Big plays abound, but consistency still lacking

I-back Adam Taylor had a couple of runs for double-digit gains Saturday, but coach Mike Riley said too many runs netted little or nothing.

LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley walked away from the second scrimmage of preseason camp with about the same initial takeaways he’d had following the first one a week earlier.

There wasn’t enough consistency in the ground game — too many ball carriers were stopped near the line of scrimmage. Another impressive collection of big plays reflects well on the skill players, though it’s a bit discouraging for a defense that needs to limit long gains to find success this fall. The offense isn’t getting play calls and breaking the huddle quickly enough. Tackling’s a bit spotty at times.

“Frankly, that’s why days like this are hard for me,” Riley said after the scrimmage. “You just want it to all look good all the time, and it doesn’t. You’ve got enough stuff you can make notes of to practice, I’ll tell you that.”

But Riley has liked the Huskers’ competitive mentality and the businesslike approach through camp and into Saturday’s 90-degree muggy afternoon, which the team spent scrimmaging for two hours inside Memorial Stadium while a couple of thousand students watched from the stands. Monday’s start to the fall semester signals a natural shift in the preseason — a transition from camp-mode evaluation to seasonlike preparation.

Riley knows Nebraska will get a boost when a few key contributors return to full speed. I-back Terrell Newby, receiver Brandon Reilly, receiver Stanley Morgan, offensive tackle Zach Sterup and cornerback Daniel Davie were among those who didn’t suit up for Saturday’s session.

“We have so many pieces that won’t be gone long, but they aren’t there now,” Riley said.

And even with those injuries, both units have enjoyed moments of success “a good portion of the time,” Riley said. He just wants more consistency. He was looking for that Saturday.

Riley would have allowed the scrimmage to last about 20 minutes longer had lightning not been spotted, prompting the NU staff to cut the practice short.

Riley did see enough, though, to express concern afterward about the ground game — crediting junior defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine while also indicating that the offense has work to do. Sophomore Adam Taylor ripped off a couple of runs for double-digit gains, but most of the I-backs didn’t find much room to operate Saturday.

“We had too many runs with nothing there,” Riley said. “You’d like to see 3 or 4 yards, at least. There’s too many that are not good-looking runs.”

But there are two aspects to playing stout defense, according to Riley. Stopping the run is one of them.

The other? Eliminating big plays.

Junior receiver Jordan Westerkamp made a diving grab in the end zone. Senior receiver Jamal Turner had a 60-yard catch and run on a double move. Junior tight end Trey Foster caught one over the middle for about 30 yards. Redshirt freshman receiver Brady Pelzer had a long receiving touchdown, when he broke a tackle and raced down the sideline for the score.

“They made some plays offensively that were real nice,” Riley said, “but we can’t give those plays up defensively.”

Quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe were responsible for nearly all the production through the air — though Riley noted that Fyfe started slowly Saturday. Armstrong’s best moments stood out.

“There was some stuff that wasn’t real pretty,” Riley said of Armstrong, “but boy, did he throw a couple nice touchdown passes. Great reads. I mean, really nice reads. Good plays.”

Riley just wants to see more of those moments now — from Armstrong and the rest of the players. Nebraska opens its season in two weeks against BYU.

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