Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Open as a Double-Digit Dog to Gophers

October 30, 2022

Nebraska will be a home underdog for the second straight week at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers host Minnesota at 11 am Saturday. Circa Sports opened the line on the game at Gophers -11 with a total of 46.5.

Nebraska (3-5, 2-3) fell 26-9 to Illinois Saturday at Memorial Stadium, but it may have suffered an even bigger loss behind center. Leading 9-6 midway through the second quarter, Husker quarterback Casey Thompson was hit on the elbow while throwing and suffered numbness in his throwing hand. Illinois turned the interception, Thompson’s second, into a touchdown and wouldn’t relinquish the lead. Thompson remained in uniform, but didn’t return to the game. Without him, the Huskers managed just 34 yards on eight drives over the final 36 minutes of the game. With Thompson, Nebraska had gained 219 yards against the Illini defense which is giving up an average of 224.5 yards per game, first nationally after Saturday’s games.

Head coach Mickey Joseph said immediately after the game Thompson was “day-to-day” as Nebraska worked to further evaluate his injury. Should make for a wild week as far as this line goes.

Meanwhile, Minnesota (5-3, 2-3) got its quarterback back for a 31-0 shutout of Rutgers. After missing the previous week’s loss at Penn State, Tanner Morgan returned and had a very Tanner-Morgan-like day, 14-of-21 passing, 121 yards. The Gophers didn’t need much from him thanks to a ground game that ran up 253 yards. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim did most of the damage, carrying 36 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns. The win moved Minnesota into a four-way tie for third in the West with Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Ibrahim now ranks fourth nationally in rushing at 136.43 yards per game. His 13 rushing touchdowns are tied for third nationally.

The Gophers enter Saturday 57th in offensive points per play (.405) and will face a Husker defense that ranks 75th in points per play allowed (.401). Nebraska’s offense, no matter who is taking snaps, could have another challenging Saturday when it comes to points. Minnesota’s defense ranks eighth nationally at .256 points per play allowed, Nebraska’s offense ranks 81st at .363 points per play.

ESPN’s Football Power Index ranks Minnesota as the best team in the division. The Gophers moved up three spots to 19th in this week’s rankings, five spots ahead of Illinois, which jumped from 34th to 24th following the win in Lincoln.

The Huskers dropped three spots to 74th. Based on the ratings for each team, and using a 2.5-point home field advantage for Nebraska, FPI would have this line at Minnesota -10.3 though that’s assuming both teams are at full strength. The ratings, like everyone else at the moment, doesn’t know Thompson’s status either.

Minnesota is 5-3 against the spread this season and 37-26-3 since PJ Fleck became head coach in 2017, an ATS record that ranks 11th nationally over that span. Nebraska is 2-6 against the spread in 2022––both ATS wins coming under Joseph––and 27-37 since 2017, 117th nationally.

On to the rest of the Big Ten in a week in which all 14 teams are in action:

Michigan State at No. 14 Illinois -10: The Spartans (3-5, 1-4) got some punches in early against rival Michigan before the Wolverines snuffed out the momentary threat, and then the Spartans got some punches in during a postgame fracas in the tunnel that left Jim Harbaugh none too happy. You already know what Illinois (7-1, 4-1) did. The Illini have firm control of the division, and have a chance wrest a little more control as a home favorite here. Illinois finishes the season with Purdue, at Michigan and at Northwestern.

Iowa at Purdue -7: The cure for the Hawkeyes’ (4-4, 1-3) ailing offense was apparently Northwestern. Iowa’s offense scored all of the points in its 33-13 win last week, gaining 398 yards. That was the Hawkeyes’ most yards gained in a game since hitting for 428 against Maryland on Oct. 1 of last season. Purdue (5-3, 3-2) was idle last week, but the Boilermakers need this one to remain within one game of division-leader Illinois and set up a potential game for first place next week.

No. 2 Ohio State at Northwestern +36: The Buckeyes (8-0, 5-0) got all they wanted from Penn State in Happy Valley, but used a late surge to pull away for a 44-31 win. The game did prompt some questions about Ohio State’s defense going forward, though it seems unlikely Northwestern (1-7, 1-3), losers of seven straight, will ask many of the Buckeyes.

Maryland at Wisconsin -5: This is probably the most interesting conference game of the week. Maryland (6-2, 3-2) has already reached bowl eligibility but now faces Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State in consecutive weeks. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa missed the Terrapins last game, a win over Northwestern, but with Maryland on a bye last week, he was expected to play Saturday. The Badgers (4-4, 2-3) were also off last week. Interim head coach Jim Leonhard is 2-1 so far.

No. 16 Penn State at Indiana +13: The Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-2) put forth a good effort against Ohio State, only solidifying their spot as the third-best team in the conference despite the loss. The Hoosiers (3-5, 1-4) are coming off a bye and looking to snap a five game losing streak.

No. 4 Michigan at Rutgers +24: The Wolverines’ (8-0, 5-0) 29-7 win over Michigan State went about exactly as projected––the line was right around 22.5––as Michigan posted huge edges in rushing and total yards. The Scarlet Knights (4-4, 1-4) need two more wins to reach bowl eligibility, and one of those probably isn’t coming this week though they did play the Wolverines close, losing 20-13, a year ago. Rutgers finishes the season playing at Michigan State, Penn State and at Maryland.

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