Let's wrap up our Foster Farms Bowl preview by looking at the Nebraska Coaching Staff and Special Teams.
The last time UCLA played Nebraska was the game following the death of Bruin Nick Pasquale.
A lot has changed since then. The Huskers' head coach from that game Bo Pelini was fired last year essentially for failing to produce a championship caliber team. In what has proven to be a cautionary tale, new head coach and former Oregon State coach Mike Riley was hired to replace Pelini but Riley only managed to get the Huskers to a 5-7 mark after Pelini was 9-4 last season. In fact, this season was the first losing season in Lincoln since Bill Callahan's last season in 2007.
Now, Riley is a guy who never seems to have trouble finding his next job, but he's also a guy who hasn't won a championship since leaving the CFL in 1990. The closest he has ever managed to get to a conference championship was a tie for 2nd in the Pac-10 in both 2007 and 2008.
To me, that makes Riley's hire by Nebraska somewhat quizzical. It makes sense from Riley's standpoint. His OSU team wasn't going to suddenly look like the Ducks instead of the Beavers, but for a school who just fired Pelini, who had never won fewer than 9 games in a season, to hire Riley as his replacement, it just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
Regardless, he's the Huskers' coach now and he got the team to a bowl game this year essentially on Pelini's coattails because there weren't enough 6-win teams to fill all the open bowl slots and the NCAA looked at the graduation progress rate in order to determine which 5-win teams would be allowed to participate.
Note to the NCAA: It's time to reduce the number of bowl games.
When Riley signed on at Nebraska, he brought two coordinators who have worked with him for a long time along too. Danny Langsdorf worked under Riley during both of his tenures at Oregon State. Langsdorf served as the offensive coordinator of the Beavers from 2005-2013. He left OSU in 2014 to become the QB coach of the New York Giants, but when Riley came calling after becoming the Huskers' head coach, Langsdorf signed on too.
Mark Banker was the OSU defensive coordinator during Riley's second stint there, but Banker also worked with Riley during his first tenure and when Riley coached the San Diego Chargers.
While Langsdorf runs a multiple-set offense featuring QB Tommy Armstrong, Jr., Banker will have his defense playing a standard 4-3 defense.
The placekicking duties for Nebraska will be handled by sophomore Drew Brown. Brown looks like a typical sophomore kicker. He's very good on the shorter kicks and has a tougher time beyond 40 yards. In two seasons for Nebraska, he is 99 for 100 on PATs and 19 for 23 inside 40 yards, but he is 15 for 24 at longer distances. His career long is 50 yards which he made earlier this season against Southern Miss.
Punting will be done by Sam Foltz. The redshirt junior has put 33% of his career kicks inside the 20. His punting average this season is 44.4 yards per punt with a season long of 67 yards. Fewer than 10% of Foltz's punts have landed for touchbacks. So, look for the Nebraska punting unit to be able to keep the ball from going into the endzone.
Freshman Stanley Morgan, Jr. (who does not appear to be related to the former New England Patriot receiver) will return kicks for the Huskers. Morgan has averaged almost 25 yards per return and his long was 42 yards against Miami.
Look for WR Jordan Westerkamp to return punts for Nebraska. Westerkamp led the Huskers this season with an average of 10.6 yards per return on 5 returns with a long of 24 yards.