Remember when Nebraska’s defense hadn’t given up a 100-yard rushing day through the first three weeks of the season? Not just a single 100-yard rusher, a 100-yard team rushing effort. The defensive line was feasting and a fast and furious front seven was playing in opposing backfields.
PJ Fleck remembered. Minnesota’s head coach said he felt like Nebraska’s defensive line needed to be moved laterally in order to open up space for his three-headed backfield of Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Mohamed Ibrahim.
Nebraska knew it was coming, too. Head coach Scott Frost said his group was prepared for “three or four” run concepts that Minnesota would use time and time over Saturday night. Defensive tackle Darrion Daniels said the same. Defensive end Ben Stille said the same. Nebraska knew what Minnesota was going to try and do in the run game.
Stretch zone. Open holes. Attack. Nebraska knew it was coming.
And Minnesota won. Time and time over. The Gophers ran for 322 yards and four scores. Minnesota ran it down Nebraska’s throat to the tune of 6.6 yards a run. The Huskers were on the ropes and the Gophers only needed jabs. It was 34-0 at the end of the third quarter. A mercy score in the fourth kept the Huskers from getting shut out.
Nebraska will limp into the bye week at 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. Literally. Several key players will need help getting around. And yet, Nebraska’s due for a week’s worth of gut checks after a game’s worth of getting its teeth beat in.
“They came out more physical than us,” tight end Austin Allen said. “Coach Frost said this next bye week, later on in the week we’re going to get after it. He said he doesn’t care if he has to run 50 plays inside zone live, we’re going to get after it.”
Frost was animated with his team in the locker room after the game. He told them to stay away from Memorial Stadium Sunday and Monday. He told them when they came back it was time to step up or pack up. He told them there was no excuse for what they put on the field.
“Things are never as good as you think and never as bad as you think but I know we need to get a lot better at some basic things,” Frost told media after the game. “We need to be a more physical team. We need to be a smarter team. I don’t like coaching a team that isn’t the most physical football team and we weren’t. I give them a ton of credit tonight. They were the more physical football team and we’re going to do whatever we have to to address that.”
Nebraska can’t run the ball consistently.
Nebraska can’t find a handful of pet plays that Frost can dial up with confidence.
Nebraska can’t protect the guy playing quarterback. Quarterback Noah Vedral was fine against Minnesota when he had time. He was 14-for-23 for 135 yards, and added 49 yards on 15 runs.
“Right now we’re having to pick and choose run plays and scheme too much instead of just winning up front and being able to rely on our run game,” Frost said. “That needs to get fixed.”
He said it’s not easy.
Last season probably gave some false assurances as to how long it truly was. Devine Ozigbo was good for the season, bad for the longterm rebuild. How much did he mask? It’s clear that success was more him than not. Because he’s gone and Frost is talking about needing more reliable playmakers on offense.
Minnesota’s ground game out-gained Nebraska’s offense, 322-299. When the Huskers found success moving the ball, however brief and fleeting it was, it was almost always accompanied with a penalty or a missed assignment.
Freshman Wan’Dale Robinson running the ball from the Minnesota 36 to the Minnesota 4-yard-line in a 7-0 game early in the second quarter and then having it wiped out by a block in the back penalty that moves the ball back to the Minnesota 45 is not the only thing that should be consistent about the offense in Week 7 of Year 2.
Nebraska should be beyond this.
“When we come back the basics of what we do need to be better,” Frost said. “We need to come off the ball better up front, we need to tackle better, we need to block better on the perimeter, we need to run more precise routes. All the little things.
“We can scheme up any offensive play or call that you want to and if those things aren’t firing on all cylinders and we don’t win those things, it doesn’t matter what we call.”
Vedral hit wideout JD Spielman for 51 yards midway through the first quarter. It was the Huskers’ second drive of the game after opening with a 12-play, 46-yarder that saw them turn it over on downs at the Minnesota 29. The Huskers were immediately sacked on the next play. Ten yards taken away just like that.
“They dialed up some heat after an explosive play, which was one of their tendencies,” Vedral said.
So, again, Nebraska knew and couldn’t stop it.
“A lot of our issues were self-imposed,” Stille said, talking about the defensive line’s struggles to stop the run, but it could really be applied to every aspect of the game.
Spielman fielding not one but two punts while standing inside his own 10 yard line and muffing both of them? The big toe is shot off.
Opening a two-minute drive before the half with a 5-yard pick-up only to draw a false start for movement on the perimeter on the next play? There’s another toe.
Beat to the edge.
In the wrong gap.
Giving up quarterback pressure to a team rushing three.
Frost said the cold and the snow didn’t play a role in the game. That’s fair. Nebraska didn’t have any toes left to freeze.
“Listen, I love this team. I love the guys. I love the attitude. But, we’ve got to continue to get better day-by-day. That’s our mantra,” Frost said. “Last year this team came into Lincoln and we beat them pretty good and they returned the favor this year. We’re still in a better place this year than we were at this time last year.”
Would last year’s team, seven games in, be favored over this year’s team, seven games in? Did what they lost mean that much?
The last time Nebraska visited Minnesota, the Gophers threw 15 passes and broke Nebraska’s will.
This time, the Gophers only needed 13 pass attempts to show the depth of this rebuild, and just how far is left to go.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.