’s basketball coach Doc Sadler 11 months after extending his contract and more than doubling the liquidated damages due Sadler if dismissed to $3.4 million.

In 2014, Eichorst fired football coach Bo Pelini six months after telling a World-Herald reporter “he’s a good ball coach, a good person, he’s serious about his craft … we’re lucky to have him at Nebraska.”

David Knevel, Joshua Kalu doubtful for Saturday

Right tackle David Knevel (ankle) is doubtful for Saturday’s game and is now listed week-to-week, coach Mike Riley said. Tre Bryant (knee) is day-to-day and did not practice on Monday, but running backs coach Reggie Davis said Bryant is “good to go” for Saturday.

Senior safety Joshua Kalu (hamstring) is doubtful for Saturday. Antonio Reed played in Kalu’s absence. Riley said Reed, like the rest of the team, improved as the game wore on.

Praiseworthy

Riley listed more than a dozen players by name Monday whom he felt made positive contributions in the loss to Oregon.

Aside from Bryant and wideout Stanley Morgan — both topped 100 yards for a second straight game — the Nebraska coach pointed to redshirt freshman Matt Farniok for effectively stepping in at right tackle in the absence of Knevel.

Linebackers Luke Gifford, Chris Weber and Dedrick Young also earned mention along with nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg, safety Aaron Williams and sophomore corner Eric Lee, about whom Riley said, “We’re excited about his improvement.”

Junior Austin Rose and redshirt freshman Tony Butler also made notable stops on special teams, Riley said, and sophomore Tyrin Ferguson continues to be strong in a similar role.

The coach also praised kicker Drew Brown — who netted four touchbacks and largely neutralized Oregon’s dynamic return game — and punter Caleb Lightbourn (three boots inside the Ducks’ 20-yard-line).

Lee ‘pressed a little’

Nebraska scored 35 points and didn’t play particularly well. That’s a good sign to offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf.

But, he added after Monday’s practice, the Huskers can play better. And the most obvious place to start is with quarterback Tanner Lee.

The junior from Louisiana missed some high throws and suffered some miscommunication with receivers, Langsdorf said. As for the four interceptions, “all kinds of stuff went on on all four of them,” including a ball that should have been caught on the first play from scrimmage. Shaky pass protection was also a factor as well as a couple of misreads on routes as Lee finished 19-of-41 passing for 252 yards with three touchdowns.

“I think just settling in and playing a little bit, he was probably pressing, especially trying to get back in (the game),” Langsdorf said. “Maybe he put a little too much on his shoulders. I think he just pressed a little bit, but I think he made some plays, too. He got us in some good situations. He got hit too many times, which affects everybody.”

Langsdorf said Lee generally did a good job identifying the one-on-one situations between a Nebraska receiver and an Oregon defender. But Langsdorf said Husker coaches could help further by getting him into an early rhythm with easy throws and quick-hitting passes.

The coordinator said confidence is not an issue for the transfer heading into his third outing in a Nebraska uniform.

“I think he had a tough game,” Langsdorf said. “I think he was hard on himself about it, which is a good sign for him and our team. But I think he’ll bounce back and play great.”

Bullish on other backs

Though it appears Bryant will be available this weekend against Northern Illinois, Langsdorf said he doesn’t expect “a big drop-off” at running back if the Huskers have to turn to someone else.

Langsdorf said Mikale Wilbon — who saw all snaps in Bryant’s fourth-quarter absence against Oregon after the sophomore left with a knee injury — is taking extra work in practice. True freshman Jaylin Bradley and junior Devine Ozigbo are in the next tier of backs.

“It’s been a good group,” Langsdorf said. “We’ve leaned on Tre in the last two games, but the next guy that comes in there, we’re going to expect the same hard running and solid protection and catches out of the backfield.”

On Bradley, the coordinator said the Bellevue West grad is soaking up more knowledge with each practice.

“I think he’s a talented, talented natural runner and a receiver,” Langsdorf said. “He’s continuing to learn protections and just which way to go in each play. But I’m excited about him and I think he’s going to have a bright future.”

Just part of the job

Bryant is the first back since 2013 to rush for more than 100 yards in two straight games. Part of that comes with the blocking up front. It also comes from receivers blocking on the outside.

And the success Nebraska’s had there this season, receivers coach Keith Williams said, isn’t a surprise at all.

“We take pride in that. That’s part of your job description,” Williams said. “That’s not a surprise we block well. That’s part of it.”

Williams actually doesn’t teach blocking all that much. Most of what he does coach about blocking is attitude.

“The thing is, that guy is your teammate. He might be your roommate. You might have gotten a ride from them to school. And you’re just gonna let your guy get your boy?” Williams said. “And at the end of the day, the running back has to step up and take that blitzing linebacker when you want that deep post. You hope he has great effort in that, too. So it works hand in hand.”

Farniok glad debut is over

With Knevel likely out again for the second straight week, Farniok will make his second start of the season against Northern Illinois.

The redshirt freshman from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said on Monday he felt good about his first start and is glad it’s out of the way.

“Yeah, I feel like it’s definitely going to get easier from a nerves standpoint after getting thrown into the fire,” Farniok said. “(Oregon) is not really an easy place to start at, and I feel like once I was able to control my nerves there as I progress and keep going it’ll be a lot easier to stay calm and keep growing.”

Farniok said Knevel helped keep his nerves in line on the road. All week, he said, Knevel, left tackle Nick Gates and right guard Tanner Farmer kept re-emphasizing to Farniok that football is football and just to keep his cool.

Unhappy returns

Riley wasn’t shy on Monday about how much he wants the punt return game to improve.

Through two weeks, the Huskers are last in the Big Ten in yards per return. They have returned one punt for just 1 total yard.

“We don’t want to catch a ball, a punt on the 5-yard line, nor do we want to pass up an opportunity when we get one to return the ball,” Riley said, referring to two things Nebraska did against Oregon. “Those are things that have to be emphasized, and we just need to do a better job overall with all of that.”

Senior return man De’Mornay Pierson-El owned up to the mistakes both after the game and on Monday. Part of the reason the punt return team is still a work in progress, he said, is because of the change in schemes. With the subtraction of former special teams coach Bruce Read and the addition of safeties coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker, Nebraska’s return strategy is different from a year ago.

And according to Pierson-El, there’s a need for more practice reps on the new scheme. It’s not all completely comfortable, he said.

“This (strategy) is a little more aggressive,” Pierson-El said, “and we just have to rep it.”

Quick hits

» Reggie Davis said players had an “attitude about them” in Monday’s practice. “They weren’t too happy about what happened. I think it was the right start.”

» Bradley has been on the active roster since the beginning of the season, Davis said, and will work on the kick coverage units. Davis said the thinking on Bradley didn’t change after the Oregon game.

» NU players again did up-downs after practice Monday, and reserves ran a series of wind sprints.

» Morgan is the first Husker in history to start a season with two 100-yard receiving games. Morgan has been targeted on 35 percent of Lee’s throws this season according to World-Herald tabulations.

» Nebraska has committed 11 penalties for the season; left tackle Gates has two and no one else has more than one. The Huskers have committed four holds, three personal fouls, two false starts, one pass interference and one offside.

Northern Illinois at Nebraska

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Radio: 103.1 FM

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