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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Northern Illinois

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Normally, KJR is a rapid-fire notepad for my thoughts following the game where I address each unit. That will not be the case today, though admittedly the defense did do a pretty good job.

Nebraska’s loss to Northern Illinois was — with no offense intended towards NIU — absolutely unacceptable. Suffice it to say I agree with athletic director Shawn Eichorst. It doesn’t matter what decade it is, the Huskers shouldn’t be losing to Northern Illinois. Yes, upsets happen. However, the complete bumbling and stumbling effort we saw today wouldn’t have been possible without Tanner Lee serving up 14 points to the Huskies.

Lee’s game was terrible, the offensive line’s problems clearly weren’t limited to fall camp, wideouts and tight ends were dropping balls they should grab with ease. Mikale Wilbon did everything that was asked of him which I feel is important to highlight as he seemed to be the only player who made frequent positive contributions to Nebraska’s scoring effort.

Speaking of Eichorst, Husker fans have been critical of him in the past. Hell, they’re calling for his firing right now along with Mike Riley’s. However, he stepped in following the loss and addressed it.

“They have to do better. The players have to do better, and they have to prepare for next week. Nobody is feeling sorry for anybody. There are no excuses to be made.  We will work hard and hunker down, and provide great leadership.

I will provide leadership as I have to this point, and continue to stay positive. I’m very, very optimistic about what we have, but we need to stay together and continue to make progress. But you have to win games. That’s what we’re here to do, and we didn’t get that done today.”

Now, I doubt this does much for the average fan considering blood is boiling in more widespread fashion now than ever over his hire following the Pelini era. Still, he remained positive and on message. This is good for the unity of the department while he shows that frustration is present, so we can dismiss the idea that it’s not.

Following that statement, Eichorst made another that no doubt caused some eyebrows to be raised.

“We’ve had fans that have had doubts since we brought Mike on board, but you’ve got to win ball games. Nobody knows that more than him. But I have a lot of trust and faith in his abilities. We’ve got to get a group and get our kids headed in the right direction.

A lot of adversity, but there’s resiliency. They’ve shown a lot of resiliency, this group … There are no excuses to be made, and they won’t make them. Whether it’s changing schemes or quarterbacks, everybody’s got their challenges. We have everything we need to be successful and move forward.”

You might think that’s one step away from the dreaded “vote of confidence” and maybe it is. However, Eichorst is a big picture guy and he owns the Riley hire. There was no doubt in his mind to bring on the former Oregon State coach when it was time to hire someone new.

However, the Nebraska football program finds itself sitting at a crossroads much like it did in 2007. The Huskers managed to best Ball State 41-40 (on Fox pay-per-view, no less) and we all know how that season ended up.

While I don’t believe that Riley’s team has the same issues buying into what they’re doing as that squad did with Bill Callahan and Kevin Cosgrove, this bunch does need to make a solid run through Big Ten play. That starts next week versus a Rutgers squad that put away one of the worst FCS squads available in Morgan State 65-0.

It is no longer a cliche for this Nebraska football team. It must take its schedule one game at a time as clearly, it has a fragile confidence at this point. No matter how much they may like their coaches, their performance can ultimately cost Riley and Co. their jobs.

This is truly a team effort. Coaches, players, everyone. Upset as the thought may make you, Riley’s likely retained with seven wins. If the current recruiting class can be retained and improved upon despite that, there’s no reason to cut bait. However, there’s plenty of time between now and the end of the season.

Take a lesson from 2007. If nothing else, hold onto your butts. Things might get bumpy.

To comment or keep up with the author, follow Brandon on twitter at @eightlaces

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