Category Archives: Huskers News

Same tune: Like Huskers, Music City Bowl foe Tennessee well-versed in ending season with disappointing losses

LINCOLN — Tennessee is right there with Nebraska in wanting to finish the season on a high note in the Music City Bowl, and also with stinging from how its season turned after a promising start.

The difference might be the expectations before it all started.

Tennessee was ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP Top 25 and seen as the favorite in the SEC East. The Volunteers were coming off a 9-4 year and potentially ready to be a playoff threat in Butch Jones’ fourth season as coach.

After a 5-0 start that included wins over Virginia Tech, Florida and Georgia — but included some red flags — the Vols lost four of their last seven, and Jones minced few words Monday when discussing how it came apart.

“I know there’s been a lot of questions in terms of the program,” Jones said. “I will tell you this: I will thoroughly, thoroughly examine everything in our football program … moving forward.

“Every amount of time where I’m not recruiting or not in a home or not in a high school, I’m examining that, and will continue to do that, and that’s a process. You have to take the emotion out. You have to look at where you’re at, you have to look at how far you’ve come and then you have to look at your deficiencies as a football team and football program.”

Tennessee had gone from five wins to seven to nine in Jones’ first three seasons and won its last six a year ago after the Vols’ four losses came by a combined 17 points. They returned 17 starters, including senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

But the season hit a speed bump with three straight October losses, the most surprising at South Carolina. After recovering with 55, 49 and 63 points over the next three weeks, the Vols were outscored 21-3 in the second half of a 45-34 loss at Vanderbilt that might have kept them out of the Sugar Bowl.

“Obviously we did not finish the way we wanted to finish, and that’s unacceptable in our program,” Jones said. “I take responsibility for that as the leader of this program.”

Injuries were one of the biggest factors, going all the way back to 20 players missing spring practice. The Vols used seven starting combinations on their offensive line in just 12 games, and Jones said Monday that sophomore Chance Hall won’t play in the Music City Bowl.

Turnovers were a problem, with Tennessee currently tied for No. 115 nationally with 25 lost (13 fumbles, 12 interceptions). Junior tailback Jalen Hurd also abruptly left the program after the losing skid.

All in all, Jones said that he has never been through a season with such highs and lows.

“Some of it is, we’ve had some unforeseen adversities, and that’s life,” Jones said. “And it’s how you adapt, how you adjust.”

Jones said Tennessee is still building the “competitive depth” it needs over the long haul, especially in the SEC. The lack of it was something he feared could bite the Vols during their important midseason stretch.

“Our starting 22 could play with anybody in the country,” he said. “I think we saw that starting out 5-0.”

Getting back to nine wins is now the focus, and senior defensive lineman LaTroy Lewis said he knows friends playing at other places who would trade for the Vols’ season.

“To win eight games, in the Southeastern Conference and (against) the type of opponents we’ve played this year, it’s really an accomplishment,” Lewis said. “And, no, I don’t think we’ll have a tough time getting up to play.”

Nebraska also started strong, going 7-0 before losing three of its last five. The Huskers’ troubles began with back-to-back road losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State, then peaked with the 40-10 loss at Iowa.

But the Huskers were unranked to start the season and were coming off a 6-7 record in Mike Riley’s first year as head coach.

“I have a lot of respect for their program, the history of their program,” Jones said. “I have a lot of good friends on that coaching staff. I know what they’re building at Nebraska, as well, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE VOLS

Record: 8-4, 4-4 SEC (tied for second in SEC East)

Ranking: No. 21 in College Football Playoff (unranked in AP Top 25 and coaches poll)

Highlight: Tennessee hadn’t beaten Florida since 2004 before rallying for a 38-28 home win on Sept. 24. The Vols, once down 21-0, had 336 yards of total offense in the second half.

Lowlight: The Vols led rival Vanderbilt 34-24 late in the third quarter — with a chance to close the regular season on a four-game win streak — only to see the Commodores score the next 21 points and pull the upset.

B1G trouble: Tennessee pounded Big Ten teams in its last two postseason games, beating Northwestern 45-6 in the Outback Bowl last Jan. 1 and Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl the year before. The Vols have won six of their last seven bowls against teams that were Big Ten members at the time.

When Tennessee has the ball: Up and down might best describe the Vols, but they scored 34 or more points in eight of 12 games. Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs leads the SEC with 26 touchdown passes and boasts the highest passer rating but also has thrown 12 interceptions and been sacked 25 times. The running game took a hit when Jalen Hurd left the team, but Alvin Kamara is a game-breaker.

When the opponent has the ball: Nebraska will have to account for defensive end Derek Barnett, a potential first-round NFL draft pick who leads the SEC in sacks (12) and tackles for losses (18). But the Vols rank just No. 109 nationally in total defense, hit the hardest by their inability to stop the run (231.7 yards per game, 5.2 per carry, 27 rushing TDs).

Music City Bowl: Tennessee made its only previous appearance in 2010, losing 30-27 to North Carolina in double-overtime. Nashville is a little over 2½ hours from the Vols’ campus in Knoxville. Nebraska will be making its first trip to the Music City Bowl.

All-time vs. Nebraska: The Huskers have won the only two prior meetings, 31-21 in the Fiesta Bowl after the 1999 season and 42-17 in the Orange Bowl after the 1997 season. The latter helped NU get a split of its third national championship in a four-season span.

Regional could seem like repeat for Huskers, with Penn State up next, Washington possibly on deck

LINCOLN — There were going to be consequences, coach John Cook told his Nebraska volleyball team near the end of Monday’s practice. Big consequences for the team that lost the workout’s final competitive serving drill.

But when a victor had been decided, there were no punitive sprints or bear crawls. The Huskers in the losing unit gathered in the southwest corner of the practice court, picked up a microphone, and began, literally, to face the music. Their penance was to entertain the winners with a karaoke rendition of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.”

“It was just the first song that came into my head,” said setter Kelly Hunter, who took it upon herself to choose the song.

It was one last chance to mix things up in a week where Nebraska (29-2) will have to navigate at least one familiar opponent — and possibly two — to advance to the NCAA tournament final four in Columbus, Ohio. The top-seeded Huskers’ regional semifinal match with No. 16-seed Penn State (24-9) at 11 a.m. Friday at the Devaney Center will be the teams’ third match of the year, with NU beating the Nittany Lions in five games on the road and picking up a sweep in Lincoln.

“It would be fun to play someone we haven’t played yet, but on the other hand, we have Penn State really well scouted,” Hunter said. “To play someone we’ve won twice against is a confidence-booster for us, but on the other hand they have a lot of motivation to come back and beat us as well.”

If Nebraska takes care of the Nittany Lions for the third time, the Huskers would move to Saturday’s 3 p.m. regional final against one of two Pac-12 rivals that also are facing off for the third time this season. No. 8-seed Washington (28-4) will face unseeded Arizona (20-14) at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the day’s second regional semifinal in Lincoln.

Washington has already beaten Arizona twice, winning 3-1 in Tuscon, Arizona, on Oct. 23 in a match where three of the four sets were decided by two points. All-Pac-12 senior outside hitter Kalei Mau had 23 kills for the Wildcats that night, but it wasn’t enough to overcome 17 Washington blocks, including 11 from junior Crissy Jones.

The Huskies made quicker work of Arizona in a sweep on Nov. 10 in Seattle led by 14 kills from Pac-12 player of the year Courtney Schwan.

If both Nebraska and Washington advance to Saturday’s final, it would be a rematch of last year’s regional final in Lexington, Kentucky, where the Huskers beat UW 3-1 to reach the final four in Omaha. It would also mark the sixth time in nine years Nebraska and Washington have played in the postseason.

“The thing is with Penn State and Washington, we’re pretty familiar, they’re familiar with us,” Cook said. “It would be interesting to see if there’s any adjustments or things like that. Arizona, I don’t know a thing about.”

One Husker who may be looking forward to a third meeting with the Nittany Lions is senior outside hitter Andie Malloy. The Baylor transfer has struggled of late, hitting .067 or lower in three of her last four matches. But Malloy was lights out in the two matches against Penn State, combining for 30 kills and a .338 hitting percentage.

“My teammates definitely did a great job telling me what shots were open,” Malloy said, “and I feel like I was mixing in different shots so that the defense on the other side of the net didn’t really know where I was going to swing.”

On Monday, Cook tried to put a brave face on Friday’s 11 a.m. start, which is the earliest of the four regional sites on Friday. It also will be the earliest match the Huskers have played this season. Nebraska played two matches this year that started at noon, beating Montana State and Maryland.

“We did really well in those matches,” Cook said of NU’s two midday matches. “But, I think once they get on the court (Friday) and it gets going, the adrenaline is going to take over and nobody is going to know what time it is.

“My theory on this, why Nebraska is playing early and Wisconsin’s not, and Minnesota’s not, and Texas is not, is they know we’re still going to fill Devaney whether it’s 11 in the morning, 7 in the morning, 10 at night. Our fans are going to show up.”

Cook said the team’s practice structure will change somewhat with the Huskers practicing at 11 a.m. on Thursday to get used to the morning start.

The coach said if the Huskers do their normal game day serve-and-pass practice on Friday, it might have to be as early as 6 a.m. since Nebraska would have to allow all four teams at the regional to have practice time before the 11 a.m. match.

“We asked the NCAA committee about that,” Cook said, “and they said they hadn’t thought about that.”

Huskers officially announce hiring of assistant Donté Williams; Riley expects ‘great energy and expertise’ from cornerbacks coach

The Huskers replaced their much-criticized special teams coach with what many view as an ace recruiter who can help energize the Nebraska secondary when it officially announced the hiring of cornerbacks coach Donté Williams on Monday.

Williams first emerged Friday as a candidate to replace Bruce Read, who was dismissed last Sunday after two seasons as special teams coordinator.

After pulling the trigger on the hire three days later, Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he expects the move to immediately energize the Blackshirts.

“We are confident that Donté Williams will bring great energy and expertise to our defensive coaching staff,” Riley said in a press release. “He has the personality and demeanor that allows him to connect and relate to his players. He will also be a dynamic addition to our staff in terms of recruiting prospective student-athletes to the University of Nebraska.”

Williams is expected to coach the Huskers’ cornerbacks and sub-package specialists (nickels and dimes) and have involvement in pass defense coordination. Brian Stewart will shift his focus to the Nebraska safeties, and defensive coordinator Mark Banker will return solely to the coordinator role after also coaching the safety position in 2016. Riley said he will likely divide special teams duties among multiple staff members in 2017.

Williams will join the Huskers immediately, allowing him to work with the Blackshirt defense as the team prepares for the Music City Bowl matchup with Tennessee.

“I am truly blessed that Coach Riley thought highly enough of me to join his staff here at the University of Nebraska,” Williams said in the release. “Everything I have seen in Lincoln has completely raised my expectations of what I know we can accomplish here! I look forward to continuing the success of the Blackshirt defense under Coach Riley and the whole Big Red Family!”

Williams just finished his first season at Arizona after three years as secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at San Jose State. According to his Wildcats bio, his recruiting areas are Los Angeles and Houston, and the cornerbacks coach is behind several of Arizona’s commits for the 2017 signing class — one of whom is a key Husker target that decommitted from Arizona around the same time Williams’ name popped up on the radar as NU’s replacement for Read.

Williams has previously earned national recognition for bolstering San Jose State’s recruiting efforts. In February 2015, Sports Illustrated named Williams a top-10 recruiter in college football. He was also tabbed the top recruiter in the Mountain West Conference by 247sports in 2014.

On Monday, Los Angeles Hawkins High School football coach Mil’Von James — who coaches a pair of NU’s top targets — said Williams has done a “phenomenal” job of recruiting both the school and the L.A. area in general.

“Donté Williams brings a great energy and go-get-’em attitude in recruiting,” said James, also a Los Angeles native who played at UCLA and UNLV, then spent one year in the NFL. “He attracts kids. It’s going to be interesting seeing him on Nebraska’s staff.”

That ability to pull kids from L.A. and other areas to Lincoln — and then continue to coach them up — is something Williams’ new boss will be counting on.

Husker hoops set for rare pair of back-to-back games against Top 10 foes

LINCOLN — Regardless of the results, Nebraska men’s basketball will make history this week.

Facing two Top 10 opponents back-to-back — No. 10 Creighton at home Wednesday and No. 3 Kansas on the road Saturday — is a rarity for NU whether in or out of conference play.

It has happened in nonconference play only twice before in the 68-year history of the Associated Press poll:

» In 1982-83, the Huskers lost to No. 1 Indiana and No. 11 Arkansas in a five-day stretch.

» In 1958-59, they fell to No. 11 Bradley and No. 11 Michigan State over three days.

World-Herald research found three Nebraska victories over Top 10 nonconference foes all-time, all at home:

» 71-69 over No. 5 Michigan State in 1990-91 under Danny Nee, when Beau Reid nailed a 23-foot jumper with two seconds left.

» 82-77 over No. 7 Duquesne in 1969-70 under Joe Cipriano, when Marvin Stewart scored 18 points and Leroy Chalk 17.

» 74-73 over No. 1 Michigan in 1964-65 under Cipriano, when Omahan Fred Hare grabbed a deflected shot in the lane and, with his back to the basket, flipped it in over his head at the buzzer.

So what’s the plan against Creighton (8-0) and Kansas (7-1) as Nebraska (5-3) tries for its first nonconference Top 10 win in 26 seasons?

“How to do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Monday. “The only way for us to be successful is to do what we do best — put together a sound defensive game plan and continue to work on our team offense.”

Nebraska’s last victory over any ranked nonconference foe was nine years ago. In December 2007, the Huskers under Doc Sadler pulled out an 88-79 overtime win over No. 16 Oregon in a game at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center.

In conference play, Nebraska has faced two Top 10 foes in a row five times previously.

The most recent was in Miles’ first season 2012-13, when the Huskers played No. 1 Indiana and No. 8 Michigan State in a four-day stretch. The others were in 2009-10 (No. 10 Kansas State, No. 1 Kansas); 2004-05 (No. 10 Texas, No. 2 Kansas); 1989-90 (No. 1 Kansas, No. 5 Missouri); and 1951-52 (No. 7 Kansas State, No. 1 Kansas). All were losses.

Miles doesn’t consider this a make-or-break week in the season.

“The idea of what this could do for you good, bad or otherwise, I don’t see it,” he said. “We’re young yet. The more we can get these guys to lock in on what’s just ahead, the better.

“This isn’t unlike some weekends in the Big Ten. It’s just earlier in the year, and we’re excited.”

Nebraska shouldn’t be intimidated by a big name or a high ranking considering the schedule it already has played. The Huskers beat Dayton, the preseason pick to win the Atlantic 10, and took now-No. 2 UCLA to the final few minutes.

“Our guys will be amped up,” Miles said. “But they won’t have stars in their eyes like they did for UCLA after having experienced that.”

UCLA is second nationally in scoring at 97 points a game. Creighton is fifth at 90.8. Does having played the fast-paced Bruins help the preparation for Creighton?

“UCLA is just so big,” Miles said. “It might actually help us more for Kansas. But Creighton has so much skill and speed. They can get you in a lot of ways.”

Nate Gerry named first-team All-Big Ten safety by the Associated Press

Nebraska safety Nate Gerry was named first-team All-Big Ten by the Associated Press on Monday.

Gerry was the only Husker selected by a panel of 26 writers and broadcasters from the 11 Big Ten states.

The senior, who was named all-conference second team by league news media, is climbing the NU record books in several key defensive categories.

With a Music City Bowl game against Tennessee yet to go, Gerry is tied for second on the Huskers’ all-time list with 13 interceptions, one behind Dana Stephenson. He has had at least four interceptions each of the last three seasons, after moving from linebacker to safety following his freshman year.

Gerry also is tied for sixth in career tackles with 273, and Mike Brown is the only Husker defensive back with more at 287. His 19 tackles for loss are the most by any NU defensive back. He ranks second among NU defenders this season with 74 tackles, and also has four interceptions and eight pass breakups.

Penn State’s James Franklin was named coach of the year, while the Nittany Lions’ star running back Saquon Barkley earned offensive player of the year honors. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers was defensive player of the year.

Ohio State led the way with eight players selected on the first team. Michigan had five players earn six spots, with Peppers given credit for being a defensive back and all-around offensive player.

Iowa defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson and cornerback Desmond earned first-team honors, with King being one of four repeat first-team selections from 2015.

Here is the full list:

First Team

Offense

Quarterback: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, 6-2, 222, Jr., Wichita Falls, Texas.

Running backs: u-Saquon Barkley, Penn State, 5-11, 223, So., Coplay, Pennsylvania; Justin Jackson, Northwestern, 5-11, 193, Jr., Carol Stream, Illinois.

Offensive tackles: Erik Magnuson, Michigan, 6-6, 305, Sr., Carlsbad, California; Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin, 6-6, 314, Jr., Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Offensive guards: Dan Feeney, Indiana, 6-4, 305, Sr., Orland Park, Illinois; Billy Price, Ohio State, 6-4, 315, Jr., Austintown, Ohio.

Center: u-Pat Elflein, Ohio State, 6-3, 300, Sr., Pickerington, Ohio.

Tight end: Jake Butt, Michigan, 6-6, 250, Pickerington, Ohio.

Wide receivers: Austin Carr, Northwestern, 6-1, 200, Sr., Benicia, California; Curtis Samuel, Ohio State, 5-11, 197, Jr., Brooklyn, New York.

All-purpose player: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan, 6-1, 205, Jr., East Orange, New Jersey.

Place-kicker: Emmit Carpenter, Minnesota, 6-0, 199, So., Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Defense

Defensive ends: Taco Charlton, Michigan, 6-6, 272, Sr., Pickerington, Ohio; Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State, 6-4, 266, Jr., Tarboro, New Jersey.

Defensive tackles: Jaleel Johnson, Iowa, 6-4, 310, Sr., Lombard, Illinois; Malik McDowell, Michigan State, 6-6, 276, Jr., Detroit.

Linebackers: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State, 6-2, 243, Jr., Hinesville, Georgia; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan, 6-1, 205, Jr., East Orange, New Jersey; T.J. Watt, Wisconsin, 6-5, 243, Jr. Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

Cornerbacks: Desmond King, Iowa, 5-11, 203, Sr., Detroit; u-Jourdan Lewis, Michigan, 5-11, 186, Sr., Detroit.

Safeties: Nate Gerry, Nebraska, 6-2, 220, Sr., Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Malik Hooker, Ohio State, 6-2, 205, So., New Castle, Pennsylvania.

Punter: u-Cameron Johnston, Ohio State, 5-11, 198, graduate senior, Geelong, Australia.

SECOND TEAM

Offense

Quarterback: Trace McSorley, Penn State, 6-0, 205, So., Ashburn, Virginia.

Running backs: Corey Clement, Wisconsin, 5-11, 227, Sr., Glassboro, New Jersey; Mike Weber, Ohio State, 5-10, 212, Fr., Detroit.

Offensive tackles: Ben Braden, Michigan, 6-6, 335, Sr., Rockford, Michigan; Jamarco Jones, Ohio State, 6-5, 310, Jr., Chicago.

Offensive guards: Brian Allen, Michigan State, 6-2, 304, Jr., Hinsdale, Illinois; Kyle Kalis, Michigan, 6-5, 305, Sr., Lakewood, Ohio.

Center: Mason Cole, Michigan, 6-5, 305, Jr., Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Tight end: Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin, 6-6, 248, Jr., Aurora, Illinois.

Wide receivers: Amara Darboh, Michigan, 6-2, 215, Sr., West Des Moines, Iowa; DeAngelo Yancey, Purdue, 6-2, 205, Sr., Atlanta.

All-purpose: Curtis Samuel, Ohio State, 5-11, 197, Jr., Brooklyn, New York.

Place-kicker: Tyler Davis, Penn State, 5-11, 180, Jr., St. Charles, Illinois.

Defense

Defensive ends: Ifeadi Odenigbo, Northwestern, 6-3, 265, Sr., Centerville, Ohio; Chris Wormley, Michigan, 6-6, 302, Sr., Toledo, Ohio.

Defensive tackles: Ryan Glasgow, Michigan, 6-4, 299, Sr., Aurora, Illinois; Steven Richardson, Minnesota, 6-0, 300, Jr., Chicago.

Linebackers: Vince Biegel, Wisconsin, 6-4, 245, Sr., Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin; Josey Jewell, Iowa, 6-2, 235, Decorah, Iowa; Tegray Scales, Indiana, 6-0, 230, Jr., Cincinnati.

Cornerbacks: Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State, 6-0, 192, So., Cleveland; Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin, 5-9, 168, Sr., Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Safeties: Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern, 6-0, 205, Jr., Pickerington, Ohio; Leo Musso, Wisconsin, 5-10, 194, Waunakee, Wisconsin.

Punter: Kenny Allen, Michigan, 6-4, 222, Sr., Fenton, Michigan.

Coach of the year: James Franklin, Penn State.

Offensive player of the year: Saquon Barkley, Penn State.

Defensive player of the year: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan.

Newcomer of the year: Mike Weber, Ohio State.

Notes: Tommy Armstrong’s health, recruiting discussed on Husker teleconference

Questions about the health of Nebraska starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong will “linger” into bowl preparation, coach Mike Riley told reporters Sunday night in a teleconference.

Armstrong battled various injuries in 2016, but the one that kept him out for a game was a strained left hamstring. Armstrong missed the Maryland game, then played against Iowa with the injury. NU lost 40-10 and Armstrong was largely ineffective.

“It’ll be slow for him to resume full time, full speed,” Riley said, adding that the Huskers were fortunate Armstrong could play as much he did against the Hawkeyes. “In order to let that thing heal, he’s not going to go full speed into the early parts of the bowl preparation.”

If Armstrong is healthy enough for a full preparation during the latter parts of bowl practice, Riley said, he’ll start against Tennessee. If not, NU could turn to backup Ryker Fyfe — who had surgery to repair a broken bone in his left (non-throwing) hand after the Maryland game.

“Tommy will start if he’s going to be healthy for a good deal of preparation time — that might mean a week, 10 days before the game,” Riley said. “I would like to think his leg would be healthy and Ryker would be able to function properly for the whole game.”

Riley said he wasn’t aware of any other significant injuries among the players.

Hire coming ‘very soon’

The official hiring of a new defensive coach — confirmed through various media reports to be Arizona defensive backs coach Donté Williams — is imminent, Riley said, and should happen “very soon.”

Riley didn’t give the name of the new assistant, but sources have confirmed to The World-Herald that Williams has been offered the job and is expected to work for the Huskers.

Williams would replace Bruce Read, NU’s former special teams coordinator whom Riley fired two days after the loss to Iowa. Read had worked for Riley for 16 years. Special teams will now be handled by the entire coaching staff, Riley said, instead of just one coordinator.

“It certainly wasn’t an overnight decision,” Riley said, “but making that decision so soon after the game basically had to do with a couple things: We could get started with adding a guy to the defensive staff, a coach who could help out on the defense and a recruiter who could help out on the defense; and then, to basically give Bruce a longer period of time to position himself for a job as these jobs are open out there.”

Riley said he wanted to add a coach to the defensive staff, and should the NCAA approve this spring a spot for a 10th assistant, he’d add another coach to the offense. Any coach who works for him, Riley said, will have to be equally proficient in coaching and recruiting, the latter being “vital” to NU’s success, Riley said.

“You would like to say you won’t sacrifice in either area — they’re both vitally important,” Riley said.

“And that’s really — when you look at our job in general, that’s our job description. We coach our current team — mentor and teach our current team, and recruit our next team. And both of them have to be done at the highest level.”

Riley spent the week on the road recruiting. Via private plane, he started the week in Muskegon, Michigan, flew to the East Coast, back through the Midwest, and finally to the West Coast. Riley said recruits — most of whom he knew well — had good responses to his in-home visits.

“I don’t know if we’ll get every one of them — that we’re still recruiting — but they understand it, and they like it a lot,” Riley said.

Riley said he expects Nebraska to sign 22 in the 2017 recruiting class, with a little wiggle room either way.

Quick hits

>> Nebraska will resume practice Friday.

>> Riley said he knew little about Tennessee because hadn’t seen them this season.

>> Riley had Nebraska No. 15 in his final ballot for the coaches poll. He ranked Iowa — which beat the Huskers by 30 — No. 22. Wisconsin was No. 8. Riley and one other coach, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, gave Nebraska its highest ranking. Maryland’s DJ Durkin ranked Nebraska 17th.

Husker turnovers feed hungry Bears in blowout loss

LINCOLN — With a couple of swats, California set an early tone during Sunday afternoon’s game with Nebraska.

Less than four minutes into the game, 6-foot-4 sophomore Kristine Anigwe blocked a shot in the lane by NU center Jessica Shepard. The Huskers got the offensive rebound, but later in the possession, 6-2 Mikayla Cowling knocked away another Shepard attempt.

The unbeaten Golden Bears went on to fill up their stat sheet with blocks and steals as they coasted to an 86-65 win before 5,573 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“We turned it over too much to have a chance to win a basketball game,” said Nebraska coach Amy Williams, whose team’s 26 turnovers led to 33 points. “Cal is long and lengthy. They limit where you can get the ball. They did a good job dictating where our shots were coming from.”

The Bears, who start four players 6-2 or taller and have subs who are 6-4 and 6-7, finished with 18 steals and 10 blocked shots. Seven Bears had at least one steal, led by Cowling with seven, and five had at least one block.

“Our whole defensive mindset is to be disruptive,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose team improved to 7-0 to match the best start in program history. “We put on the board, ‘Be faster, be more athletic.’ ”

Cal’s length on defense gave Nebraska’s guards problems, and also made it a tough afternoon for Shepard, who entered the game averaging 18.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Shepard was 1 of 8 from the field in the first quarter, with a 3-pointer being her only field goal, and 2 of 12 in the first half. For the game she was 3 of 14 from the field, with four of those shots blocked. She finished with a season-low eight points and grabbed eight rebounds before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.

Gottlieb said her team’s focus was to take Shepard away from Nebraska’s offense. Covering the Husker star was Anigwe, who finished with game highs of 25 points and four blocks.

“Kristine’s really locked into defense this year,” Gottlieb said.

The Huskers hung close early, trailing 20-18 with 1:15 left in the first quarter after freshman Rylie Cascio Jensen hit the last of NU’s four 3-pointers that quarter.

But Asha Thomas hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Cal a 25-19 lead after one, and the Golden Bears dominated the second quarter.

Allie Havers made a layup to start the quarter and Hannah Whitish hit a 3-pointer from the left corner at the halftime buzzer. But in between those buckets, Cal went 10 of 17 from the field and outscored the Huskers 22-4 to open a 19-point halftime lead.

Nebraska never got closer than 14 in the second half.

While the Bears contained Shepard, Nicea Eliely scored a career-best 19 points. Williams said the freshman guard from Colorado Springs is gaining confidence. Maddie Simon came off the bench to finish with a season-high 11 points.

Cal’s Mi’Cole Cayton, who signed with NU but transferred after coach Connie Yori’s departure, had 11 points and five assists.

Nebraska, which has dropped four straight, returns to action Tuesday at 7 p.m. as it hosts Drake.

California (7-0) …….. 25 22 22 17—86

At Nebraska (3-5) …. 19  9 21 16—65

Cal: Anigwe 10-13 5-5 25, Brown 4-5 3-6 13, Cayton 5-8 0-2 11, Thomas 4-6 0-0 11, West 5-8 0-0 10, Range 4-12 0-0 8, Davidson 2-5 0-0 4, Cowling 1-6 0-0 2, Yue 1-1 0-0 2, Mosley 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 36-66 8-13 86.

NU: Eliely 8-13 1-2 19, Simon 3-6 3-5 11, Havers 4-11 0-0 9, Shepard 3-14 1-2 8, Cincore 2-8 1-2 7, Cascio Jensen 1-1 0-0 3, Whitish 1-4 0-0 3, Ramacieri 1-4 0-0 2, Washington 1-2 0-0 2, Mitchell 0-0 1-2 1, Wood 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 24-63 7-13 65.

3-point goals: Cal 6-19 (Thomas 3-4, Brown 2-2, Cayton 1-2, Anigwe 0-1, Cowling 0-3, Davidson 0-1, Range 0-6), NU 10-19 (Cincore 2-3, Eliely 2-3, Simon 2-3, Cascio Jensen 1-1, Havers 1-2, Shepard 1-3, Whitish 1-4). Assists: Cal 16 (Cayton 5), NU 18 (Ramacieri 6). Fouled out: NU, Shepard. Rebounds: Cal 35 (Davidson 6), NU 40 (Shepard 8). Total fouls: Cal 16, NU 17. Att.: 5,573.

Huskers finish 24th in final AP college football poll of regular season, 21st in Coaches Poll

The Huskers finished 24th in the final Associated Press college football poll of the regular season and 21st in the final Coaches Poll. The rankings were released Sunday.

NU, which posted a 9-3 record, fell one spot from its AP ranking last week but moved up one spot in the Coaches Poll.

Meanwhile, Alabama, ranked No. 1 in both polls, heads into the postseason with a chance to become the third wire-to-wire champion in the history of the AP Poll. The Crimson Tide has been ranked first since the preseason and received all 61 first-place votes in the final AP rankings. The team also earned all 58 first-place votes in the Coaches Poll.

Four Big Ten teams were ranked in the Top 10 and six in the overall Top 25 of both polls. Ohio State was No. 2, Penn State No. 5, Michigan No. 6 and Wisconsin No. 8 in both. Iowa was ranked 21st in AP and 25th in the Coaches Poll.

Alabama enters the postseason looking to win back-to-back championships and to join Florida State in 1999 and Southern California in 2004 as the only teams to be AP No. 1 from start to finish.  The Crimson Tide also would be the 12th team to win two straight AP championships.

This article includes material from the Associated Press. 

The AP Top 25

Rank, Team, (First-place votes), Record, Points

1. Alabama: (61), 13-0, 1,525

2. Ohio St.: 11-1, 1,444

3. Clemson: 12-1 1,396

4. Washington: 12-1 1,329

5. Penn St.: 11-2 1,252

6. Michigan: 10-2 1,249

7. Oklahoma: 10-2 1,173

8. Wisconsin: 10-3 1,054

9. Southern Cal: 9-3 1,040

10. Florida St.: 9-3 889

11. Colorado: 10-3 886

12. W. Michigan: 13-0 871

13. Oklahoma St.: 9-3 800

14. West Virginia: 10-2 788

15. Louisville: 9-3 542

16. Stanford: 9-3 508

17. Auburn: 8-4 493

18. Virginia Tech: 9-4 372

19. LSU: 7-4 351

20. Florida: 8-4 331

21. Iowa: 8-4 272

22. Pittsburgh: 8-4 237

23. Temple: 10-3 229

24. Nebraska: 9-3 196 

25. South Florida: 10-2 173

Others receiving votes: Houston 101, Utah 99, Boise St. 95, Washington St. 31, Texas A&M 26, Air Force 20, Navy 15, Tennessee 12, San Diego St. 8, W. Kentucky 7, Miami 6, Georgia Tech 3, Kansas St. 2.

Coaches Poll

Rank, Team, (First-place votes), Record, Points

1. Alabama: (64), 12-0, 1,600

2. Ohio State: 11-1, 1,520

3. Clemson: 11-1, 1,475

4. Washington: 11-1, 1,388

5. Wisconsin: 10-2, 1,298

6. Michigan: 10-2, 1,265

7. Oklahoma: 9-2, 1,223

8. Penn State: 10-2, 1,156

9. Colorado: 10-2, 1,116

10. Oklahoma State: 9-2, 1,018

11. Southern California: 9-3, 965

12. Florida State: 9-3, 902

13. West Virginia: 9-2, 814

14. Western Michigan: 12-0, 659

15. Louisville: 9-3, 554

16. Florida: 8-3, 515

17. Stanford: 9-3, 474

18. Virginia Tech: 9-3, 467

19. Auburn: 8-4, 442

20. Navy: 9-2, 380

21. LSU: 7-4, 315

22. Nebraska:  9-3, 309 

23. South Florida: 10-2, 237

24. Utah: 8-4, 159

25. Iowa: 8-4, 114

Others receiving votes: Boise State 93; Houston 58; Pittsburgh 56; Washington State 44; Miami (Fla.) 34; Texas A&M 34; Temple 26; Tennessee 23; San Diego State 18; Air Force 12; Georgia Tech 9; North Carolina 9; Minnesota 6; Tulsa 5; Appalachian State 3; Western Kentucky 2; Middle Tennessee 1; Troy 1; Wyoming 1.

Huskers’ defense turns back stubborn Horned Frogs, sets up date with Penn State

LINCOLN — It was just another kill for Kadie Rolfzen. She didn’t even give herself an extra point for originality.

The Nebraska opposite hitter’s final swing of the opening set came with the Huskers stuck in neutral, and her shot quickly headed in reverse. Rolfzen’s swing was blocked by a TCU defender, and before Rolfzen could hit the floor, the ball caromed off her face. It traveled back over the net and fell to the middle of the floor to clinch the first set for the Huskers.

“That’s actually the second time that happened this year,” she said. “The first one was against Florida. But, that one went off the top of my head. This one went like square in my nose.”

Rolfzen took one in the face, but it was TCU that ultimately took it on the chin in NU’s 25-22, 25-12, 25-16 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Devaney Center.

Behind Rolfzen’s match-high 14 kills, top-seeded Nebraska (29-2) advanced to next weekend’s sweet 16 matchup where Big Ten rival Penn State awaits. The Nittany Lions bounced back from a first-set loss to beat Pitt 3-1 in their second round match Saturday. Nebraska’s match with Penn State will air live on 1600 AM and 105.5 FM.

Arizona also is headed to Lincoln for the regional semifinal after earning a five-set win at No. 9 seed Michigan State. Kentucky and No. 8 seed Washington were playing for the last regional berth late Saturday night in Seattle.

In a match where TCU’s blocking and defense usually made the Huskers earn each point, the constant was Rolfzen, who hit .400 with only two attack errors. NU coach John Cook said Nebraska had a favorable matchup with NU’s All-American hitting across from TCU’s outside hitters, and with Rolfzen’s five kills in the first set, his theory quickly was proven correct.

“Kadie had a lot of one-on-ones tonight and made them pay,” Cook said. “We probably could’ve set her another 20 balls in situations, and she could’ve had a lot more kills, too.”

Perhaps the Huskers should have. Despite the sweep, TCU extended rallies and kept Nebraska’s hitting percentage to .205 on the night. Take away Rolfzen’s numbers and that mark dropped to .141 thanks largely to eight blocks by the Horned Frogs, who finished their season at 15-13.

“These are matches we’re supposed to win and we should dominate when you lay it on paper,” Cook said. “But, the NCAA tournament has a completely different feel to it. TCU played a whole another level higher than they did last night against Wichita State.”

But after a first set where TCU put together a late 7-1 run to eat into NU’s 22-13 lead, the Huskers’ own block and defense helped fuel long runs of points that defined the night.

Nebraska held the Horned Frogs to .056 hitting. Ashley Smith’s nine kills led the Horned Frogs, but three TCU attackers ended the night with more errors than kills.

“I thought (Nebraska) played defense really, really well,” TCU coach Jill Kramer said. “It was probably the best defensive team we’ve seen all year. It made it a little bit more difficult to get things going offensively.”

Much of what TCU did get past the Huskers’ block was funneled to Justine Wong-Orantes. The NU libero will be famous in the box score for her 24 digs, which tied a school postseason record for a three-set match. But she also was at the service line for the Huskers’ 11-0 run in the second set, which included an ace and four of Nebraska’s 10 blocks in the match.

Nebraska added a 7-0 run in the third set served by Sydney Townsend, which featured three of Mikaela Foecke’s 10 kills on the night.

Wong-Orantes said the Huskers identified a possible weakness in a TCU rotation where the Horned Frogs’ setter is positioned in the back row. NU targeted shallow serves to the middle of the court to force the TCU setter to cross in front of the passer and obscure their view of the serve.

“Coach was giving me zones, and I was pretty confident hitting them,” Wong-Orantes said. “He had told us going into this match we were going to go Zone 3, which is short middle.

“I was hitting them, and they couldn’t really pass, so it was easier for us.”

Nebraska’s defensive plans for its next opponent have worked out pretty well, too. The Huskers have recorded 22 blocks in two matches against Penn State and held the Nittany Lions to .166 and .065 hitting in a pair of victories. The Huskers won a five-setter in State College on Nov. 4 and swept PSU in Lincoln on Nov. 16.

But, beating the same opponent three times in one season — especially one with the athletes Penn State will bring to Lincoln — might test Nebraska’s creativity as much as anything. Even against an opponent the Huskers have beaten four times in a row.

“I just think we know them really well, and they know us really well,” Rolfzen said. “Just got to make sure we go out and play point by point and play Nebraska volleyball.”

Notes

» The win was Nebraska’s 100th all-time victory in the NCAA tournament. NU joins Stanford as the only Division I teams with at least 100 tournament wins.

» Nebraska and Penn State have played eight NCAA tournament matches in the state of Nebraska, with the Huskers holding a 6-2 record.

The Nittany Lions won the most recent meeting, a five-set victory in the 2008 national semifinals played at the CenturyLink Center. Penn State went on to win the national title.

Huskers were in the zone early against South Dakota, until they got slowed by it

LINCOLN — What did Nebraska show instate rival and 10th-ranked Creighton, which comes to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday, with its 73-61 victory Saturday over South Dakota?

“Nothing,’’ sophomore forward Michael Jacobson blurted out with a frown and shake of his head.

That’s not entirely true.

The Huskers (5-3), who broke a three-game losing skid, showed Creighton they can explode to a quick lead. The score was 26-4 after eight minutes against a South Dakota team that by then had six turnovers, three airballs and two shots swatted.

“We looked like Edward Scissorhands the first eight minutes,’’ USD coach Craig Smith said. “Like we were playing volleyball, just throwing it up there to see what would happen.’’

Then Smith changed from man-to-man defense to a basic 2-3 zone with some occasional full-court pressing.

And Nebraska showed what it has the past three seasons against a zone: lethargy.

The Huskers, who scored 1.73 points a possession against man to man, suddenly dropped to 0.79 points per possession against the zone and nearly gave up all 22 points of their lead.

USD, which closed to 14 points at halftime, got within two points at 56-54 with 7:31 to play.

But Nebraska guard Tai Webster nailed a 3 on the next possession, and forward Jack McVeigh scored seven of his team-high 16 points down the stretch to secure the win and calm the home crowd of 10,627.

Webster, despite playing distracted, finished with a sparkling statistical line of 12 points, nine assists and six rebounds.

What was on the senior from New Zealand’s mind before, during and after Saturday’s game?

Creighton.

“I’ve been waiting for them for a long time now,’’ Webster said, “ever since we lost up there and got embarrassed by them.

“I know (the coaches) try to take us one game at a time. Me personally, I was thinking of Creighton. I don’t want to go out four years and never beating them.’’

To beat Creighton, Nebraska has shown it needs to juice up its offense.

Miles got it for the first half as NU scored 45 points, shot 50 percent from the field and more importantly nailed 6 of 13 3-pointers. The Huskers finished 9 of 23 on 3s after going 8 of 39 the previous two games combined.

But the playing-offense-in-snowshoes look after South Dakota changed defenses is concerning.

“They did some things that got us on our heels and out of our attack mindset, which I thought was pretty good at the start of the game,’’ said Jacobson, who posted his first career double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) with a career-high five assists.

“It got down to two points there. Not good.’’

So why didn’t South Dakota play zone from the start?

“I’m not sure,’’ Smith said. “I wish maybe we would have.’’

The former Miles assistant for 11 years at four stops — including two years at Nebraska ­— said inexperience and lack of practice time was part of it. The Coyotes (6-4) have had 10 games, nine practices and three days off in the past 22. And that’s with a roster that has 10 newly eligible players.

“It’s hard to fine-tune and tighten up,’’ Smith said.

Miles, who shared his press conference podium with Smith, said there was value in seeing South Dakota storm back and make the Huskers uncomfortable.

“I was really proud of our guys to perform down the stretch,’’ Miles said. “South Dakota out-competed us the second half for that stretch.

“When you get punched in the mouth, you can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, what’s going on? Do I have any teeth left?’ You’ve got to swallow them, spit the blood out and keep after them.’’

Nebraska is used to bleeding from the mouth against Creighton.

During Miles’ tenure, NU is 0-4 against the Bluejays, with losses of 16, 10, 15 and 22 points. In all games in Miles’ career against CU coach Greg McDermott, he is 0-12.

But Miles, who didn’t hear Webster’s comments, said he saw no signs Saturday of the Huskers looking ahead.

“Look at the way we came out,’’ he said. “(Smith) changed the game schematically, and that’s when the mentality changed. We got a little selfish with some shots and rushed some stuff.’’

Notes

» Nebraska and South Dakota finished tied in rebounding with 40 each. “I felt like we did a horrible job on the boards,’’ said NU’s Ed Morrow, who had 10 points and six rebounds. “Based on our matchups, we were expecting to do way better than that. We let the other team get the best of us.’’

» Husker guard Anton Gill’s struggles continue. The transfer from Louisville was scoreless in six minutes, missing two shots and committing a foul. For the season, he is shooting 21 percent (8 of 38).

» Nebraska center Jordy Tshimanga had four points, two blocks, one rebound and one steal in nine first-half minutes, but he didn’t play the second half. Miles cited matchups for not using the 6-11, 275-pound freshman the final 20 minutes.