Mike Riley has long admired the loyalty of Nebraska fans. It's part of why he took the coaching job.
He is discovering how unforgiving some of them can be.
The Cornhuskers are 2-3, the school's worst start since 1959, and a segment of the fans so quick to embrace the genial Riley now are wondering about his fitness for the position. Their rancor on social media and radio shows especially came to the fore after a poor play-calling decision enabled Illinois enough time to drive for the winning touchdown Saturday.
Riley blamed himself for the mistake Monday and acknowledged the edginess of a fanbase that has sold out every home game since 1962.
"I can understand them being nervous," he said. "We have the people who care the most and are the greatest fans in the world, so obviously they're going to have feelings about this. I understand that totally. I get it. What we have to do is just play better and win some games and then go from there."
Up next is a crucial Big Ten West home game against Wisconsin (3-2). Both teams are 0-1 in the conference, and the loser will have a hard time recovering in the division race.
"The test is not physical right now, it's mental," Riley said. "It's all about the approach. The coaches have to set the tone with just really good teaching, preparation and plan."
The challenge is to keep the season from blowing up. Riley is working with players who are still getting to know him and his assistants, and the process can get off track when there's turbulence. The Huskers have lost games on a Hail Mary, in overtime and most recently because of what should have been an avoidable situation.
For the second time in three weeks, Riley was asked to address the antics of one of his team captains, Alex Lewis. Reporters observed the senior offensive lineman sarcastically blowing kisses at Nebraska fans as he walked off the field at Illinois. Two weeks ago, he ripped fans on social media for criticizing his play in a loss to Miami.
"We're really disappointed," Riley said of Lewis' latest episode. "Not a good reflection of what we want to be."
Riley declined further comment, saying he had yet to speak with Lewis about the matter.
•Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who suffered a strained hamstring against Wake Forest, is day-to-day for Saturday's game against Miami (Fla.) Coach Jimbo Fisher said Cook's injury is not as bad as originally thought.
•Michigan senior defensive end Mario Ojemudia will miss the rest of the season because of an Achilles' tendon injury suffered Saturday at Maryland.
•Illinois interim coach Bill Cubit said he doubts running back Josh Ferguson (shoulder injury) will be able to play Saturday against No. 22 Iowa.
•Freshman Drew Lock will make his second career start Saturday when Missouri hosts No. 11 Florida. Starting QB Maty Mauk was suspended indefinitely last Tuesday for violation of team policies. Coach Gary Pinkel said the timetable for Mauk's return is unknown.
•Auburn dismissed senior wide receiver D'haquille Williams from the team. Coach Gus Malzahn said he gave Williams "the chance to prove himself." But he added there must be consequences "when individuals fail to meet the expectations of our program." He did not elaborate.
• Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart (shoulder sprain) and backup Deondre Ford (thumb) is done for the season, forcing freshman Ryan Willis to start Saturday's game against No. 3 Baylor.