Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mike Riley's Offense Is Broken. Can It Be Salvaged in 2017?

After every Husker football game, I grade the Huskers' performance on a report card over at CornNation.  I'll do the same tomorrow on the Huskers 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois. And frankly, it won't be pretty. After last week's Oregon loss, I wrote that Mike Riley's offense wasn't working at Oregon State, and it might not work at Nebraska.

After falling to 1-2 in a loss to a MAC school, I think it's time to say that Mike Riley's offense is broken.  I didn't think you could say that last week; this week, I don't know how you can NOT say that.

It's easy to point the blame at quarterback Tanner Lee, who's thrown seven interceptions in the last two games.  Two of those interceptions led to Oregon touchdowns last week; today, two more went straight into the end zone. He's completing under 53% of his passes with a passing efficiency rating that makes Taylor Martinez look like Peyton Manning. But the problem is much more deeper than that; it's starting on the offensive line.  Lee struggles under pressure, and Northern Illinois brought the heat:  three sacks and seven quarterback hurries.

That's the offensive line, and that's been a key issue with Mike Riley's offense dating back to Oregon State.  The folks in Corvallis wanted offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh gone, and they got their wish.  Now he's Nebraska's problem.

Shortly after Mike Riley addressed reporters, Shawn Eichorst, the normally silent athletic director, stepped up to face the music.  He told reporters that losses like this are "not acceptable." That's strong language, but meaningless if not accompanied by strong actions.  And today's loss calls for strong actions.  I'm offering two suggestions to make right now - this weekend, before Monday's press conference:
  1. Fire offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh
  2. Relieve offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf of his playcalling duties
Not after the season.  NOW.

Promote graduate assistant Tavita Thompson to offensive line coach; he played on the line for Riley at Oregon State, so he's familiar with the position. He might even give the guys a spark.  As for playcalling, find someone else to do it.  Mike Riley took the playbook away from Langsdorf before at Oregon State before sending him off to the New York Giants. Langsdorf reportedly did a great job with the Giants as quarterbacks coach. Nebraska has a quarterback who's REALLY struggling.

Let Langsdorf do what he does best.  Coach the quarterbacks.  Let someone else call the plays.  Maybe it's Riley again.  Or maybe running backs coach Reggie Davis; Riley's complemented Davis for his offensive mind in the past. (And there has to be a reason why Riley likes Davis, even though recruitniks hate his poor recruiting work.)  Maybe Keith Williams.

If it sounds like panicking, it's because it is.  Nebraska is one play away from being 0-3 on the season, going into Big Ten play.  After Rutgers, Nebraska has to play Ohio State and Penn State from the east division and the rest of the west division.  It's a division with a rapidly improving Purdue and a Minnesota team that's rowing the boat.  After today's turd in the punch bowl, Nebraska has to win five conference games to simply become bowl eligible.

Do you see five wins on this schedule, knowing now what we have with Nebraska?

Bob Diaco's defense did everything they could do to keep Nebraska in the game; Diaco star was tarnished by first half turds against Arkansas State and Oregon, but outstanding in the second half in those games. We knew (or should have known) that the 3-4 transition was going to be bumpy, so we should have expected a little bit of that.  And let's be honest:  Riley's replaced all but one defensive coach in his Nebraska tenure, and seems to have upgraded with each and every hire.

Riley's offense wasn't supposed to be like this. Remember the preseason hype?  Lee's NFL expectations was going to become this elite offense that was going to take the Big Ten west by storm.

Well, we were had.  It ain't that.  The question is... what should we do?  Be patient and hope that Riley's offense will become something that it's never ever been?  Or try some triage and try to salvage this season.  Frankly, it's a no-brainer to me.  Expecting this offense to suddenly win five Big Ten games isn't realistic; if things don't change, Riley will be gone. 

And in that light, Riley really has nothing to lose here.  Yes, he might make things worse.  But the bottom line is that unless he suddenly makes things significantly better, fixing Nebraska football will become someone else's job after Thanksgiving.

No comments: