Mike Riley Led the Huskers to Top 25 Finishes in All the Wrong Places


I’ve never seen a Nebraska football team that showed less passion, fire and toughness than the 2017 Huskers. The traits that defined Nebraska during their three decades of dominance were sorely lacking from last year’s squad.

But let’s get this straight – I don’t blame any of the players for last year’s 4-8 debacle. Any and all blame must be directed straight at Mike Riley and his coaching staff.

Three years of football with Mike Riley running the show turned Nebraska softer than a tootsie roll fruit cup. Anyone watching NU games in 2017 could see that Riley and Company had yanked the heart out of Husker football, but the statistical data from the Riley Era violently hammers home the cold hard truth: Mike Riley is an absolutely horrendous football coach.

We looked at a four year span of Husker data – from Bo’s last year as head coach (2014) through the past three seasons of Riley (2015-17) – and found a statistical drop-off so dramatic that I’m stunned Bob Devaney didn’t dig himself out of his own grave and march over to Riley’s office to deliver a good old fashioned fanny kickin’ for (a) destroying the Husker identity / tradition / legacy that Bobby D had worked so hard to build fifty years ago and (b) giving Irish football coaches a bad name.

Let’s begin our look at Nebraska’s national statistical ranking by providing our readers with this gentle reminder: there are now 130 college football teams in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

During the last year of the Bo Pelini era (2014), the Huskers were tied for 23rd nationally in number of fumbles forced. The Huskers forced 14 fumbles in 13 games that season. During three seasons of Riley, the Huskers finished 108th, 121st and 124th in forced fumbles.

Each week and every season under Riley, the Huskers continued their rapid descent down the national rankings in multiple categories that are crucial to any team’s performance.

It is now routine to see the Huskers ranked in the 110’s or 120’s in the FBS national statistics. Which means the once-mighty Huskers are now among the 20 worst teams in the entire FBS across many important gridiron categories. The most alarming aspect is these are categories most football folk associate with toughness and passion: sacks, tackles for loss, rushing defense, rushing offense and fumbles forced / recovered.

Nebraska’s National Rank – Defense:

From Bo’s Last Year thru Three Years of Riley

 2014 (Bo)2015 (Riley)2016 (Riley)2017 (Riley)
National Rank - Tackles For Loss477885129
National Rank - Fumbles Forced23108121124
National Rank - Fumbles Recovered50114121125
National Rank - Sacks497865119
National Rank - Rushing Defense80943115

Riley’s Huskers finished ranked among the Top 25 worst teams in the nation in all the wrong categories. There are 65 college football teams in Power Five Conferences. The other 65 teams that play in the FBS are schools like Old Dominion, Ball State, Eastern Michigan and South Alabama.

Did you know all five of those teams had more sacks and tackles for loss in 2017 than Nebraska? Did you know that Idaho, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee, Texas State and Hawaii all had more rushing yards per game than Nebraska last year?

I can only deal with so much Mike Riley writing and analysis in one sitting before my blood pressure starts to reach dangerous levels, so I’m going to leave you with this table that compares the rushing offense from the last year of Bo through the last three years of Riley. Good Lord, I’m stunned that Tom Osborne himself didn’t pay a visit to Riley’s office to deliver a stern lecture about abandoning the running game.

Bo’s final season saw the Huskers ranked 19th in the country in rushing offense, averaging 5.32 yards per rush. Last year, the Huskers averaged a paltry 3.51 yards per rush and finished 120th in the FBS in rushing offense. The only teams who rushed for less yards than good old NU last season were the dregs of D1 football, teams like Kansas, Illinois and New Mexico State.

Nebraska’s National Rank – Rushing:

From Bo’s Last Year thru Three Years of Riley

 2014 (Bo)2015 (Riley)2016 (Riley)2017 (Riley)
Scoring: Points/Game37.832.826.525.8
Yards Per Rush5.324.724.23.51
Total Rushing Yards3,1232,3402,1991,290
Total Rushing TD's35242413
National Rank - Rushing Offense195273120

Oh no… blood pressure rising…must commence stress-relieving exercises immediately…

Nebraska’s Defensive Stats:

From Bo’s Last Year thru Three Years of Riley

 2014 (Bo)2015 (Riley)2016 (Riley)2017 (Riley)
Tackles For Loss80726844
Fumbles Forced14745
Fumbles Recovered10533
Turnover Margin-2-125-7
Opponent Rushing Yards Allowed2,3121,4281,9222,577


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