It took 13 seconds for Minnesota (5-5, 2-5) to get a lead on Nebraska (4-6, 3-4), a harbinger of what was to come in Minneapolis as the Gophers rolled to a season-highs in yards (514) and points in a 54-21 win.
In a season in which it seems like the Huskers have never led, Nebraska never led in Minneapolis. Gophers running back Rodney Smith took the opening kickoff out of the end zone and raced 100 yards to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead before either offense had seen the field.
Nebraska responded on its first drive as running back Mikale Wilbon capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run behind a crushing block from backup offensive lineman Boe Wilson, who was inserted at H-back.
It was almost all Gophers in the first half from there. Leading 14-7 in the second quarter, Minnesota got a key fourth-and-1 stop at its own 6-yard line to end a scoring opportunity for the Huskers. Five plays later, quarterback Demry Croft kept on a third-and-1 read option play, juked safety Marquel Dismuke in the Gophers’ backfield and raced 73 yards straight down the middle of the field for a touchdown. It was the longest play from scrimmage of the season for an offense that, entering Saturday, ranked 12th in the Big Ten during conference play in yards per game (285.2), 13th in yards per play (4.43) and tied for last in points per game (18.7).
Against the Huskers’ beleaguered Blackshirts the Gophers had 311 yards on 8.9 yards per play at the half and a 30-14 lead. It was the seventh time this season Nebraska trailed at halftime and the 16th time in its last 21 games dating back to week three of the 2016 season.
That fourth-down stop by Minnesota on the first play of the second quarter proved to be the last moment at which the Huskers were in the game. Tanner Lee, one of the few first-half highlights with 174 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-18 passing, didn’t come back out for the second half while dealing with what Mike Riley called an “impact migraine.” His backup, Patrick O’Brien, nearly matched Lee’s completion percentage (12-of-18), but was sacked six times as the Huskers managed just one second-half touchdown drive.
Minnesota, after its first punt of the day on the opening drive of the second half, scored on its next four drives – three touchdowns and a field goal – before taking the victory formation on its final possession.
For the day, the Gophers scored on nine-of-10 drives minus the kneel-down to end the game and rushed for 423 yards (9.6 sack-adjusted yards per carry). Croft led the Gophers with 183 yards and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver JD Spielman was one of the few standouts for the Huskers. The Minnesota native had 141 yards on nine catches. His 49 receptions and 734 yards now lead the team on the season.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.