Category Archives: Huskers News

Nebraska doesn’t get caught looking ahead, sweeps Rutgers for 2-0 Big Ten start

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — If Friday night’s sweep of No. 2 Penn State was a test of Nebraska’s resolve, then the quick turnaround Saturday against Rutgers was a test of how well the 14th-ranked Huskers could adjust.

By showcasing its depth against a program that has a single Big Ten victory at the start of its fourth season in the conference, NU punched the clock with a 25-15, 25-20, 25-11 win and moved on to bigger challenges.

After a 2-0 weekend to start Big Ten play, Nebraska (9-3, 2-0) will host No. 1 Minnesota and No. 5 Wisconsin next weekend at the Devaney Center.

“It’s probably the toughest weekend in the conference playing Minnesota and Wisconsin,” coach John Cook said on his postmatch radio interview.

The Huskers didn’t get caught napping in between Friday’s win and next weekend’s high-profile visitors. NU topped the .300 clip for the fifth time in six matches by hitting .376 against the Scarlet Knights, the Huskers’ second-best attack percentage of the season.

Senior setter Kelly Hunter polished off an excellent weekend with 35 assists, six digs and three blocks Saturday. The All-American from Papillion-La Vista South also moved into sixth on the school’s all-time assist chart and set Nebraska to a .359 mark over the weekend wins.

“I think she’s played a lot of matches at a high level, and I think she’s still working her way back,” Cook said. “Tonight, she was taking some risks in the middle tonight, which is really good. I think we connected almost on every one.

“Last night, she certainly proved herself in a big match that she’s getting close to being back.”

Outside hitter Anni Albrecht’s game-high 12 kills put the senior from North Aurora, Illinois, in double figures for the fourth straight match. Junior Mikaela Foecke had 11 kills without an error on 19 swings in just over two sets before being spelled by Olivia Boender in the third set.

As has become custom against Rutgers (5-9, 0-2), which has lost 61 of its 62 Big Ten matches, Nebraska went deep into the bench to try some new combinations. Twelve Huskers played, including freshman middle blocker Chesney McClellan, who made her first collegiate start when Cook elected to rest senior Briana Holman, who played Friday after injuring her ankle last weekend.

McClellan, who found herself across the net from a former club teammate in Rutgers freshman Kamila Cieslik, had seven kills and hit .462 to go with three blocks.

“She followed the game plan beautifully,” Cook said. “Kelly was really confident setting her, and I thought (McClellan) did a really good job.”

Redshirt freshman middle Lauren Stivrins added eight kills on .400 hitting for Nebraska, which has swept all four meetings against the Scarlet Knights since joining the Big Ten.

Rutgers, which started six underclassmen, hit .135 and was led by sophomore Jillian Duffin’s 10 kills on .400 hitting.

“I thought Rutgers competed really hard,” Cook said. “I think they’re improved from last year from what I remember. They just have a little smoother system. They know what they’re doing. Their freshmen did a nice job for them.”

No. 14 Nebraska (9-3, 2-0)…….25 25 25

At Rutgers (5-9, 0-2)…………….15 20 11

NU (kills-aces-blocks): Albrecht 12-0-1, Foecke 11-1-0, Stivrins 8-0-2, McClellan 7-0-3, Sweet 4-0-1, Hunter 3-1-3, Boender 1-1-0. Totals 46-3-10.

RU: Duffin 10-0-3, McLetchie 8-0-2, Cieslik 5-1-0, Steakhouse 3-0-1, Miljevic 2-0-4. Totals 28-2-10.

Set assists: NU 41 (Hunter 35, Maloney 3, Albrecht 1, Stivrins 1, Townsend 1), RU 25 (Sharkey 24, Miljevic 1)

Attendance: 412

Nebraska rebounds from turbulent week, Tanner Lee’s pick-six to open Big Ten play with victory over Rutgers

LINCOLN — Nebraska football had that lump in its throat again. A lump the size of Memorial Stadium, which drew to a hush after NU quarterback Tanner Lee had thrown yet another interception that resulted in yet another touchdown for the opponent. The Huskers threatened to punctuate a bad week with a below-the-barrel loss to Big Ten doormat Rutgers.

“You heard it, you heard everything, it got quiet,” NU coach Mike Riley said.

Unlike its loss to Northern Illinois, Nebraska rebounded — dare we say they competed? — with its longest touchdown drive of the year, tough running from a familiar name, superior line play and a defense that produced its best game yet in a 27-17 win over Rutgers.

It was no beauty. Perhaps only a mother — or Riley — would love it. Nebraska was missing its starting right tackle, center, outside linebacker and both safeties after Aaron Williams was tossed for a targeting penalty. But after a week in which Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst got fired, Nebraska (2-2) will take a win and the “hip, hip hooray” locker room chant that goes with it. And Riley will take that brief congratulations he received after the game from NU President Hank Bounds, the man who fired Eichorst on Thursday.

The Riley era remains on the ropes, but he’s still standing. He said his team could have been paralyzed after Lee’s third pick-six of 2017 — which gave Rutgers a 17-14 lead. It wasn’t. It won.

“I’m really proud of them for going out there and making some plays physically at that point,” Riley said.

Riley meant running the ball. After the pick-six, Riley stuck with Lee — who heard boos from the 89,775 in attendance upon his return to the game — but ran the ball on 31 of the last 42 snaps. On NU’s 17-play, 97-yard, game-winning touchdown drive, running back Mikale Wilbon quickly blasted for 11 and 15 yards. Lee did his part, completing 6 of 8 passes for 51 yards, including a touchdown to De’Mornay Pierson-El for a 21-17 lead.

Rutgers, which has not won a Big Ten game since 2015, helped that drive with personal foul penalty by the same guy, Kiy Hester, who scored on the pick-six. Still, NU got off the mat. Lee had made his share of winning plays. Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf never considered any other quarterback.

“Tanner’s the guy,” said Langsdorf who said a poor play call led to Lee’s pick-six.

“He sucked it up and made some throws,” Riley said.

Nebraska’s defense made some stops. A lot of them after Rutgers (1-3) scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the game, getting help from a bizarre foot-to-posterior catch from tight end Jerome Washington in the process. The Scarlet Knights gained just 119 yards for the rest of the game — 194 total — converting only 3 of 12 third downs.

“Ten points, under 200 yards, that’s the right way,” inside linebacker Mohamed Barry said.

The last time a Husker opponent gained fewer than 200 yards? Michigan in 2013.

Nebraska botched its chance to do it last week when it allowed NIU’s game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“Last week, we had that one drive where we had the opportunity to shut it down and we didn’t,” outside linebacker Luke Gifford said. “This week, we give up that drive to start the game and we knew that was it.”

After Nebraska took the lead, Husker safety Antonio Reed got an interception. Nebraska turned that into a Drew Brown field goal and a 24-17 lead. Rutgers then went three-and-out and punted. The Huskers crawled 50 yards in 12 plays for another field goal. Rutgers’ next drive ended in a punt. On RU’s final, last-gasp drive, Gifford snagged an interception to ice it.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco doesn’t like stat sheets — hates to even look at them — but understands the “hallmarks” of winning football.

“You can’t let a team run on you, you’ve got to be great in the red zone, and if you take the football away a little bit you’ve got a great chance,” Diaco said.

When you can possess the ball for nearly 23 minutes in the second half — like the Huskers did — that helps a defense.

Nebraska rode Wilbon and junior Devine Ozigbo, who had career-high 24 carries for 101 yards in his return from obscurity. Ozigbo had 19 carries in the second half, bulling through arm tackles and carrying defenders. The crowd has picked him as a favorite, and cheered his entry into the game.

“I definitely wanted to prove something for myself and just show I could do it,” Ozigbo said. “And now everybody can say they wished me good luck.”

Riley said coaches will consider a running back rotation going forward. They’d junked it in favor of riding a single guy, Tre Bryant, but he’s missed two games with knee pain. Nebraska ran for 197 yards. Left guard Jerald Foster said the offensive line was “real live” and “definitely better than we were the week prior.” Lee said the line won the game.

“They wanted to take over the game and that’s exactly what they did,” Lee said.

The quarterback again struggled. He completed half of his passes to teammates and two more to Rutgers. He’s now thrown nine interceptions in four games. He called his pick-six a “dumb play.” But he played clean for most of the second half, and Riley saw building blocks going forward.

The same goes for his team. Pierson-El had a 63-yard punt returnthat set up a touchdown. Reed, who couldn’t find his place on defense, has done so, playing two straight strong games at safety. There are signs of life as Nebraska heads into a short week.

“Winning games are hard,” Riley said. “I would suppose after last week, that game was — these kids are happy right now. They know it was hard, they know they played well, and they knew a lot of new parts played an important role. I’m pretty excited.”

Riley, assistants and players said, kept a steady hand in the 48 hours after Eichorst’s firing. Diaco said he saw “zero” change.

“He’s been great,” Diaco said. “Worked hard. Leadership. Patient, calm, strong, football intelligent, helpful, just a stalwart.”

No feelings of revenge?

“No!” Diaco said. “My gosh, I don’t think he has a bone like that in his body.”

Players wouldn’t bite on sharing their thoughts on Eichorst’s firing. They were happy to stand behind their head coach.

“It don’t matter what I think, honestly,” Barry said. “But I love my coach, and I’m standing behind him. We’ve got to produce on the field and that’s we need to focus on week to week, game to game.”

Defense steps up after Aaron Williams’ ejection

LINCOLN — Ten snaps into the game, Nebraska lost its most experienced safety. The defensive backs’ response made that absence much less painful.

When junior Aaron Williams was ejected for targeting on his helmet hit of Rutgers’ Hunter Hayek, defenders met briefly on the field. And while they gave up a touchdown run two plays later, they settled in to allow just three points the rest of the way.

“We got a tight secondary, defense in general,” cornerback Lamar Jackson said. “That’s one that we strive on is our brotherhood and really caring for each other and playing with love. At the end of the day, we all gotta play for each other in different zones, different schemes. So one guy went down, and during the week they stress, ‘Each guy prepare like he’s going to play.’ We had to make some adjustments, and guys got in and they were ready to play and we were still able to get it done.”

Kieron Williams, who started nine games last year but had seen action only on special teams this fall before Saturday, saw the majority of the snaps in Aaron Williams’ absence. The senior didn’t record any official statistics but played well for a safeties group that NU coaches have considered thin enough to put their starters in green no-contact jerseys at times in practices.

“He even told me, ‘I ain’t even been on the field a minute,’ but he was excited,” Jackson said. “I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ There wasn’t too much to say after that. He did his job and we helped assist each other and make plays.”

Bradley earns his first carries

On Jaylin Bradley’s first carry in a Nebraska uniform, the true freshman gained a yard and had his bell rung by a Rutgers linebacker.

But the pain of that hit wore off quickly once he heard his name over the loudspeakers.

“Run by Jaylin Bradley, gain of 1,” it rang, followed by a chorus of applause.

“That kinda put a smile on my face,” Bradley said after the game.

The former Bellevue West standout had six carries for 16 yards.

Bradley played in Memorial Stadium during state title games and said he approached the game with the same attitude as last year.

“I’m glad I got some carries, finally, so it felt pretty good,” he said.

Head coach Mike Riley told Bradley in fall camp that he wouldn’t be redshirting and would play. Bradley appeared in a game for the first time last weekend on the kickoff return team.

After the loss to Northern Illinois, Riley told Bradley to be ready. He’d be getting snaps a running back in a week.

Though Devine Ozigbo ended up with the bulk of the carries, Bradley said he started to get into a rhythm after a few plays.

“After the first carry, that second carry I had a big run and gained more confidence, so that kinda helped me,” he said. “Hopefully I can get some more carries next week.”

Stille makes move, earns reps

Another Nebraska native got the most extended action of his young career Saturday when Ashland-Greenwood defensive end/outside linebacker Ben Stille played whole chunks of the win over Rutgers.

Stille was pressed into action in part because of injuries to outside linebackers Marcus Newby and Tyrin Ferguson. Stille had moved back to defensive end from outside linebacker earlier this year, but he switched to linebacker for Saturday.

“I switched positions Wednesday,” Stille said. “I figured out what I was doing from Wednesday until now, so that’s how I got on the field.”

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Stille earned the playing time with good practice habits.

“We’re looking at practice and looking at his work and saying ‘Who’s not playing enough?’” Diaco said. “And we look at Ben and say, ‘this guy’s got to play more.’ He knows what to do. He’s tough and rugged. He plays hard and cares a great deal.”

Diaco said he expects Stille to be in Nebraska’s defensive rotation for the Big Ten season.

Offense has Lee’s back

It didn’t sit well with the offense that Tanner Lee was booed. Not at all.

“I definitely heard the boos. I wasn’t too happy about the boos,” wide receiver JD Spielman said. “At the end of the day, that is our starting quarterback. And no matter how he plays, you have to back him up because maybe all he needs is a little bit of push from fans telling him it’s going to be OK and that they have his back.”

Spielman called Lee the “base” of the Nebraska offense. And the reason he’s such a gifted leader, Spielman said, is because of how steady Lee is on the sideline, even after getting booed

“If Tanner’s emotions go running around wild, then everyone else on the offense is going to start panicking,” Spielman said. “One of the biggest things about him being a leader is he’s able to stay calm and keep everyone on track.”

Huskers go deeper into bench

Nebraska’s offense had some new faces on the field Saturday.

In place of injured starters, Nebraska ran out guys like Brenden Jaimes, Gabe Rahn, Michael Decker, Conor Young and Brett Classen. Guys who’ve hardly played a snap in a Nebraska uniform.

“I don’t know how many recognizable names there were for some people,” Langsdorf said. “We had to use the whole stable of receivers. Everybody that we had we were pushing them in there.”

Husker women’s soccer team falls to Ohio State in Big Ten opener

LINCOLN — Nebraska opened Big Ten play with a loss on Friday, falling 1-0 to Ohio State.

The Huskers (6-3, 0-1 Big Ten) outshot the Buckeyes 18-8, including a 7-3 advantage in shots on goal, but couldn’t break through against Ohio State goalkeeper Devon Kerr.

Sammy Edwards scored the only goal for the Buckeyes (7-2-1, 2-1) in the 29th minute.

Sinclaire Miramontez and Brenna Ochoa each had two shots on goal to lead the Nebraska offense.

The Huskers will host Penn State at 1:05 p.m. Sunday.

Ohio State (7-2-1, 2-1-0)……..1 0—1

Nebraska (6-3-0, 0-1-0)……….0 0—0

Goals: OSU, Edwards.

Chancellor Green Ready to Move Forward Now with Competitive Programs

LINCOLN – Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green and President Hank Bounds hosted a press conference in the aftermath of firing Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, and are wanting to see more competitiveness out of Husker athletic programs.

“One of the primary focuses that we will make as we look for our next athletic director is someone that really shows competing in every stage,” said Bounds.

The removal of Eichorst comes after a stunning loss at Memorial Stadium to Northern Illinois this past Saturday.

Green discussed how he wants to see an improved level of play in several sports, but he understood how big the Huskers Football brand has been for the school.

“I’d love to be back into the big 1990s. I don’t need to say more.”

The president and chancellor have said that they want to make the hiring “as soon as possible.”

“Making this change now was to move forward now, and be able to move the leadership forward now. We wanted that time to do that, so that’s where the decision was based,” declared Green.

Eichorst has 1.7 million dollars left on his contract that will run through June 2019. He was originally hired by the university in October 2012.

Nebraska fires Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst

Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst could not survive the shaky start of the Nebraska football season, raising questions about the future of Mike Riley as head coach of the Huskers.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green announced Thursday the firing of Eichorst, citing a lack of on-field performance. The decision was made Wednesday, and Eichorst was informed Thursday.

“We’re not satisfied with the results,” Green said.

The chancellor insisted he was “talking about competitiveness in all sports”— not just football.

However, it was surely no coincidence the firing came just five days after a shocking home loss to Northern Illinois left the Huskers 1-2 and created much turmoil within the school’s passionate, success-starved base of football fans.

Eichorst’s most high-profile move as athletic director had been his surprise 2014 decision to hire Riley, the former Oregon State coach who had come to Lincoln with a less-than-spectacular career coaching resume.

As he prepares to begin Big Ten Conference play in his third season in Lincoln, Riley has compiled a 16-13 record with the Huskers but has won only three of his last nine games.

Green and NU President Hank Bounds, who joined Green for an afternoon press conference, had little to say about Riley’s status going into Saturday’s home game against Rutgers. Bounds said he expected the Huskers “to compete Saturday regardless of where we are in the discussions.”

“Mr. Riley is our football coach,” Bounds said. “We expect him to compete. This is not about Mr. Riley right now.”

Still, the sudden mid-season move — announced in a 1 p.m. press release — brought back memories of 2007, when an embarrassing home less to Oklahoma State led to the firing two days later of then-Athletic Director Steve Pedersen. Head football coach Bill Callahan was dismissed weeks later.

Green said he expected to name an interim athletic director in the next few days while the university engages with a search firm and other stakeholders to find the school’s next athletic director. They gave no timetable and declined to discuss specific candidates for the job.

“We want to get started,” Green said. “We’ve got work to do.”

Eichorst, who was hired in October 2012, has about $1.7 million remaining on his contract that runs through June 2019. The university will have to buy out that portion of the contract.

When Pedersen was fired mid-season in 2007, Chancellor Harvey Perlman turned to Husker football coaching legend Tom Osborne to step in as interim athletic director — likely the only man capable of uniting the school’s divided fan base.

When reached by The World-Herald Thursday, Osborne chuckled when asked whether he’d been asked to step in as interim athletic director.

“I think I’ve aged out,” he said. “I’m quite certain at this point that I wouldn’t be in the picture and wouldn’t want to be in the picture at this point.”

But Osborne said he would be willing to help out in any way as the school moves forward. (Green later said he had reached out to Osborne). Osborne also expressed confidence in the process ahead.

“I do have a great deal of confidence in Ronnie Green and his judgment and Hank Bounds and I’m sure whatever was done was what they felt was right for the best interests of the university,” he said.

Other boosters and regents also seemed to uniformly back the decision.

Regent Hal Daub said he appreciated Eichorst’s overall record as athletic director, calling him “a very fine person.” But he added, “It was time for a change.”

Daub called Thursday’s move “an appropriate leadership decision that embraces responding to the brand, the Husker brand, and to a much more aggressive football program going forward.”

For his own part, Eichorst said in a statement released by the university: “While I am deeply disappointed in the decision today, I am grateful for the wonderful years that my family and I have spent at Nebraska. I am proud of how our student-athletes, coaches and staff represented this great university and state, and I am confident that the future is bright for Nebraska Athletics.”

Perlman, who hired Eichorst, declined to comment on his firing Thursday.

In firing Eichorst, both Bounds Green offered praise for how Eichorst performed off the field, including the high graduation rate within the department.

“But competitiveness and those other important issues are not mutually exclusive,” Bounds said.

Ronnie Green says Huskers look to ‘raise on-field competitiveness’ as NU goes forward without Shawn Eichorst

LINCOLN — Two days after saying the University of Nebraska was frustrated at “the level of performance” of its football team, Chancellor Ronnie Green was meeting with news media members Thursday after the firing of Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.

“The fact of the matter is,” Green said, “we need to raise our on-field competitiveness.”

Nebraska held a press conference at the Van Brunt Visitors Center about 90 minutes after sending out a press release Thursday announcing the decision, which was effective immediately.

Eichorst was hired in October 2012 to replace Tom Osborne, who had returned to the NU athletic department five years prior after a similar firing of Steve Pederson.

Green said the search for Eichorst’s replacement started “literally a few hours ago.” Green also said that an interim AD could be named within the next couple days.

Green has reached out to Osborne for his advice on the search, he said, but confirmed that NU also plans to hire a search firm in pursuit of its next AD.

In response to the timing of the decision, Green said: “We want to get started.”

Nebraska is off to a disappointing 1-2 start to its 2017 football season, including a 21-17 upset loss at home to Northern Illinois last Saturday. The Huskers play host to Rutgers on Saturday to begin Big Ten play.

NU head coach Mike Riley, hired by Eichorst upon the firing of Bo Pelini after the 2014 season, is now 16-13 overall.

But Green said NU is looking for greater competitiveness across all sports.

Green said the decision to fire Eichorst was made Wednesday and that he met Thursday with Eichorst and NU coaches. Eichorst will be owed $1.7 million per terms of his contract, which runs through June 2019.

NU President Hank Bounds also spoke during the Thursday press conference. Bounds said the Huskers have not yet spoken to anyone regarding the permanent position.

Bounds said a primary focus will be to find someone well-versed in competing “in every phase.” Green said the next athletic director would certainly recommend decisions on future coaching hires and fires, but Green and Bounds would have to approve.

Bounds said you can measure on-field competitive by not only wins and losses, but how NU should expect to be in and compete in every game. Bounds again later said: “We want to compete.”

Sipple Gives Thoughts on Huskers After Shocking Loss Last Week

BEATRICE – At this week’s Husker Insight Luncheon, Lincoln Journal Star’s Steve Sipple tried to break down last week’s loss and what Husker fans should expect this week.

Find out what he said in the video above!

Husker Insight Luncheons take place each Thursday at noon and are brought to you by Ashley Furniture Homestore in Beatrice.

Fed by ‘participation patterns,’ more Husker defenders get to eat in Bob Diaco’s rotation-heavy defense

LINCOLN — The biggest play of Khalil Davis’ Husker career happened with his twin brother, Carlos, just yards away.

Carlos played nose tackle. Khalil played end. On third-and-long, Northern Illinois quarterback Daniel Santacaterina tried a quarterback draw, and Khalil, looping around Carlos on a stunt, swallowed up Santacaterina for an 8-yard loss.

Before Khalil left the field, Carlos made sure to get a full-body chest bump with his twin.

“When he made those plays, it kind of fired me up,” Carlos said Tuesday. “He’s ready, he can play.”

And in defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s rotation-heavy defense, Khalil Davis, a backup, is playing. A lot. So is Deontre Thomas at nose tackle. And Mohamed Barry at inside linebacker. And Tyrin Ferguson at outside linebacker. Ditto for Alex Davis. Even Sedrick King got a few snaps.

Diaco has a lofty phrase — “participation patterns” — for his approach to frequently rotating players in his front seven, but, in NU’s 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois, Diaco backed up his words with action. Though the Huskers trailed for most of the game, Diaco stuck to his plan and rotated players.

Counting his rare use of nickel and dime packages, he used roughly 20 personnel combinations against Northern Illinois.

The starting front seven — Carlos Davis, Freedom Akinmoladun, Mick Stoltenberg, Luke Gifford, Dedrick Young, Chris Weber and Marcus Newby — got the most snaps together.

But Barry would spell Young for a few snaps. Then, Barry would spell Weber. Then, Ferguson, an outside linebacker, came in for Newby. Stoltenberg would leave and Thomas, a true freshman, would come in. Khalil Davis would usually replace Akinmoladun. Alex Davis came in to rush the passer as a hand-on-the-ground defensive end.

Gifford, Carlos Davis, Thomas, Akinmoladun, Barry, Young and Ferguson. That was one personnel combination for a few snaps.

Gifford, Carlos Davis, Stoltenberg, Khalil Davis, Weber, Young and Newby. That was another.

On and on it went. And it worked.

“I enjoy it a lot because I know I have to be prepared,” Khalil Davis said.

And the defense can be fresher, Diaco said.

“The players can play harder, longer collectively,” he said.

Said Weber: “It’s going to be a long year in the Big Ten and that’s another great perk of that is to be able to rotate guys, keep guys fresh, keep them healthy for the season.”

Against spread teams that make Nebraska defend the whole width of the field — and call a lot of “extreme left” or “extreme right” running plays — this is important, Diaco said.

“Some of these plays have been turning over every 10, 12 seconds,” Diaco said. “So having to run to the right and to the left and to the right and to the left — for a guy that’s 310 pounds, that can get really taxing. It’s not your prototypical or standard kind of three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running, rushing attack. It’s a lot of side-to-side running. So the big boys get tired, and we have to make sure we get them out before they get tired and don’t produce.”

Nebraska’s play in the red zone and on third down, Diaco said, was proof. While opponents have converted 42.5 percent of their third downs thus far against NU, the Huskers have only given up 4.7 yards per play on third down. Opponents have scored on just 69.23 percent of their trips into NU’s red zone, which ranks 24th nationally.

“The side byproduct, which is fantastic, is development, so we’re getting a lot of guys reps and game experience,” Diaco said. “There are so many young players playing in these games, it’s incredible.”

Ferguson, a sophomore from New Orleans, is an example.

He had an interception in the opening game against Arkansas State. Against NIU, he played a handful of snaps early in the game in relief of Newby, who’s likely to miss the Rutgers game with a pulled hamstring.

When Newby got injured Saturday, Ferguson entered the game for extended snaps. He was on the field for NIU’s touchdown drive. While the Huskies marched for their game-winning score, it had little to do with Ferguson’s performance.

“Assignment sound, was in his spot, played hard, made plays,” linebackers coach Trent Bray said.

Could this system affect chemistry? Carlos Davis didn’t think so.

“You have to learn how to play with different people,” he said.

Gifford and Carlos Davis have had to learn that most often. Those two stayed on the field for nearly every snap. Gifford is Nebraska’s most versatile defensive player, playing outside the box as a linebacker and lining up as a traditional defensive end. Diaco went with a four-man defensive line more than 10 times against Northern Illinois, and Gifford, hand on the ground, was usually the guy lining up over an offensive tackle.

In those situations, Carlos Davis could slide down to a defensive tackle. When his brother was in the game, NU usually had a three-man line. On Khalil’s big play, Carlos played nose. Khalil played end. To Carlos’ left was Alex Davis. Gifford was a spy linebacker just behind Carlos Davis. The setup, used with Nebraska’s dime defense, had three guys playing different positions from their usual assignments. It resulted in one of NU’s best defensive plays of the game.

It also triggered a twin celebration. Just how Khalil and Carlos used to draw it up in high school in Blue Springs, Missouri, when they often met at the quarterback. They’re more excited for each other than they are when they make their own plays.

“That’s kind of how we feed off each other,” Khalil Davis.

In Diaco’s defense, a lot of Huskers are eating.

Rutgers at Nebraska

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Radio: 103.1 FM

Husker Volleyball Looks to Defend Big Ten Title

LINCOLN – After the conclusion of the non-conference portion of their schedule, the 14th-ranked Nebraska volleyball team looks to defend their 2016 Big Ten regular season title by starting conference play this week.

Here’s more from 10/11 Sports.

Husker commits Brendan Radley-Hiles and Beatrice’s Cameron Jurgens say they’re still on board

LINCOLN — Brendan Radley-Hiles has only viewed highlights. Cameron Jurgens watched all three games.

But two of Nebraska’s top-rated recruits in its Class of 2018 agree the Huskers’ rocky 1-2 debut hasn’t dissuaded them from their commitment to the program — even if the inconsistent play isn’t what they want to see.

Radley-Hiles — the consensus four-star cornerback widely known as “Bookie” — only recently returned to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, after leaving for nearly two weeks as Hurricane Irma ravaged the East Coast. His thoughts have been on more than Nebraska’s shootout loss to Oregon or the 21-17 shocker against Northern Illinois.

The slow start “has something to do with me because I’m committed to the school,” Radley-Hiles told The World-Herald on Tuesday. “But this year before me doesn’t really have anything to do with me because I’m not on the roster. I couldn’t do anything to help it, or whatever you want to say. But impact-wise, no, it doesn’t really have too much of an impact on me.”

In Beatrice, meanwhile, Jurgens just wants to see a Husker outfit that can play a consistently sound game instead of the “weird” contests of the last three weeks.

“I’m still looking forward to coming to Nebraska,” said the 6-foot-3, 240-pound tight end, a four-star prospect who committed to the school in August 2015. “I don’t know if it matters a ton with recruits. But I guess I’ve grown up always being a Husker fan, so it’s always been the school I’m going to. I’m a big fan of Husker football, so obviously I want to see them do well.”

Other NU commits reacted on social media Saturday as their future school was losing to a Mid-American Conference foe. From near his home in Yoakum, Texas, consensus four-star wideout Joshua Moore received a tweet from someone telling him and Radley-Hiles “don’t go to Nebraska,” with a shrugging emoji.

Moore’s concise response — “Shutup” — has since received more than 2,000 likes. It also prompted “GBR” replies from kicker commit Barret Pickering of Birmingham, Alabama, and 2019 Scottsbluff linebacker pledge Garrett Nelson.

From a big-picture perspective, though, a pair of longtime recruiting experts warn Nebraska can’t let a bad start turn into a bad season.

Steve Wiltfong has seen exceptions, like when Notre Dame signed a top-10 class in February coming off a 4-8 campaign. But the director of recruiting for 247Sports said the Huskers would be far better served beating Rutgers and Illinois the next two weeks rather than selling a competitive vision that has dimmed in coach Mike Riley’s third season in Lincoln.

“Recruiting is such a relationship deal,” Wiltfong said. “Kids believe they can be the ones to help you get it back on track. And Nebraska’s staff does such a good job of connecting with these young men that there’s a trust there.

“Losing certainly doesn’t help you. There isn’t a time frame on it — they need to get it fixed. They need to play well because they have a lot of momentum coming into the season on the recruiting trail with a lot of kids and they’ve had a lot of kids on campus. For them to start 1-2 is a punch to the gut for the football team, but it certainly was for recruiting, too, because they had some momentum and it’s halted.”

The Huskers’ current class of 10 commits is fairly small, which is largely why it ranks 37th nationally according to 247 and 51st according to Rivals. But the class also boasts quality, ranking 11th and 17th by the respective services in individual player rating.

Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell said the Northern Illinois loss was a “biggie” — the kind of result that can affect a class. There may not be any direct decommits, he added, but it makes prospective players become aware of other options in case the staff is dissolved. Beyond that, he said, high school players are less inclined than in years past to be publicly honest about their thoughts on specific schools.

A scenario in which Nebraska splits with Rutgers and Illinois and loses to Wisconsin and Ohio State could result in some activity that Big Red backers don’t want to see, Farrell said.

“That’s when you’ll start to see kids — with their actions rather than their words — start to show a lack of interest,” Farrell said. “Maybe a kid who’s been committed is taking official visits. The more (the Huskers) lose and the more other teams use that against them, that’s when you start to see kids take action. And that’s when you’re concerned as a coach, is when kids who have been committed for a long time start taking other visits when they weren’t really planning on doing that.”

Farrell noted Radley-Hiles’ recent unofficial visit to Clemson as a possible red flag. The cornerback told The World-Herald, “Everything will be all right,” though he said he still plans to take all five of his official visits this fall. That includes, tentatively, Nebraska’s Oct. 7 game against Wisconsin.

Radley-Hiles also said he’s keeping a close eye on cousin and NU freshman wideout Tyjon Lindsey as, he hopes, the Huskers turn things around.

“I just want to see him come out of his shell and do what he normally does like he’s been doing his whole life,” Radley-Hiles said. “It’s inevitable that he’s going to break out.”

Jurgens said he remains on track with his earlier plan of visiting LSU and UCLA at some point in the coming months while reiterating that current events in Lincoln “don’t factor in a whole lot.”

The beauty of recruiting, Farrell said, is there is a pitch for every situation. Losing schools tell recruits their class will be the difference, but that message becomes more difficult to sell the longer a coach is with a program.

“The winning on the field dictates recruiting more than anything else,” Farrell said. “Facilities, atmosphere, girls, playing time, NFL production. Winning is the common element to recruiting success, and that’s why I think there’s a little bit of concern at Nebraska.”

UNL chancellor expresses disappointment in Huskers’ performance but hopes fans continue to show support for athletes

LINCOLN — Husker Nation is not pleased.

After a 1-2 start and a loss at home Saturday to Northern Illinois, Husker football fans are letting University of Nebraska-Lincoln administrators and NU regents know that this isn’t good enough.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green expressed disappointment in the performance of the Nebraska football team Tuesday after his State of the University speech.

Green said he’s well-aware of the importance of Husker football to the university and the state.

“I live with a woman who cares deeply about it, trust me,” Green said, referring to his wife.

Green’s comments come amid fans’ growing restlessness with the beloved program. Coach Mike Riley, hired by Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, is in his third season with Nebraska and finished with records of 6-7 and 9-4 in his previous two seasons. The Huskers have won only three of their last nine games.

NU Regent Hal Daub of Omaha said this week his personal email “lit up like a Roman candle” after Saturday’s surprising loss.

Daub declined to say much more about it, admitting that he’s not an expert in Husker athletics. He said he’s motivated to learn more about it in the coming weeks.

Green didn’t talk about Husker football Tuesday during his State of the University speech. But he addressed it at a press conference afterward.

“We certainly are frustrated at the moment at the level of performance of our team,” Green said.

He said that he hears “constantly” from fans and boosters. “They care deeply about it. We all do,” he said.

Green said that UNL is the best place in the country for student-athletes and that those players represent Husker Nation.

He said he hopes that fans continue to show their support for those athletes.

Regent Paul Kenney of Amherst said he too was getting many emails and phone calls from fans. But Kenney said it’s “too early to tell” what the future holds for the program.

“We’ll see what happens this week,” Kenney said, referring to the Huskers’ game Saturday at home against lowly Rutgers.

Kenney said he still hoped the Huskers could turn the season around.

Rutgers at Nebraska

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Radio: 103.1 FM

Notes: Rutgers football staff not lacking for coaches who know a little something about Huskers

LINCOLN — Rutgers coach Chris Ash is quite familiar with Nebraska football, having faced the Huskers 10 times as an assistant at either Iowa State or Wisconsin.

Ash began at ISU — under then-coach Dan McCarney — as a graduate assistant in 2000. He coached there through 2006, a time that included Iowa State wins over Nebraska in 2002 and 2004, before returning in 2009 as the Cyclones’ defensive coordinator. ISU famously forced eight Nebraska turnovers in that 2009 game, winning 9-7 in Lincoln.

Ash was then on Wisconsin’s staff in 2011 and 2012, when the Badgers faced the Huskers three times, including twice in 2012. Wisconsin finished 2-1 in those games, with the last being the 70-31 wipeout in the Big Ten championship game.

In his second year as head coach at Rutgers, Ash said he has plenty of respect for NU’s history and tradition.

“It has nothing to do with this game,” Ash said.

Rather, Rutgers must take one of the youngest teams in college football on the road for the first time this season. Forty players have made their collegiate debuts for the Scarlet Knights through three games, and 13 freshmen are on the depth chart. Offensive coordinator Jerry Kill, the former Minnesota head coach who won at NU in 2014, said he’s focused on getting better, not the Huskers’ atmosphere.

“The less said about it, the better,” Kill said of playing at NU.

Rutgers broke an 11-game losing streak — stretching back to last September — with its 65-0 win over Morgan State, an overmatched FCS foe that was shut out against Towson and Albany.

Quarterback rotation

Senior Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin started the first three games for Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights insert true freshman Johnathan Lewis for goal-line and running plays. Lewis has 12 carries for 56 yards and four touchdowns this season. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Lewis is bound to see some action at Nebraska.

“I said I’d take Johnathan along slowly and, to this point, I think we’ve done the right thing with him,” Kill said. “Kyle’s playing very well. I don’t think people understand his passing percentage (59.1) and the things he’s done.”

Kill said both quarterbacks graded between 80 and 90 percent against Morgan State.

The Scarlet Knights have run the ball around 58 percent of the time in Kill’s first three games. Kill, who resigned from Minnesota in 2015 because of health-related seizures, has long favored a run-oriented attack.

“If you run the ball and you’re doing pretty good at it, and they’re giving you the run, you take it,” Kill said. “If not, you throw it. I think it’s that simple.”

Kill said he was hired by Ash “to keep us in games, slow the game down, things like that.”

Rutgers is No. 18 nationally in time of possession. Last season, the Scarlet Knights were No. 110. They averaged 282.4 yards and 15.7 points per game last season — last and second-to-last nationally, respectively.

Kill returns to Lincoln

Kill, a native of Kansas, still has a distinct fondness for the history and fans of Nebraska football.

“When we were at Minnesota and we beat ’em twice, I know one thing: We celebrated,” Kill said. “We beat ’em there, and that’s tough to do. But Nebraska fans are great fans, they really are. I mean, we came off after we beat ’em and, shoot, they’re calling me by my first name and saying, ‘Hey, you guys did a great job, Coach, congratulations.’

“They love football there. You show up for warmups, there’ll be 60,000 sittin’ there. They love football, they appreciate football. That’s Nebraska. When I think of Nebraska, I think of the way football should be. When you go through a little, small town and you pull in, all you see is that stadium. It’s a unique place. It’s got a unique history.”

Rutgers faces a new defense

Nebraska’s defense, coordinated by Bob Diaco, may not be like any other defense Rutgers faces this season, Ash said.

“A lot of eight-man drop,” Ash said. “They rush three.”

Ash added that there are unique things Diaco does in how he lines up his outside linebackers, as well.

NU’s defense has just three sacks this year. So does Rutgers. Ash wants more from his pass rush.

“We need to pressure the quarterback more on first and second downs,” Ash said, adding he expects to get “more creative” with pressure packages.

Nebraska struggled with stunts and pressure against both Oregon and Northern Illinois.

Tanner Lee and Co. ready to prove themselves

LINCOLN — Tanner Lee is seeing what he wants to through two workouts this week: a motivated group of players.

Three days removed from a 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois in which he was sacked three times and pressured multiple others while throwing two pick-sixes and another interception, the junior quarterback said teammate support is helping him stay confident heading into Saturday’s home tilt with Rutgers.

“This team’s got great character, and I think it’s showing, the way they’re coming to work,” Lee said Tuesday after practice. “We want to get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. You can tell it’s on everybody’s mind, so we’ve had a good couple practices so far.”

Lee described his own physical condition as “fine” and “great” after last weekend, adding that he’s been hit every time he’s played a football game. When asked about how the offensive line is bouncing back from its shaky performance, the QB said his protectors are hungry to reach a higher standard.

“I don’t think there’s words for it,” Lee said. “They’re focused. They’re tired of it. They’re ready to win just like the entire team is. It’s good to see; it fires everybody up. I think the team as a whole, we’re ready for Saturday.”

Lee said improving third-down conversions is one way to start a winning streak to begin Big Ten play. NU is 15 for 47 through three games.

A starting point, he said, is staying in third-and-five situations or better.

A step forward for rush

Nebraska’s pass rush was more active in the loss to Northern Illinois. NU notched two sacks, and defensive tackle Khalil Davis had an 8-yard tackle for loss on a quarterback draw that might as well have been a sack.

When coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense went into a six-defensive back dime scheme against the Huskies, Diaco dialed up the pressure. Expect to see more twists and wrinkles, he said, as the defense seasons and grows.

“If we had four, five participating seniors on defense … three of our most experienced, top-performing players aren’t available,” Diaco said, presumably referring to cornerback Chris Jones, safety Joshua Kalu and outside linebacker Marcus Newby, who missed the last quarter of Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury. “We (are) thrust into a situation where ‘next man in’ are really young and inexperienced players. So really nobody had any idea how they were going to behave or respond in game.”

Diaco said coaches have a better picture of how young Huskers will play.

“That allows for a little bit higher level of business in terms of systems, play calls we can do based on what they can do,” Diaco said. “… When you have an opportunity to do that, I’m all for it. In the last game, we were presented a few more opportunities to do that style of stuff. Our package is very flexible — it has all those trimmings in it.”

Young corners still growing

A baby doesn’t know right from wrong. That’s something you have to teach it. Which is how cornerbacks coach Donte Williams explained the way his young corners are learning the position.

“They’re still growing,” Williams said. “It’s not like a guy like Josh Kalu or Chris Jones who have seen something for the 50th time. And if something’s not right, their confidence may dip a little.”

His corners, sophomores Lamar Jackson and Eric Lee, are still just kids, Williams said.

“Their confidence doesn’t change week per week, it’s still the same,” he said. “They’re learning and growing and building confidence. So it’ll only get better.”

Nebraska’s corners have had a rough start to the season. The Huskers rank last in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game (302.7).

Quick hits

“We’re just competing and seeing what can happen,” Gaylord said. Coaches haven’t informed either player when they’ll make a decision.

» Diaco said Rutgers tight end Jerome Washington, a transfer from Miami, may be the best tight end Nebraska has faced thus far. Washington, along with Rutgers running back Gus Edwards, played in Miami’s 41-31 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln in 2014.

“He blocks at the point of attack, and he’s a threat in the passing game,” Diaco said of Washington.

» Diaco has an interesting history with Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill, the former Minnesota coach who spent 2016 working as a liaison to K-State coach Bill Snyder before taking the Rutgers job. According to the Hartford Courant, Kill was interested in the Connecticut offensive coordinator job — and even spent time on campus — when Diaco was still head coach there.

“Coach Kill is a tough guy. He’s a brilliant football coach; no one needs me to say that,” Diaco said Tuesday. “His record speaks for itself. His reputation precedes him. His teams are hard-nosed. His offenses are hard-nosed; they’re disciplined and they block. They finish plays and finish runs.”

» Redshirt freshman safety Marquel Dismuke, replacing Antonio Reed, played on the final few plays of Northern Illinois’ touchdown drive. Diaco wouldn’t disclose why Reed went out of the game, but it was likely because of the hand injury that required him to wear a cast.

When Dismuke came into the game, NIU immediately threw a quick slant pass — off a run-pass option play — right in front of Dismuke, who was a step behind the receiver.

“We had a few moments of point-of-attack opportunities that didn’t happen,” Diaco said. “So Marquel is, again, another freshman who’s never played, but he’s a football intelligence player; he’s a tough guy and he loves football and he’s a hard worker. I had no reservations putting him in. The development process has been accelerated because of all of his participation, and that’s good for the future.”

» Kicker Drew Brown had taken responsibility for the blocked field goal just before halftime Saturday, saying Monday he booted the ball at too low an angle. Booker said Tuesday the breakdown wasn’t just on the senior. “We probably had a little bit of push in there on our right side. We got a little compromised,” Booker said. “The kick may have been just a hair low. And all that equals a blocked kick at the end of the half that we can’t have.”

» Donte Williams has not shaved this season. He said won’t be shaving until his corners play better.

Rutgers at Nebraska

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Radio: 103.1 FM