There are a couple storylines heading into Nebraska’s game at Minnesota this Saturday.
One is if the Huskers, who have played well but ultimately came up short against ranked opponents in Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma due to costly mistakes at the worst time, can turn the corner and play mistake-free football—like it did against Northwestern—in a winnable game at Minnesota.
But there’s also the storyline of the two Minnesota natives on Nebraska’s roster in Bryce Benhart and Levi Falck.
With true freshman offensive tackle Teddy Prochazka going down with a season-ending injury, Benhart, who hails from Lakeville, Minnesota, will be re-inserted at right tackle, a position he held until the Northwestern game. Falck, who has nine catches for 119 yards and just caught a touchdown against Michigan, is from Circle Pines, Minnesota.
Benhart and Falck share a locker next to each other. Let’s just say there’s not a lot of love lost between the two and their home state’s football program.
“We always talked about how we don’t like Minnesota and we gotta beat them,” Falck said.
Falck grew up watching Minnesota, but the Gophers never recruited him out of high school other than a little bit for baseball, but then backed out. Falck eventually went to FCS member South Dakota, where he caught 70 passes for 774 yards and two touchdowns from 2016-2019. When the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder decided to enter the transfer portal, there Minnesota was again, showing a bit of interest.
But, again, the Gophers backed out.
In last season’s game with Minnesota—the one where the Gophers won 24-17 despite being without 33 players due to Covid, injuries and opt-outs—Falck didn’t record a catch. He wants to change that Saturday. He wants to help the team that gave him a home beat the team that didn’t want him.
“I don’t like Minnesota. I don’t like Minnesota at all,” Falck said.
The fact that the two Minnesota natives on Nebraska’s roster see each other every day at their lockers gives the wideout a unique perspective on Benhart’s situation, too. Falck said that Benhart was obviously frustrated that he was benched after Michigan State. But instead of being a problem in the locker room, he kept his head down and went to work.
“He’s a competitor, so he’s not going to be happy he was demoted,” Falck said. “But on the field, you didn’t see a step down. You saw him work maybe even harder. And he got better every single day.”
Fellow offensive tackle Turner Corcoran knows Benhart’s mindset heading into Saturday, too. They are roommates, and Corcoran has no doubt that Benhart will come through for his team at Minnesota, which has its own star edge rusher in Boye Mafe, who leads the Gophers with five sacks and six tackles for loss.
Corcoran liked what he saw from Benhart when he took over for Prochazka in the second quarter against Michigan.
“I was so fricking proud of him. He’s my roommate and one of by best friends,” Corcoran said. “Obviously when his number was called he answered the door—he kicked that thing open. We had a sweet play to the right and he ended up getting his dude on the ground and pancaked him. I looked up on the jumbotron and saw it, and I was like, ‘There you go, Bryce.’”
There’s an opportunity in front of Benhart this week. How will the tackle respond after losing his starting position and then regaining it? Frost was blunt about discussing the offensive line earlier in the week.
“I had a long talk with the team about doing what’s best for the team, continuing to get better,” Frost said. “We’ve had several guys who have been taken out for a little while and they got their chance again and need to make the most of it. Bryce played a lot of football and I thought he came in and did well. Obviously we had a pretty good second half offensively and we need him to play well Saturday.”
Benhart, Corcoran and the rest of the offensive line will be going against a Minnesota defense that’s allowing 19.6 points per game, seventh in the Big Ten and tied for 28th in the country. The Gophers are allowing just 77 rushing yards per game, though, outside of Ohio State, Miami (OH), Colorado, Bowling Green and Purdue don’t run the ball particularly well. Those four teams combined to average just 105 rushing yards per game.
Frost has been vocal about wanting the hand-off run game to be better than it’s been. Benhart gets a second chance at coming through for his team when it needs him.
“He’s (Benhart) got a chance to show us this week,” Frost said. “He’s from Minnesota and he’s getting a chance to play against them. I don’t think he played his best game against them last year, so this is a big opportunity for him and we have a lot of faith in him. He’s gotta have a good week of practice and we’re counting on him and the rest of the guys to play well.”
To offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, how someone reacts to adversity tells you a lot about who they are as a person. And judging by what he’s seen from Benhart after his demotion, he’s not worried at all.
“From what I saw, he practiced hard, kept competing,” Lubick said of Benhart. “Knowing the depth chart is etched in sand, it keeps changing, and the players kind of control that. He did a good job when he came into the game. The fact that he has a year-and-a-half of starting experience, that helps from a depth standpoint and helps our confidence. But it helps his confidence as well, which is more important than our confidence.”