Nebraska returns home after two weeks on the road to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The matchup marks four home games in five weeks for the Huskers.
Nebraska has faced Minnesota more than any other Big Ten foe, featuring 58 all-time meetings. That includes 51 meetings prior to Nebraska joining the Big Ten in 2011.
Minnesota currently leads the all-time series with Nebraska 32-24-2. The Golden Gophers' most recently defeated the Huskers in 2017, 54-21.
Nebraska-Minnesota football TV channel, time, live stream
TV channel: Big Ten Network (Kevin Kugler, James Laurinaitis, Lisa Byington)
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
Date: Saturday, Oct. 20
Live stream: BTN2Go
Radio: Huskers fans can listen to the Nebraska vs. Minnesota game on IMG Husker Sports Network, as well as on Sirius Channel 94 and XM 195. Internet radio will be available at Huskers.com.
Location: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska
Weather: Sunny skies. High 58 degrees. Winds NNW at 15 to 25 mph.
Nebraska-Minnesota football picks, odds
The line: Nebraska -5, per OddsShark
Nebraska comes into the matchup with Minnesota looking for its first win of 2018. The Huskers dropped a heartbreaking loss to Northwestern last Saturday in overtime, 34-31.
Despite the lack of wins, Nebraska's offense has shown improvement in 2018. The Huskers are currently averaging 440.5 yards of total offense per game. That ranks Nebraska fifth in the Big Ten.
As for Minnesota, the Gophers' season started with three wins in three games. Minnesota trailed New Mexico State 10-7 early in the second quarter of its season opener, then rolled to a 48-10 win. Defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. made a tremendous late-fourth-quarter pick in the end zone to seal a 21-14 win over a good Fresno State team (a 5-1 Fresno team at that). The Gophers then rolled over Miami (OH) thanks to a near-shutout from the defense.
Then came Big Ten play. Maryland stomped the Gophers 42-13, Iowa won 48-31 and last week Ohio State turned a 14-10 second-quarter deficit into a 30-14 win.
Consistency is the name of the game for Minnesota right now.
True freshman walk-on Zack Annexstad won the starting job at quarterback and has been about as you'd expect. In the Gophers' three wins, he has four scores and only one turnover; in three losses he has four scores and nine turnovers. On the season, he's completing just 53 percent of his passes.
The Gophers haven't been great at protecting him, either. Minnesota ranks 102nd in sack rate, giving up a hit on 8.5 percent of dropbacks. It's been a revolving door-type backfield with Rodney Smith starting the opener, running for 153 yards and getting hurt, freshman Bryce Williams taking over for the next two games and running at a 3.9 yards-per-carry clip, then freshman Mohamed Ibrahim for the last three games.
Ibrahim's 157-yard, two-score showing against Ohio State a week ago masks two rather pedestrian games before where his longest run was 11 yards.
Which is another point worth mentioning: Minnesota hasn't hit many home runs this season. The passing game ranks 95th in marginal explosiveness (explained here, basically the difference between actual and expected explosive plays) and the run game ranks 108th.
The other side of the ball deserves most of the thanks for the .500 start.
Minnesota is 23rd in defensive S&P+ largely because they've become a really good run-stopping unit. Ranking fourth in the Big Ten in run yards allowed per contest, Minnesota is really good in short-yardage situations (seventh nationally in stuff rate) and simply keeping you from running efficiently (12th in marginal efficiency).
The pass defense started average and has regressed a bit in recent weeks (they've given up 726 yards, seven scores and a 67 percent completion rate against just one interception in the last two games) but it's the linebacking crew that has spearheaded Minnesota's surprise defensive turnaround (the "surprise" part will get explained later).
The veteran three-man unit of Kamal Martin, Thomas Barber and Blake Cashman, along with rush end Carter Coughlin, make up almost 40 percent of the defense's tackles, 54 percent of its run stuffs, 61 percent of its tackles for loss and 73 percent of its sacks. The linebackers are sixth nationally in havoc rate.
Minnesota has run for 300 yards in a game and failed to hit 300 yards of total offense in another two. It has been nearly turnover-free twice early and turnover-happy thrice late. We'll have to wait and see which Minnesota team shows up at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
For a full look at Minnesota, visit Derek Peterson's opponent preview on the Gophers.