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Happy with the win, Riley's team still has plenty of cleanup work in Week 2
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Happy with the win, Riley's team still has plenty of cleanup work in Week 2

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How might one tidily sum this up? His team danced and spun the ball a bit too much, threw the football successfully too little, and unfortunately put on film some punt-return footage that sometimes "looked like a cartoon."

None of this was said in a biting manner, mind you. Mike Riley is not that sort. And as he reminded during his Monday news conference, "I don't want to be a downer on the win, either. I like that a lot better than losing it on a Hail Mary."

That doesn't mean the Husker head coach couldn't find his share of cleanup projects for his team heading into Week 2 after a 43-10 season-opening win against Fresno State.

"I think the one thing that I learned a long time ago is that you can't overlook in a win what you would never overlook in a defeat," Riley said. "You would be really mad about it. We have just got to clean that up if we want to be the kind of team that we want to be."

His remarks came two days after his team pulled away from the Bulldogs by outscoring them 29-0 in the second half, blowing open a close game in the fourth quarter, rushing for 292 yards on 51 attempts while only throwing the ball 13 times.

The last time he was involved in a game where his team only threw it 13 times?

"When I was the quarterback ... and the coach was smart. I couldn't throw it very well," he cracked.

But these Huskers need to be able to throw it more times, and with more efficiency, the coach is sure.

Therein lies a concern and why he sees a difference from Saturday's game when the Huskers ran the ball 79.6 percent of the time and the bowl win last December against UCLA, which drew heavy praise when the Huskers ran 76.6 percent of the time.

"It felt different in the bowl game, in that what we did looked better than what we did the other night in the passing game. That's the best way to say it," Riley said. "Had we looked sharper, I might be all right with how many times we threw."

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said after the game he didn't call as many pass plays because he didn't think the Huskers were operating the passing game well enough to give him the confidence in calling those plays.

In addition, Langsdorf and senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong said the Huskers had some issues in the first half with some basic procedural issues, like guys being confused where they were lining up.

"First game, bunch of young guys in there, but at the same time we've been working our tails off in the offseason to fix those mistakes," Armstrong said. "We've gotta take it serious and come out (this week) and look at the film and make sure we're locked-in and listening to coaches and making sure we just don't do those same mistakes this week."

Reminder here: Opening-game operational issues aren't exactly unusual and Nebraska did win by 33 points.

Also, Riley wants his team to be happy after a win. The Huskers will take something into this week's Wyoming game they never took into any game in 2015: a winning record.

But the second-year Husker coach also asked his team a question Sunday: Who do we want to be?

If striving to be great, the missing details from Saturday must be found moving forward.

For instance, those seven penalties for 80 yards Nebraska had against Fresno State? Five were variations of unsportsmanlike-conduct/personal-foul penalties. One was for spinning the ball in the end zone. There was an illegal formation on top of that. Also a 15-yarder for punt-catching interference.

"Celebration penalties, in general, I was really disappointed in all that, because I actually had the sense on the sideline that every time we made a good play we were going to have a penalty, and that's a bad feeling and that's got to stop," Riley said.

For the third straight game, Nebraska also had a player, this time Luke Gifford, ejected for targeting.

"We had a late hit that was totally unnecessary on a penalty at the end of a play, an illegal formation that was inexcusable, cost us a first down and a drive. We were just average on our personnel substitutions. We had a blocked punt. Many times you don't survive a game with a blocked punt."

And punt returns, Riley added, "looked like a cartoon, with us trying to get out of the way of the ball."

De'Mornay Pierson-El was not involved in the punt-return game. He has just recently rallied all the way back from a serious knee injury and special-teams coordinator Bruce Read said after the game that the junior had some drops back there leading up to the game.

He didn't want to hurry Pierson-El back to that job too soon.

"I think we just need to get him in there," Riley said Monday. "The other night was just one of those nights where I have already described what that thing looked like, so it wasn’t going to be pretty. But he is a weapon there, and we just need to get him going with it and I am going to talk to him about that this week."

Riley addressed these first-week concerns with an even tone. He also said he thinks this team is a pretty mature group.

"I feel good about our team. I just want it to be cleaner."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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Dzuris did not play a game in his first three seasons in the program, but became a regular at defensive end in 2015 and led the team in tackles for loss with nine.

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