Nebraska was manhandled against Minnesota on Saturday night, nearly getting shut out in a 34-7 loss. Many people expected the Huskers to stand a chance, if not win against the Gophers, so the showing was incredibly disappointing for the team and fans. Going into the bye week, it’s clear Nebraska has problems to solve and it’s unclear where the team will go from here.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
Run defense’s improvement has disappeared
To start the year, Nebraska’s defense, particularly the run defense, appeared to have made strides from last year.
Four games into conference play, the Blackshirts have made clear that is not the case.
In Nebraska’s first two Big Ten games against Illinois and Ohio State, the Huskers gave up 589 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The Blackshirts played well against a horrid Northwestern offense, but everything came loose this weekend against Minnesota.
At halftime, the Gophers had 23 rushes for 220 yards and a touchdown. By the end of the game, Minnesota had 322 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns and three Gopher running backs made plays at will. Senior Rodney Smith had 18 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown. Senior Shannon Brooks had 13 carries for 99 yards. Sophomore Mohamed Ibrahim had just 84 yards, but added three touchdowns.
Minnesota dominated Nebraska’s defensive line and broke tackles at the second level consistently. On a third-and-nine at their own nine-yard line, the Gophers ran the ball with Ibrahim, who picked up 11 yards and the first down easily. That play summed up Nebraska’s entire night defensively, as the Blackshirts could not get a stop.
This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season, as Nebraska will continue to go up against talented Big Ten running backs. Wisconsin junior running back Jonathan Taylor, who is widely regarded as one of the best running backs in the country, will come to Lincoln later this season.
Badger running backs have historically dominated Nebraska, and if the Blackshirts don’t get it together before then, that trend will continue.
While this section is focused on the run defense, the pass defense should be noted as well. Minnesota sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan had just 13 pass attempts and 126 passing yards, but the Huskers still managed to allow a 100-yard receiving game from senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson.
Questions continue for offense
Nebraska’s offense was already surrounded with questions coming into this weekend, and it somehow came out with even more.
Nobody outside of the team knew if sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez would play on Saturday. It became apparent he would not play when he didn’t take the field pregame for warm-ups, and the Huskers missed his presence.
Sophomore quarterback Noah Vedral didn’t play terribly, but he didn’t play well either. Vedral finished the game with 135 passing yards for no touchdowns or interceptions, and led the team in rushing with 15 carries for 49 yards.
It became apparent in the weeks prior that the Husker offense needed more skill players to step up besides freshman Wan’Dale Robinson. That need became even more dire when Robinson went down with an injury, and was later taken off the field on a medical cart.
Nebraska’s running game also seemed nonexistent, as running backs Dedrick Mills and Maurice Washington combined for 48 yards on 15 carries. For reference, as mentioned previously, Vedral had 49 yards on 15 carries.
Martinez, Washington, Robinson and junior wide receiver JD Spielman have all been banged up at some point this season, which makes things a lot harder for Nebraska to begin with. However, the Huskers have only gotten in the endzone once in each of the last three weeks, which raises questions about why Scott Frost’s offense has seen such a regression in just one year.
The future doesn’t look great
After Nebraska was crushed by Ohio State, it was evident that the Huskers were still far away from competing with the top of the Big Ten.
The blowout loss to Minnesota was not only a reminder of that, but also a clear message that Husker fans may need to lower their expectations even further.
Let’s put this in perspective:
The four teams Nebraska has beaten currently have a combined record of 6-17. The Huskers’ two Big Ten wins have come against teams with a combined conference record of 0-6. Both of those wins ended within four points.
Nebraska’s offense and defense have been wildly inconsistent so far, and it’s hard to tell how the Huskers will perform on a given day. They also still don’t have an answer at kicker.
Nebraska had a chance to get a big win and hit five victories before the bye week, but now it heads into the break with a 4-3 record. That’s not necessarily something to be ashamed of right now, especially when both conference losses have come against undefeated teams.
However, a team that was once ranked No. 24 and projected to be among the top teams in the Big Ten needs to put together a strong second half of the season to make a bowl game. The schedule still sets up nicely, as Nebraska will play Indiana, Purdue and Maryland in the last five games of the year. Those three teams have a combined 3-6 record in conference play.
Those seem to be the most winnable games, as Nebraska’s other two remaining opponents are No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 17 Iowa.
A bowl game is still a realistic possibility for the Huskers, but they need to look much better in the next five games to deliver that possibility.