Winning a game, not B10 West, is Huskers' immediate concern
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) At least Mike Riley still has his sense of humor.
With all four of Nebraska's losses having come on the opponent's final offensive play, each in the last few seconds or overtime, the Cornhuskers' first-year coach was asked Monday what he would like to see change the second half of the season.
''We've worked to get a shorter, 59-minute game,'' a smiling Riley said.
The way this season has gone so far, the Huskers (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten) should expect another full 60 minutes of competitive football Saturday at Minnesota (4-2, 1-1). The Gophers have beaten Nebraska two straight years, including 28-24 last season in Lincoln after the Huskers fumbled inside the Minnesota 5-yard line with just over a minute left.
Nebraska enters its final six regular-season games in unfamiliar territory. The Huskers have lost their first two conference games for the first time since 2008. The '08 team rebounded to share the Big 12 North title. Riley, however, wasn't concerned with the Big Ten West race as preparations began for Minnesota.
''We're obviously in a box, that it's just a game, a chance to win, a chance to really prove what we can do without having to think about big ramifications or standings,'' Riley said. ''We're out of that right now.''
Riley said the hard times haven't spawned any discord among the players. He pointed out that a record number, more than 50, showed up for a voluntary weight lifting session Sunday. He said the players' energy level and attentiveness have been good at practices.
''I'm not going to be overly dramatic about it until I see a real issue there because they've answered the bell every Monday to me,'' Riley said. ''We can't fault their effort in the game, how they played it, how they went right to the end.''
The Huskers thought they had Wisconsin beat last Saturday after Rafael Gaglianone bounced a 39-yard field-goal attempt off the right upright with 1:26 to play. Nebraska went three-and-out on its next series, Wisconsin drove from its 30 to the Huskers' 28 and Gaglianone made a 46-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to give the Badgers a 23-21 win.
''All of us are competitive individuals and (winning) is what we're here to do, so the frustration at this point is really that we haven't done our job well enough yet,'' said defensive end Jack Gangwish, a team captain.
Gangwish, a former walk-on from Wood River, Nebraska, said the four losses have been especially hard on the players who are from the state.
''I understand the scope of Husker football in this area, the magnitude of what it means to people,'' he said. ''That's pretty common for guys from the state. We know. We lived it. We're fans first and now we're football players. We didn't come here because we wanted to be (2-4). That wasn't anybody's dream. For those guys who grew up in Husker Nation and just like everyone else, they're hoping next year's the one. They want the glory days back.''