LINCOLN — Nebraska had a game to play Saturday night, but it also had to process through its grief over losing Husker punter Sam Foltz, who died in a July 23 car accident. NU incorporated Foltz’s nephews into the Tunnel Walk, honored kicker Drew Brown before the game with the Sam Foltz Memorial Scholarship, and sent just 10 players out for NU’s first punt, signifying Foltz’s absence, before getting a delay of game penalty.
Given time to reflect on the night, coach Mike Riley said Nebraska handled all of the Foltz tributes “perfectly.”
“We needed to do that right away in the very first game,” Riley said. “Nobody could have done without that. I don’t think our fans could have done without it, the Foltz family, our team, everybody associated in the whole state probably. We had to do that.”
Riley said Nebraska coaches and players will keep Foltz’s memory in their hearts and minds all season. A reporter asked Riley for his comment on thieves breaking into the house of Jordan Foltz — Sam Foltz’s brother — during the game and stealing a TV, among other things.
“I wouldn’t want to be that guy, I know that,” Riley said. “In this state.”
Cavanaugh might be on field
After one game of pairing offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh in the coaches’ box well above the field, Riley said he might bring Cavanaugh back down to the field for the Wyoming game.
“Oh, I miss him,” Riley joked when asked why he wanted Cavanaugh down on the field. “I just got the sense I’d like him to be the one meeting with the line when they come off the field. His eyes in the sky are good ... but at least we’re going to evaluate it, talk about it.”
Riley hadn’t yet talked to Cavanaugh about the matter when he told reporters about moving Cavanaugh back down. Should Cavanaugh return to the field, tight ends graduate assistant Tavita Thompson would sit next to Langsdorf in the coaches’ box. Riley said Thompson, who has been around Riley’s programs at Oregon State and Nebraska, sees things well from that vantage point.
Secondary solid in opener
The Nebraska secondary will be back to full strength and also have some adjusting to do, with senior safety Nate Gerry returning from a one-game suspension and backup Antonio Reed also expected to be available for the Wyoming game.
Riley, however, said that unit played well against Fresno State, including junior Kieron Williams in his first career start (along with Aaron Williams at safety, and Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones at cornerback).
“That was a pretty good group actually,” Riley said. “They had a good, solid game.
“All of a sudden we’ve got more parts to live with here and that should obviously help us. Deciding how it looks is the next piece to the puzzle.”
One thing that stood out to Riley was the Husker defense allowing just one play longer than 20 yards — a 32-yard pass from Chason Virgil to Aaron Peck. The next longest was a 19-yard Virgil run on a scramble.
NU allowed just 31 rushing yards and 274 total.
“I was really impressed with how the defense ran to the football,” Riley said. “When you watch the video and you see completion of the plays, you see a lot of hustle.”
Riley knows Wyoming’s Bohl
Riley said Monday that staff reports have been consistent when it comes to Wyoming.
“As I talked to all the coaches — offense, defense, special teams — it was almost uniform in describing Wyoming that they are well-coached,” Riley said. “And I talked to them separately. So that is kind of the pervading thing as you look at it.
“This is a team that is going to be on the rise.”
Riley said he knows Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, the former Nebraska defensive coordinator, from their time together on the AFCA board of trustees.
Asked if he could see the Cowboys as coming to Lincoln with a chip on their shoulder, Riley called it maybe similar to some of his Oregon State teams taking on bigger-name programs.
“When our guys used to play USC, they were fired up to do that,” Riley said. “So this is a big, big game for them, but it also should be for us.”
» Riley said he was pleased with the effort of his offensive line — especially Nick Gates and Dylan Utter — but may incorporate more of a rotation this week with the return of senior Corey Whitaker to better health. Once Jerald Foster was lost for the year with a knee injury, Whitaker had been the odds-on favorite to start at left guard until he tweaked his own knee, causing him to miss two weeks of camp. Whitaker returned in enough time to play Saturday night. Riley said Whitaker may rotate with senior left guard Sam Hahn or sophomore right guard Tanner Farmer.
» Nebraska’s longest run of the opening game was a 24-yard end around from wideout Alonzo Moore. Among the running backs and quarterback Tommy Armstrong, the longest run was 17 yards.
Riley said NU’s backs played well — particularly Devine Ozigbo and Terrell Newby — but the lack of long runs was a result of average wide receiver blocking.
“Those blocks at the end of the play like that are the touchdown blocks,” Riley said.
» On special teams Saturday, senior linebacker Brad Simpson was the top point-getter, Riley said. Despite having a punt blocked, Riley said Caleb Lightbourn’s catch-to-kick times were fine. Lightbourn’s punt was blocked because guard Jalin Barnett didn’t block a player coming right at him.