Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

With Heavy Hearts, Nebraska Takes on Minnesota in Must-Win Game

October 16, 2021

In the days leading up to Nebraska’s game at Minnesota, the usual college football silliness appeared.

PJ Fleck and his popular Row The Boat mantra were easy punchlines for Nebraska’s fanbase on social media. Memories from the last two games between these programs—both Husker losses, even last year when the Gophers were without 33 players who were out due to Covid, injuries and opt-outs—were revisited. Curiosity for irrelevant things sparked, too—are Nebraska’s players going to wear hoodies in pregame warmups? Scott Frost didn’t seem too fond of that two years ago.

But on Thursday, another storyline emerged, the kind that will make you want to hug someone you love. Husker defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s father, Gene, passed away in a car accident in Iowa. Per a Nebraska football spokesperson, Chinander is with the team at Minnesota.

Thoughts and prayers are with Chinander and his family.

When real life tragedies happen, sports rightly take a back seat. Breaking down Nebraska’s defense against Minnesota’s run game misses the mark.

But the Huskers are playing a football game today. And you better believe this tight-knit football team that’s already been through a lot—all four defeats have been by one score—became even closer after this awful situation. The players, coaches and fans want to win this one for Coach Chins.

Saturday’s game is a must-win for Nebraska. The Huskers need six wins to qualify for a bowl game. They’re at three right now. Minnesota is beatable, and so are Purdue, Wisconsin and No. 2 Iowa. Ohio State might not be the usual juggernaut it is this season, but the Buckeyes have seemed to find their stride since that loss to Oregon.

Wisconsin and Iowa have elite defenses, but aren’t good at scoring. That second point has already bit the Badgers in losses to Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan. Iowa has skated by with an unimpressive offense, and the Hawkeyes looked to luck out when Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was knocked out of the game with an injury. The Nittany Lions’ backup quarterback, Ta’Quan Roberson, looked lost and unprepared against a defense that smelled blood.

Nebraska can find three wins in its last five games, but the rally must start today. The Gophers are down their top two running backs in Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts due to injury. They just lost a starting offensive lineman to the transfer portal. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is averaging only 18 passes per game and has completed just 52.2% of them, both good for 13th in the Big Ten. Minnesota’s defense is allowing just 19.6 points per game, but four of the five offenses they’ve played—Miami (OH), Colorado, Bowling Green and Purdue—average a combined 15.4 points, which isn’t good.

There can’t be another gut-punch loss like last week against the Wolverines. After the game with Michigan, there seemed to be a quiet confidence with Frost. He knew his team had just went toe-to-toe with a top-10 opponent. If the Huskers play like that against Minnesota—minus that one back-breaking mistake—they’ll fly back to Lincoln with a win.

Instead of frustration in his postgame press conference, Frost spoke of something else—the family feel of this group.

“This team loves each other. They love the coaches and the coaches love them,” Frost said. “This is a tightly-knit team, and, gosh, I’m proud of them. We’ve come so far. I thought tonight was the night.”

The Huskers will lean on each other today. They’ll play for each other. They’ll play for Coach Chins.

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