That’s how Nebraska head coach Scott Frost described Nebraska’s game at Minnesota in 2019. The Huskers trailed 14-0 at halftime and wound up losing 34-7 as snowflakes fell on the Twin Cities. Nebraska went on to lose four of its last five games while head coach PJ Fleck’s Gophers rowed their way to five wins in their last seven to finish 11-2 with an Outback Bowl win over Gus Malzahn and No. 9 Auburn.
“We played really uninspired football. I had the feeling as head coach we had some of our kids who didn’t really want to be there. It was little cold, it was spitting rain. We didn’t play tough that night,” Frost said. “I give them (Minnesota) credit, they had a really, really good team two years ago, a good team last year. But we haven’t played our best against them either.”
Minnesota followed that win with a 24-17 victory at Memorial Stadium last year. The Gophers were without 33 players due to Covid-related issues, injuries and opt-outs, and hadn’t played in 22 days. Fleck’s squad still managed to out-gain Nebraska in total yards, 387-308, hold the ball for over 35 minutes and keep Nebraska’s offense to only a field goal in the second half.
As tight end Austin Allen said, you know what you’re going to get year in and year out from Minnesota—a physical and disciplined opponent.
“There’s a lot of things to take from that game (in 2020) and a lot of the same matchups,” Allen, who had two catches for 59 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, said. “They have some guys back on defense that are the same guys we’ll play against this year. They’re physical and disciplined, but who’s going to be the more physical team come Saturday is what we have to figure out at practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”
Just as it was getting healthy at key spots like receiver, Nebraska lost its starting left tackle, true freshman Teddy Prochazka, for the season. Minnesota, which is coming off a bye week, has faced its own adversity on the injury front as its top two running backs, Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts, are both out for the year as well.
A football season anywhere, but especially in the Big Ten, is a grind. That’s why, after a game full of big hits and bruises against Michigan last week, Frost and his staff decided to let the players go through Monday’s practice without pads.
“We took the pads off them today. We usually have a part of practice on Monday, good-on-good, and there’s a lot of thumping on Monday—we didn’t do that today,” Frost said. “I thought I just needed to give the guys a break after a really physical game on Saturday. They responded really well with a really clean practice and the guys were dialed in today.”
Frost also wants his team to be dialed in while playing Minnesota, too. He doesn’t want a repeat performance against an opponent that has had the Huskers’ number lately. The Gophers are 3-1 in the past four seasons against Nebraska, and 2-1 since Frost arrived in 2018.
Frost believes his 2021 version of the Huskers are different than his past teams, though. That should bode well for Saturday’s contest.
“I think we’re more of a grown-up team,” he said, “we have kids that love each other and love the team and love football.”
Defensive lineman Ben Still has been in the program since 2016. He remembers the Gophers rushing for over 200 yards in last year’s game and knows the line of scrimmage will be where the game is won, just like it was against Michigan. He’s all ready to go for Saturday after being slow to get up following a play against the Wolverines.
“You know what they want to do, they want to run the ball and they want to run downhill. We didn’t stop that the last two years, so you can say we lack physicality if we can’t stop the downhill run,” Stille said.
Minnesota ranks second in the Big Ten—behind Wisconsin— in rushing attempts per game at 45.6. The Gophers are averaging 192.2 rushing yards per game and 4.21 per carry, which ranks eighth in the conference.
“They’ve had two weeks to prepare,” Frost said. “I’m sure they’re gonna play their best game they’ve played this year and I hope we do, too.”