The Nebraska Huskers (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) traveled north on Saturday in hopes of notching another Big Ten West win and keep their division title hopes alive. Instead, those hopes went south after the Huskers were thoroughly beaten by Minnesota (6-0, 3-0) 34-7.
Nebraska came out flat and never looked engaged as the Minnesota offense steamrolled its defense. The defensive line, which has been a strong point throughout the year, was utterly outmatched, especially against the run, as the Gophers ran for 322 yards on the ground. The running attack was led by senior Rodney Smith as he had 139 rushing yards on 18 carries with a touchdown.
Nebraska’s offense wasn’t much better as they were held scoreless through three quarters and only gained 299 yards on the day. Sophomore quarterback Noah Vedral got the start as Adrian Martinez was determined not healthy enough to play. Vedral had a subpar game as he completed 14-23 passes for 135 yards, although he got no help from the offensive line, which allowed four sacks and left Vedral under constant duress throughout the game.
“We got pushed around on both sides of the ball up front, made mistakes, weren’t physical on the perimeter,” head coach Scott Frost said. “We got pushed around a little bit tonight, whether that’s a mindset thing, I don’t know, but it’s still disappointing.”
The Huskers got off to a decent enough start as they drove down the field on their opening drive. However, when faced with a fourth down and two yards from the Minnesota 29-yard line, the Huskers attempted to go for it but failed to convert.
That missed fourth-down conversion was the beginning of the end for the Huskers, as Minnesota drove down the field and scored on five plays.
The next Husker drive got off to a similarly good start, as Vedral found junior wide receiver JD Spielman for a 51-yard completion to put the Huskers at the Minnesota 26-yard line. In typical Nebraska fashion, Vedral was sacked on the next two plays and couldn’t convert on third down to force another Husker punt.
Both teams traded punts for the rest of the quarter and at the end of it, Minnesota led 7-0.
In the second quarter it was more of the same for both teams as the Huskers moved the ball but couldn’t convert it into points, while the Gophers continued to run the ball with success.
Minnesota was able to get its second score of the game early in the second quarter behind the run game. The Gophers drove 80 yards down the field for a touchdown, with 72 of those yards coming on the ground. The touchdown pushed the score to 14-0 midway through the second quarter.
The score would stay the same all the way up to halftime, but the halftime score was not indicative of how much the Gophers physically dominated the Huskers.
“We need to be a more physical team,” Frost said. “... I don’t like coaching a team that’s not the most physical team, and we weren’t.”
Entering the third quarter, things looked bleak for the Huskers and it only got worse. The Huskers struggled in recent weeks to stop opposing offenses on their opening drives of the second half, and this week was no different as the Gophers scored a touchdown on their opening drive in five plays.
The Gophers went on to score two more touchdowns in the third quarter to move the score to 34-0 at the end of the third quarter.
Nebraska was able to put together one successful drive in the fourth quarter when Vedral led a methodical 14-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by a Dedrick Mills two-yard touchdown run. The points prevented Nebraska from being shut out for the first time since 1996.
The rest of the game was little more than garbage-time touches for the Huskers which included an impressive 22-yard run by freshman walk-on running back Brody Belt, which was tied for the longest Husker run of the day.
Saturday’s loss was more than just a loss on the field as freshman star all-purpose back Wan’Dale Robinson exited the game in the second quarter with an apparent ankle injury. He did not return and was seen in a walking boot at the end of the game.
Looking ahead, the Huskers have a bye week, which seems to come at a perfect time for the team which is dealing with injuries everywhere on the field and needs some rest.
“We’ve got a lot of guys beat up,” senior defensive tackle Darrion Daniels said. “I think that’s the most important thing is take this time to not just recover physically but also mentally.”
After tonight’s physical beatdown, that rest and recovery appears to be much needed.