Mike Riley clearly loves a good curveball. In his short time at Nebraska, he's brought up the curve a few times.
Like last Thursday, when the NU head coach was discussing his philosophy on blitzing during his first call-in show on the Husker Sports Network.
"The blitz, to me, should be like a great curveball that you can use effectively at the right time. ... So I think having a good mixture defensively is always good. Everything from a 3-man rush to the kitchen sink coming after the quarterback, I think that all of that is good to have you in your arsenal."
It reminded me of another story about Riley that appeared in the Seattle Times last offseason while he was still at Oregon State, a story we referenced a few days after he arrived here at NU.
The writer was recalling to Riley how well the coach used the fly sweep during the 2008 season with the speedy James Rodgers, who averaged 8.9 yards on his 46 carries that year.
“Curveballs,” Riley explained to the writer.
“We’ve maintained the same terminology, the same base plays; we’re always going to have a foundation of what we can run. Kids have a chance to grow in the system. But if you keep changing, you never get to the curveballs, the stuff that might be a good addition, because you’re teaching something new.”
So what's the offensive foundation heading into 2015? What's the first pitch before the curve comes?
While some decisions may still need ironed out, Riley said on his radio appearance last week the inside zone is definitely going to be important to this Husker offense. That is not a surprise. It's a popular play everywhere, and consistent with his history.
But it gives you an idea of the starting point that the other stuff can branch out from.
Speaking of the summer decisions that await the offensive scheme, Riley said: “I think the best way to describe it is we’ll probably cut some of that back, consolidate it a little bit. We’re not necessarily going to do all those parts. Then we have to make good partners for plays. We have to look at, ‘OK, this could be an identity play for the Huskers.’ And then what you want to do is be able to have a good curveball out of the same look.
"So as we proceed, we’re going to run the inside zone play, and so we need some curveballs off of it. That’s going to be a featured play for us. We’re going to run it every game and we’re probably going to run it a number of times each game. And to protect it, we’ll need some good curveballs for us. So that is something we look at as we complement our identity plays in the summertime.”
I wouldn't run too far with this breakdown from two years ago in trying to decipher what the Huskers' run-pass ratio will look like in 2015, since Oregon State's personnel was different. But it does show the variations of plays Riley and staff can run out of a similar look.
Call those variations what you might. Curveballs even. But throwing those pitches require a firm foundation beneath your feet.