Sophomore Adrian Martinez made the trip to Minnesota with the team but didn’t suit up, leaving the game in the hands of fellow sophomore Noah Vedral. Just as was the case last week, Vedral was limited by poor offensive line play and conservative play-calling as he put together a mediocre performance.
Vedral’s greatest asset was his legs, not his arm, as he led Nebraska with 49 yards rushing on 15 attempts. Most of his passing attempts were under 10 yards, to limit the chance of an interception, which paid off as Vedral didn’t turn the ball over. He finished 14-23 passing for 135 yards, although excluding big passing plays to JD Spielman and Kade Warner, the Wahoo native averaged just 2.8 yards per attempt.
Junior Andrew Bunch didn’t add much in garbage time, completing 1-6 passes for 13 yards.
Running backs: D+
Perhaps through no fault of their own, none of Nebraska’s running backs could get going on Saturday. Freshman all-purpose back Wan’Dale Robinson was mildly effective early on, gaining 24 yards on six carries before he left the game due to injury. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s rushing attack was severely limited by struggles up front which affected each ball-carrier.
Junior Dedrick Mills had just one carry in the first half, but he finished the day with nine carries for 28 yards, including Nebraska’s only touchdown of the day. Sophomore Maurice Washington was equally as effective, with six carries for 20 yards, while NU’s most efficient runner was freshman walk-on Brody Belt, who totaled 29 yards on four carries in the fourth quarter.
Wide receivers: C-
With the Husker offense emphasizing short throws and quarterback keepers, NU’s wideouts had a quiet evening, with the exception of two long catches. Spielman hauled in a 51-yard bomb in the first quarter, tacking on two short receptions later in the game to finish with 59 yards.
The only other impact at wide receiver came from Warner, who didn’t even see the field until the second half. He caught three passes on Nebraska’s touchdown drive, including a 26-yard completion, to finish with 38 yards. Senior Jaron Woodyard was the only other true wideout to make a catch, hauling in a five-yard pass for his first reception of the year in the first quarter.
Offensive line/tight ends: D
Nebraska’s offensive line was thoroughly ineffective all night long in both run blocking and pass protection. The Huskers allowed four sacks and Vedral was consistently pressured throughout the night when dropping back to pass. Quick-hitting quarterback draws were Nebraska’s best weapon on offense because longer-developing runs allowed the Gopher defense time to penetrate the backfield.
At tight end, junior Jack Stoll led the team with four receptions, although only for 18 yards.
Defensive line: F
When the opposing team runs for over 300 yards, it clearly means the defensive line didn’t do its job. That was the case on Saturday night, as Minnesota bullied Nebraska’s front four, displaying more effort and strength on its way to a dominant rushing performance. While most of Minnesota’s runs avoided Nebraska’s interior rush defense, the entire defensive line has to shoulder the blame for such a thorough shellacking.
Throughout the game, it was simply a case of Minnesota overpowering and outworking Nebraska at the line of scrimmage, a stark contrast for a unit which began the year with promise.
If issues up front helped Minnesota dominate on the ground, then a subpar linebacking effort only exasperated the problem. Nebraska’s outside linebackers were nowhere to be found when defending the run, as the second level quickly was dominated by Minnesota as well. Inside linebackers Mohammed Barry (11 tackles) and Collin Miller (10 tackles) were busy as usual, but both struggled to slow down the Gopher onslaught. Junior JoJo Domann was uncharacteristically quiet, recording just one tackle.
The Husker secondary did its job for the most part, holding Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan to just 128 passing yards. However, key mistakes and blown coverages contributed to NU’s defensive struggles. It began early in the first quarter, when sophomore safety Cam Taylor-Britt whiffed on a tackle which could have prevented Minnesota’s first touchdown.
The Gophers could’ve had a pair of long touchdowns to wide-open receivers, but an overthrow from Morgan in the first quarter and drop from Jake Paulson saved NU’s secondary. Two long completions to Tyler Johnson hurt Nebraska, and if not for the success of Minnesota’s rushing attack, the Husker secondary could’ve been exposed further.
Special teams: D
Nebraska’s kicking game was nonexistent in difficult conditions, as head coach Scott Frost opted against any field goal attempts. However, sophomore Lane McCallum did convert his lone kick, an extra point in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Nebraska failed a fake punt in the third quarter as poor blocking allowed Minnesota to meet tight end Austin Allen prior to the first-down line. The Huskers also had two near-fumbles on returns, as Spielman coughed the ball up on a punt return and Washington fumbled on a kick return before a replay showed him to be down.
In a day chock full of miscues, Nebraska’s special teams nearly put the cherry on top.