LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley said Monday that offensive tackle Alex Lewis will remain one of six Husker captains after he posted a social media rant Sunday morning directed at fans who criticized him after his personal foul penalty late in the overtime loss to Miami.
Lewis deleted the post Sunday afternoon, and Riley had a conversation with the lineman.
“I know he feels bad and sorry about his response,” Riley said. “Alex is a good guy, he’s sensitive, he made a mistake on a penalty that was bad and he knows that. We all know that.
“And then his response was bad because, first of all, he doesn’t need to do that — you don’t need to gain your identity from social media and react like that. And, second of all, you don’t generalize like that about a group of people. And he knows that. That, basically, was the nature of the conversation.”
Riley said Lewis would face consequences for his actions but declined to name them. Lewis is still a captain, Riley said.
Lewis’ post read in part: “I’m done playing for the state of the Nebraska! You want to blame me for the loss, that’s fine! But I have done every thing right to prove I belong and yet you say I’m not a husker! So you want to see what Alex Lewis is about? Then sit back and criticize because I’m going to prove to myself and my family that I am better than these fair weather fans that themselves huskers! You have let loose a storm that the huskers havent seen seen since 95 and you will kiss my feet when im done with you!”
Riley likes Langsdorf’s calls
Riley said offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf is doing a good job calling plays through three games and he hasn’t intervened often with his own thoughts thus far.
Riley called a lot of plays at Oregon State, but ceded authority to Langsdorf in the final two games of the 2013 season. (It’s worth noting the Beavers ran the ball more and better than they did earlier in that season when Langsdorf was calling the plays.)
“I feel really good about what he’s doing,” Riley said. “And you can tell how the flow is going because the guy who’s calling plays, I can hear him, and the flow of it. You can’t stutter. It’s gotta go. I think he’s doing a real nice job.”
Riley particularly liked Langsdorf’s call on the first play of overtime — which resulted in Tommy Armstrong throwing an interception. None of Armstrong’s targets for NU’s big comeback — Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly or Stanley Morgan — were even on the field. Instead of keeping the flow of the shotgun spread offense, Langsdorf chose an I-formation tight end throwback play into the sideline. Tight end Cethan Carter was covered but the running back, Riley said, was open.
“That was a heck of call by Danny,” Riley said. “Tommy just didn’t get quite through the progression.”
Armstrong was flushed from the pocket, rolled hard to his right and threw an interception.
When asked if he was surprised he wasn’t on the field for that play, Westerkamp said “a little bit.”
“I trust these coaches and whatever they’re going to do,” Westerkamp said. “It is what it is, but I have complete trust in everybody and what their play calls are.”
Riley is aware of the challenges of being a play-caller, having served as offensive coordinator at USC in the mid-1990s. Then-USC coach John Robinson hired Riley after Riley had only been coaching offense for one year. Prior to that, he’d been on the defensive side of the ball. Riley’s attacks were very successful and helped USC win the 1996 Rose Bowl.
Still, Riley knew there were moments when he’d have to defer to the opinion of Robinson, the head coach who was also an offensive mind.
“He was so funny during the games, because at least twice a game, he would walk by in front of me and say, ‘How ’bout the bootleg?’ ” Riley said Monday. “I said, ‘You got it, here it comes.’ It was fun, so I get all that. I think you’ve got to be real careful when you do interject, because there’s a thought process going on. You’ve got to do it early. It’s better between series, as I look at defenses, I can help that way.”
‘Gravity’ of 1-2 is understood
The Huskers are 1-2 for the first time since 1981, and Riley was asked Monday if his players appreciated the “gravity” of that fact.
Since none of NU’s players were alive in 1981 — a few assistants weren’t, either — it may be hard to gauge their grasp of the history, but Riley put his arms around it.
“I think that they do understand the gravity of losing and how close and unforgiving this game can be,” Riley said. “These guys care, everybody cares, everybody’s hurting, but like I said, that’s one side of it. It’s kind of what we can do with it. I certainly don’t ever ignore the things that have to get better, but I will because there’s a lot of football ahead of us, a lot of stuff out there for us to still go after, so you’ve got to kind of approach it in a way of, ‘This is how we can fix it.’
“There’s a lot of good things here that if we mix it in and fix it, this team is going to be all right. We’ve lost to two pretty good teams in games that we had great opportunities to win, so we can’t as a coaching staff panic on that stuff.”
Pierson-El returning soon
Riley said Monday that there have been no setbacks in De’Mornay Pierson-El’s recovery from a foot injury suffered in preseason camp.
Pierson-El, a top receiver and talented punt returner, could possibly be considered for a return next week at Illinois or maybe the week after, a home game against Wisconsin.
It’s too early to tell at this point, but Riley said Pierson-El is “getting close.”
Without Pierson-El available, Westerkamp has gained confidence as a punt returner.
He recorded a career-long 24-yard return against Miami and could have had one more decent gain on another chance, but he accidentally stepped out of bounds. Those were his first two punt returns of the season. Freshman Stanley Morgan also has one for five yards.
“First couple games (there were) a bunch of fair catches. I don’t really like to do that,” Westerkamp said. “It was great to get some returns in there.”
Special plays from Janovich
The return of Carter and the pass-first approach of Nebraska limited the opportunities on offense for fullback Andy Janovich last week at Miami.
But the senior made his mark on special teams.
He tallied three solo tackles on Hurricane punt returns. He didn’t have any special teams tackles before Saturday —- but now Janovich is atop the team’s leader board in that category. He did get flagged for running into the punter but he impressively plowed over a blocker and nearly influenced the kick before the infraction. Riley said Janovich made some “unbelievable physical plays” during the game.
Said Riley: “He’s one of the best special teams players I’ve ever been around.”
Huskers fit for the long haul
Riley said the Nebraska comeback in the south Florida heat and humidity Saturday affirmed at least one thing for him: The Huskers are in pretty good shape.
His players agreed, including NU receiver Alonzo Moore saying it was a sign of his teammates “taking advantage of every opportunity that we had to train.”
“I think we were in great shape,” Moore said. “I think we wore them down.
“We take a lot of pride in that. It goes back into training from day one, when we first started with our strength coaches and coaches in January, (and) it led up to that day.”
Senior right guard Chongo Kondolo was among the offensive linemen who played all 77 snaps.
“Being in shape, that’s not a doubt for any of us right now,” Kondolo said. “We definitely believe in our conditioning right now.”
Penalties remain a concern
Kondolo said the Husker offense was bothered by its eight penalties, including six directly involving linemen. It will be something to clean up this week in practice.
“We did have a lot of penalties, then what was worse is they happened on positive plays,” Kondolo said. “A few of them happened on positive gains. It was more upsetting than it was surprising.”
The Huskers had a 19-yard pass erased by an illegal formation call, a 21-yard pass negated by a hands-to-the-face penalty and a 10-yard pass brought back because of an ineligible lineman downfield.
The last of the NU penalties was a personal foul on Lewis for a late shove on Miami defensive back Corn Elder after his interception and return in overtime. It allowed the Hurricanes to start their OT possession from the Husker 12, and got Lewis a talk with assistant coach Mike Cavanaugh.
“Nobody really needed to say anything after Coach Cav already talked to him,” Kondolo said.