Photo Credit: Eric Francis

The Good, Bad and Unexpected: Nebraska Versus Minnesota

November 06, 2022

Despite ending the first half with a 10-0 lead over Minnesota, Nebraska couldn’t hang on and fell 20-13 to the Golden Gophers. With a little time to have now absorbed what we saw in Nebraska’s loss, it’s time to review.

Here is the good, the bad and the unexpected from Saturday.

The Good

Defense: Nebraska’s defense held Minnesota scoreless in the first half, which made for a great start for the Huskers. In fact, it was the first time Nebraska had shut out an opponent in the first half since Buffalo in 2021 (the Huskers led 14-0 at half) and the first time it had held a Big Ten opponent scoreless in the first half since Maryland in 2019 (Nebraska led 34-0 at half).

Things got a little rougher for the defense in the second half, which is a more than fair criticism if you’re asking why the defense is on the good list this week. Edge Caleb Tannor even said Minnesota came out of halftime wanting it more, which is what caused the problems for the Nebraska defense.

“They just came out hard and we can’t let that happen,” Tannor said post-game. “We’ve got to come out in the second half with more energy than we came out with in the first half. It’s that simple. We have to come out with more energy.”

However, it’s also worth noting that Nebraska’s time of possession in the third quarter was only 3:29 (compared to Minnesota’s 11:31). Nebraska’s offense couldn’t get anything going to start the second half, which put the defense on the field a lot.

Minnesota backup quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis—who started in place of Tanner Morgan for the second half—was also a problem. He was efficient in how he ran the Gophers’ offense, and got things moving well after settling in. He also started against Penn State—and got some snaps against Illinois—which was noteworthy experience prior to Saturday.

“They threw it more than we thought they would, and we knew he would pull the ball,” interim head coach Mickey Joseph said. “He’s probably a better athlete so they felt comfortable. He had experience. He had snaps in the second half against Illinois, so he was the backup who was the backup who had game reps.”

Despite that, the defense still managed to keep things under control and the stat lines and game notes highlight that. Half of Nebraska’s post-game notes were about the defense, with five being about individual performances. Here’s what the Huskers sent out following the game:

  • Tannor had a 13-yard sack in the first quarter and shared a seven-yard sack in the second quarter, marking his first sacks of the 2022 season. His 1.5 sacks were a career high, and he now has 9.0 career sacks. Tannor finished the game with six total tackles, including a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss, bettering his previous high of 2.0 against Northwestern in 2019.
  • Linebacker Luke Reimer had nine tackles to increase his career total to 228, moving him up to 22nd on the Nebraska career tackles list. With his four assisted tackles, Reimer became the 21st player in school history with 100 career solo tackles and 100 career assisted tackles.
  • Linebacker Ernest Hausmann recorded a two-yard tackle for loss in the first quarter, marking his first career tackle for loss.
  • Edge rusher Ochaun Mathis had a season-high 1.5 tackles for loss and finished with four total tackles.
  • Myles Farmer led Nebraska with a career-high 14 tackles, bettering his previous career high of nine tackles against Purdue last month.
  • Nebraska had 3.0 sacks, the most sacks Minnesota has allowed this season. The Gophers entered the game having allowed just seven sacks on the season.

It feels right to put the defense on the “good” list—even if the second half wasn’t as stellar as the first—because the defense did its job at the end of the day.

Anthony Grant: Running back Anthony Grant had been a small bright spot for Nebraska against Illinois one week ago and he built on that against Minnesota. On the Huskers’ opening drive of the game, he had six carries for 60 yards. He ended the first half with 89 yards on the ground.

By the end of the day, Grant had 116 rushing yards. That marked his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season, making him the first Husker with five 100-yard rushing games in a season since Devine Ozigbo had five in 2018.

Brian Buschini: A Minnesota beat writer let out a heavy sigh after one of punter Brian Buschini’s kicks. Understandable, because there were a lot of punts on Saturday (12 to be exact, with Nebraska responsible for half of those). Buschini, specifically, was very consistent with his punts and averaged a career-high 55.5 yards on six punts. Five of those punts were for more than 50 yards and his longest was 61.

The Bad

Decision making: Let’s just start with this quote from Joseph post-game:

“I thought Whipple and I were on the same page, because when we thought (Purdy) was struggling we went to Logan,” Joseph said. “We communicate, but Whipple makes the call that he shouldn’t make, I’ll let him know. We were on the same page today when it came to the quarterbacks.”

What Joseph was referring to was he and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple being on the same page when it came to the quarterback position. Nebraska was without starter Casey Thompson—he was injured in the second quarter against Illinois—and the Huskers decided to roll with backup Chubba Purdy to start against Minnesota.

It had started well enough for Nebraska against Minnesota. The Huskers jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, which included an impressive first drive of the game that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run from Purdy. A first quarter field goal added insurance, but things started to go downhill from there.

It also got kind of confusing.

With 7:41 left in the third quarter—still leading 10-3—Joseph and Whipple briefly put in Smothers. It didn’t last long though, with Nebraska returning to Purdy for two more series. Minnesota chipped away over that time, adding 17 more points. It wasn’t until early in the fourth quarter when Purdy’s pass to wide receiver Trey Palmer was picked off that the decision to let Smothers finish the game was made.

Smothers got to work—which provided a spark—but it was too little too late, which Joseph acknowledged afterward.

“We probably should’ve (put Smothers in sooner), but we figured we’d have to throw the ball downfield,” Joseph said. “When (Purdy) wasn’t seeing it, we had to make a change but you’re right in this league you can’t do that. You can’t have six, three-and-outs in this league because they’ll eat the clock up.”

Drops from receivers: There were too many, but a couple stand out at pivotal moments.

First, there was the drop by Oliver Martin on the first drive from Smothers in the third quarter. The Huskers had just gained seven yards on two runs, and Smothers put the ball where it needed to be.

And then there was the drop from Trey Palmer late in the fourth quarter.

“He’s got to grab that,” Joseph said. “He’s got to squeeze it, it’s a bang-bang play, it’s going to be a catch and a hit at the same time, he’s been in those situations before, we expect him to catch those balls.”

Of course there were also a number of balls put in bad spots for the receivers, but the drops stand out because of how much they would have meant.

The Unexpected

Logan Smothers: Drake Keeler really summed it up best:

“When it comes to Nebraska’s backup QBs, coaches have referred to Chubba Purdy as the better thrower, while Logan Smothers has the rushing advantage. Watching them both against Minnesota, you’d think the opposite.”

Smothers ended his day 5-of-10 for 80 yards through the air, while Purdy ended 6-of-16 for 41 yards. Smothers, on the other hand, had four rushing yards on four attempts, while Purdy had 24 yards on six attempts.

Let’s just say that was unexpected. It also makes you wonder what Smothers could have done with more time against Minnesota.

If Thompson is unavailable against Michigan, maybe we’ll get to see more of Smothers. He certainly made a case for that with the limited time he had.

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