LINCOLN — It felt anti-climatic, this 38-14 win over Minnesota in Lincoln. No comebacks, no questionable calls, no drama. Just dominance. Was there any other way to send Tom Osborne out?
There was a deep sense of nostalgia in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, with the former coach presiding over his final home game as athletic director. Osborne, walking side by side with coach Bo Pelini, led the team out of the tunnel. Former players (Frazier, Frost, et al), foes (Switzer, Snyder), and Nebraska notables (Buffett, Cable Guy) lauded him on the video screens throughout the game. There was a special halftime ceremony. But perhaps the ultimate tribute came from the team itself.
Nebraska put an Osborne-style thrashing on the Golden Gophers.
The offense itself was different than the one Osborne used to run roughshod over so many opponents over the years, but the result on this Saturday was the same. Offensively, Nebraska did what it wanted and, in its 11th game of the season, finally gave Husker fans a glimpse of how good it can be when it eliminates penalties (five on the day) and turnovers (zero in the first half) in key situations.
“It was pretty good effort by our team in all regards, a pretty complete effort,” coach Bo Pelini said. “I thought our kids came out and played hard and did some really good things.”
Defensively, Nebraska (9-2, 6-1) came up big as well, holding Minnesota to just 177 yards and 3.1 yards per play on the day. That’s the lowest since the Huskers held a 3-7 Kansas team to 87 yards in 2010.
“They make it tough on you,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “They plan an SEC-style defense. They are going to play cover one and get guys in the box.
“There a reason why they are where they are.”
Where Nebraska’s at is one win away from an appearance in the Big Ten title game. They looked like a title-worthy team on Saturday. For those that forgot during all of the late game theatrics the past couple of weeks, this is what dominance looks like:
–Nebraska had 19 first downs at halftime and had run 23 plays on first down for 142 yards. Minnesota had 60 yards on 24 plays total.
–The Gophers didn’t eclipse 100 yards of total offense until the final play of the third quarter. Nebraska had 138 yards after its first two drives.
–Nebraska was 6-for-10 on third down before mop-up duty started in the fourth quarter. Minnesota went 0-for-11 before picking up it’s first third down conversion 50 minutes into the game.
–Of the Huskers 444 total yards, 425 of them came in the first three quarters. Minnesota entered the game with the 26th ranked total defense in the country.
The one mild surprise on the day was exactly how Nebraska leapt out to its 38-0 lead after three quarters. The Big Ten’s top rushing offense was held to a season low 133 yards. Running back Ameer Abdullah (18 carries, 89 yards) failed to top 100-yards rushing for the first time as a starter. Nebraska’s passing game, however, proved it was more than capable of carrying the load.
In just three quarters of work, Taylor Martinez had his most accurate passing day in Big Ten play, going 21-for-29 for 308 yards and a pair of touchdowns tosses to Kenny Bell. Bell set career highs in catches (9) and yards (136) while scoring his seventh and eighth touchdowns of the season. All eight have covered more than 25-yards.
“Our pass game really revolves around the run game and that was a little bit different today,” Bell said. “We had to throw the ball to run it…Going in the game plan was three-step (drops) and that really paid off with slants and then that led to bigger plays with posts and the play action. This was the first time in four or five weeks that the game plan really fit what we saw on Saturday.”
The only question left after Saturday’s decisive victory? How hard was it to get Osborne to take even a sliver of the spotlight on a day where Nebraska said farewell to 29 seniors?
“I asked Coach to do it,” Pelini said of coaxing Osborne out to do the Tunnel Walk. “He was reluctant to do it, but I thought it was the way it should be. I told him it’d mean a lot to me and to the football team and that it’s the way I think it should be.”
So that’s the way it was.