LINCOLN — Nebraska offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh spent time Wednesday reflecting on his relationship with Milt Tenopir, and how following Mike Riley from Oregon State to NU allowed it to happen.
The chance to become friends, Cavanaugh said, “was very special to me.” They found themselves to have similar personalities.
“He was just a special guy,” Cavanaugh said. “Lot of love. Lot of care. We had a lot of laughs. You try to remember the good times, you know.”
Cavanaugh said he’d known of Tenopir, but didn’t know him personally until arriving in Lincoln.
“I was a young coach, and I’d be at a convention and I’d say to other guys who had no idea, ‘Hey, there’s Milt Tenopir right there. He’s the best line coach in the country,’” Cavanaugh said.
Tenopir died Monday at 76. He was a Husker assistant coach from 1974 to 2002, and the Huskers won 13 NCAA rushing titles under his watch.
Asked what stood out when Cavanaugh watched film of old NU line play, he said: “How physical those guys were, and the pride that they took.”
“I think your players got to know that you care about them,” Cavanaugh said. “Obviously guys coach people hard, and he was that way, but I know those guys know that he loved them, too.”
Tenopir made it to Husker practice one last time last Thursday, which Cavanaugh was grateful to see.
“All he wanted to do was get out to practice,” Cavanaugh said. “So, I mean, it was what he wanted, and he got a chance to do it.”
Big Ten honors Foltz, Sadler
The Big Ten has joined the outpouring of support for Nebraska and Michigan State after the July deaths of punters Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler, announcing that it will use a special coin honoring both players during the coin flips in this week’s conference games.
The coin depicts each team’s punter on one side, along with a school logo and the words “In honor of Sam Foltz” and “In honor of Mike Sadler” on their respective sides.
The coin was developed collaboratively by representatives from Nebraska, Michigan State, the Foltz and Sadler families and the Big Ten Conference.
Nebraska plans to use the commemorative coin for the rest of its 2016 home games.
Illini D-line imposing
The Nebraska offensive line will have its hands full Saturday with the Illinois defensive front. The Illini rank among NCAA leaders with 32 tackles for loss through three games, including 13 sacks.
“They’re good up front,” Cavanaugh said. “I think it’s the best group of D-linemen that we’ve seen so far. They’re real athletic, they’re explosive, they’ll pin their ears back. They’re aggressive. So it’s a good, good challenge.”
NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said the Illini have some defensive ends “who are scary.” And when you can generate pass rush with your front four, he said, you don’t have to send extra pass rushers and weaken your coverage.
“Sometimes those speed rushers, they are really good on you on third-and-long,” Langsdorf said, “and that’s where we’ve got to really get out of that situation.”
That might put an emphasis on the Husker run game against an Illinois defense allowing 158 rushing yards per game and 4.1 per carry.
Reilly feeling good
Nebraska faces the possibility of being without receiver Alonzo Moore on Saturday, but the report was good on Brandon Reilly coming out of the Northwestern game.
“I felt good,” Reilly said Wednesday.
The senior had missed the Oregon game after injuring a hamstring against Wyoming. Reilly had one reception for 35 yards at Northwestern, but tested the hamstring with some burst on a crossing route that he turned into a big gainer.
“Sometimes those linger, but I think he had good rehab and felt good about getting in there and playing,” Langsdorf said. “We made sure that we felt good enough about him being healthy. Then we didn’t overdo him, either. We didn’t play him in every personnel group, so we gave him a chance to kind of ease himself back into the games.”
Langsdorf said NU didn’t want to risk anything by playing Reilly against Oregon when he wasn’t ready.
“I think if he plays and does it again, you’re out for even longer,” he said. “So I think it’s just wise to make sure he’s 100 percent feeling good.”
Hang on tight
NU running backs coach Reggie Davis is always big on ball security, I-back Devine Ozigbo said, but it definitely was even more of a focus starting the week after both he and Terrell Newby lost goal-line fumbles at Northwestern.
“We talk about it in film, talk about things that could’ve prevented it,” Ozigbo said. “We have to do our punishments. But it’s just going over it and making sure it’s something we don’t get bored with, is what he says a lot. Don’t get bored with ball security, because it’s a major part of the game.”
Ozigbo had his first big game last season against Illinois, running for 70 yards and a touchdown on seven carries after having just two carries in the Huskers’ first four games.
“It was like the day after my birthday, so it was a crazy experience of going there,” Ozigbo said. “This year it’s the day before my birthday, so that’s pretty cool, and my parents are coming and it’s homecoming. So it’s a lot of things to look forward to.”
» Langsdorf said true freshman Boe Wilson from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, is “in the mix” to play at guard because of injuries to Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer. Coaches had hoped to redshirt Wilson this season and may still try to do so. Langsdorf said he wanted to wait one more day. Sophomore Cole Conrad from Fremont Bergan could play guard, too.
» Langsdorf praised quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s ability to “turn a 5-yard gain into 15” on designed run plays. Overall, Armstrong’s play has been “solid” and “expected,” Langsdorf said, neither above nor below expectation.