It was a picture-esque day for football in Lincoln, and the Huskers delivered a memorable finish in Scott Frost’s first win as Nebraska head coach.
The Huskers controlled the first half and survived a comeback attempt against Minnesota in a 53-28 win over the Golden Gophers.
“I’m so proud of this team, they could’ve quit a long time ago, they could’ve shut it down,” Frost said after the game. “This team every week does more of what we ask them, does it better, keeps getting better and that was a pretty good show out there today.”
Nebraska’s high-powered offense started the game with a bang, as they drove down the field for a touchdown in less than two minutes. Freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez threw for 23 yards, while senior running back Devine Ozigbo capped off the drive with a 40-yard touchdown run.
Following punts from both Minnesota and Nebraska, the Golden Gophers had an opportunity to secure their first points of the game on a 54-yard field goal. However, a delay of game penalty negated the score and Nebraska took over with the ball following a punt.
Freshman running back Maurice Washington gained 17 yards on a statue of liberty play, and Ozigbo followed up with another long touchdown run, with this effort going for 59 yards. It took Nebraska just over a minute to drive 90 yards down the field and go up 14-0.
Nebraska’s defense continued a strong first half showing with a three-and-out. Washington carried the ball three times for 26 yards on the ensuing drive and even threw a pass on a trick play. Martinez eventually found the end zone a few plays later on a three-yard run, extending Nebraska’s lead to 21-0.
Even Nebraska’s old nemesis, turnovers, couldn’t stop the Huskers in the first half. Martinez lost a fumble at his own 37-yard line, but a fourth-down stop from Nebraska’s defense kept the Gophers from getting on the board.
A 53-yard run from Martinez on the team’s next drive put Nebraska into scoring position, and a nine-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver JD Spielman gave the Huskers a commanding 28-0 lead with less than two minutes left in the half.
After collapsing against Northwestern a week ago, a 28-point lead seemed comfortable, and it appeared as though Nebraska was well on its way to an easy first win of the year.
The Gophers came charging back, first at the end of the second quarter and into the second half. Freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad threw for 73 yards and helped Minnesota score its first touchdown of the game before exiting at halftime with an undisclosed injury. Following a surprise two-point conversion, Nebraska led the game 28-8 at halftime.
Redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan entered the game and quickly completed a 69-yard pass to freshman wideout Chris Autman-Bell. Freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim capped off the drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown, and the Minnesota defense forced a punt from Nebraska. Morgan drove the Gophers 79 yards down the field, and sophomore Seth Green punched in the touchdown from four yards out.
After half of the third quarter, Nebraska’s commanding 28-point lead was all but gone. Minnesota had the momentum of three consecutive touchdown drives and the Huskers were clinging to a 28-22 lead.
Nebraska was suddenly in danger of blowing a big lead two weeks in a row.
“I saw guys fight back and not worry about them scoring a couple times,” Frost said.
A pair of Washington runs went for 33 yards and Martinez connected with senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. for a 35-yard touchdown on the next drive. Nebraska converted the two-point conversion and the Huskers re-established a 14-point lead.
Minnesota’s next drive brought the Gophers three yards away from the end zone, with a crucial fourth-down conversion attempt that could swing the balance of the game. Sophomore cornerback Dicaprio Bottle’s coverage was true, and the Gophers turned the ball over deep in Nebraska territory.
Following the crucial stop, Nebraska went on a clock-chewing 14-play, seven-minute drive. A combination of Ozigbo runs, Martinez runs and quick passes brought the Huskers down the field and set up freshman kicker Barret Pickering for a 32-yard field goal attempt. The kick split the uprights, giving Nebraska a 39-22 lead with only 7:53 left in the game.
Even after an 87-yard kickoff return from Minnesota, Nebraska refused to let the Gophers back in the game. A deflection on Morgan’s pass resulted in an interception from senior linebacker Dedrick Young.
A 67-yard touchdown pass to Morgan Jr. put Nebraska up by 24, and the Huskers finally killed the game off on a three-yard rushing touchdown from Washington late in the fourth quarter.
Martinez completed 25-29 passes for 276 yards and threw for three touchdowns, in addition to 125 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
“We practice every single day and he does things like that,” senior guard Jerald Foster said. “It was nothing crazy in my eyes, but love seeing it.”
Nebraska’s rushing attack included Martinez, Ozigbo and Washington all breaking the 100-yard mark. It was only the fifth time in school history that Nebraska had three 100-yard rushers in a single game and the first time since 2010 against Washington.
Morgan Jr. caught 10 passes for 163 yards and a pair of scores and Spielman added another 77 yards and a score as well.
For the fans inside Memorial Stadium, the day didn’t belong to any of the team’s standout players. It belonged to Frost, who finally achieved his first win as Nebraska’s head coach, even if it came on the seventh try.
As he reflected on the occasion, Frost said the win was a long time coming and it meant so much to him and the team.
“I almost teared up running off the field,” he said. “That was a special moment.”