LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The man who hired him just got fired, and his team has dropped six of nine and is coming off a loss to an opponent from the Mid-American Conference.
Pressure on coach Mike Riley has intensified in the wake of athletic director Shawn Eichorst’s dismissal. The 64-year-old Riley said he’s relying on his decades of experience in dealing with the highs and lows of coaching to help get him and his players through this rough patch as the Cornhuskers open Big Ten play at home against Rutgers on Saturday.
“This is supposed to be fun,” Riley said, “so we want to get them ready to play. It’s only fun, I’ve found, when you win. We’re trying every way to do that. The rest of what might occur out there, I don’t have any control of. I know what we’re doing. I know we have good people.”
Nebraska (1-2) really could use a good start against Rutgers (1-2). The Cornhuskers fell behind less than two minutes into their loss at Oregon on Sept. 9 and less than four minutes into their home loss to Northern Illinois .
The Huskers have trailed at halftime in seven of nine games since last October and are 1-6 in them. They have been behind at the half in 16 of 29 games since Riley took over in 2015, and they are 5-11 in those.
“We certainly want to be a fast starting team,” Riley said, “and one of our goals that we have weekly is that we want to score on the first drive of both halves.”
Against Oregon, Tanner Lee threw an interception on the Huskers’ first play from scrimmage. Last week, Nebraska looked good through its first six plays, driving from its 25 to the Northern Illinois 10 before the Huskies’ Shawun Lurry jumped a route and returned an interception 87 yards for a touchdown.
The poor starts the last two weeks have been demoralizing , and Riley said it’s his job to rebuild his team’s confidence.
Rutgers, on the other hand, will enter Memorial Stadium with as much self-assurance as any team could have when on a 14-game losing streak in Big Ten games.
The Scarlet Knights played then-No. 8 Washington tough into the fourth quarter of a 30-14 loss in the opener. They lost 16-13 to Eastern Michigan before beating Morgan State 65-0 last week.
“I really feel like we’ve improved a lot even though the 1-2 record in nonconference is disappointing,” second-year coach Chris Ash said. “I think there’s been some drastic improvement, and it has to continue that way for us to be able to have success in the Big Ten.”
Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin is expected to start his fourth game at quarterback. The Scarlet Knights unveiled a QB threat in freshman Johnathan Lewis against Morgan State. Lewis was named Big Ten co-freshman of the week after accounting for five touchdowns against the FCS opponent.
Lewis rushed for a school quarterback-record four touchdowns and was the first Rutgers player to run for four scores since Ray Rice in 2008. Lewis also threw an 18-yard touchdown to Nakia Griffin-Stewart on his first collegiate pass attempt.
Some things to know as Rutgers and Nebraska open Big Ten play:
HEY, YOU LOOK FAMILIAR
Rutgers faced Lee in a 31-6 home win over Tulane in 2014 when Lee was the Green Wave’s redshirt freshman starting quarterback. Lee was 7 for 9 for 81 yards before getting knocked out of the game on a sack in the second quarter.
TERRIFIC TIGHT END
Rutgers tight end Jerome Washington’s 12 catches in three games are two more than the Scarlet Knights’ top receiver at his position in 2016 had in 12 games. The 6-foot-4, 258-pounder transferred from Miami.
“He’s a great combination of a receiver and a run blocker,” Ash said. “He can play on the line. He can flex out. He can do a lot of things for us. We really were hoping that we were going to get this type of player, so it’s nice to see that it’s actually turned out that way.”
Stanley Morgan’s 18 catches are the most ever by a Nebraska receiver through three games. His 299 yards are second-most through three games behind Irving Fryar’s 315 in 1983. Morgan has had neck tightness all week and didn’t practice, but Riley said he’s hopeful he can play.
WILBON TO START AGAIN
Mikale Wilbon will get his second straight start at running back as Tre Bryant continues to recover from a knee injury. Wilbon ran 24 times for 90 yards, both career highs, against Northern Illinois.
Nebraska has won eight straight homecoming games, including a 5-0 record against Big Ten opponents. The Huskers are 80-22-4 all-time on homecoming.
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