The Nebraska Huskers fell to 4-6 on the season on Saturday, losing 54-21 to Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers scored on the game’s opening kickoff and never looked back, routing the Huskers on both offense and defense, as Minnesota improved to 5-5. The shoddy performance from Nebraska brought a number of things to light.
From bad to worse for Diaco
It was a tumultuous week for Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. The issues started when he gave a seemingly incoherent answer about the defense’s game against Northwestern. After firing back at reporters, he engaged in a verbal spat with former defensive coordinator Mark Banker, before things went from bad to worse against Minnesota.
There was a time in the season when it appeared that the highest-paid assistant coach in Husker history was worth the $825,000 price tag. The Blackshirts allowed just 23 points in 14 quarters, spanning from the second half against Oregon to the Illinois game, but things have gone downhill rapidly since then. Wisconsin ran wild on the Huskers in the second half of that game, racking up 353 rushing yards. Ohio State didn’t punt all game and posted 56 points and 633 yards. The Purdue game was better, but Northwestern moved the ball effortlessly near the end of the game, before the disaster that was the Minnesota game.
Minnesota is as far away from an offensive powerhouse as possible, yet Diaco’s defense allowed 54 points and 514 yards. The Gophers scored on seven of their first eight drives, a shocking effort against a team that 164 total yards a week before.
Too little, too late for O’Brien
When freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien entered the game at the start of the second half, it came as a surprise to Husker fans, given head coach Mike Riley’s unwavering support of Tanner Lee, who had been playing a solid game thus far, completing 13 of 18 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. He left the game due to illness, giving O’Brien a trial run with the offense.
Although he didn’t set the world on fire, O’Brien looked competent enough running the Nebraska offense, especially considering the lack of a run game. Excluding a 112-yard team rushing performance against Northwestern, three of Nebraska’s last four games have ended with team rush totals under 70 yards. The Huskers have all but forgotten their identity as a running team, doing no favors to their quarterback. O’Brien certainly looked like a freshman on the field, but it was encouraging for Husker fans to see the talented player get a chance.
Mike Riley all but gone
Three years into Mike Riley’s tenure as Nebraska head coach, the team is at its lowest point in years. The loss against Minnesota drops Riley’s record to 19-17 with Nebraska, good for a winning percentage of just 0.528. The last Nebraska head coach with a worse winning percentage was Bill Jennings, who coached the team from 1957-1961 and had a winning percentage of 0.310.
Even the head coach’s most fervent defenders must see the writing on the wall at this point. With Penn State and Iowa left on the schedule, a 4-8 season appears to be the most likely way to end the season, a record that would see most coaches at mid-level FBS programs fired. Riley has failed to create an identity for the team, as they don’t know how to run the ball, nor how to stop the run effectively. Minnesota ran for 409 rushing yards all over a hapless run defense, undoubtedly making Heisman hopeful Penn State quarterback Saquon Barkley salivate at the thought of playing this shambolic run defense. A four-win season is simply not good enough, and Riley’s time is all but over following this loss.