Brian Towle, a manager over at Corn Nation, graciously took some time to answer some questions I had about the upcoming matchup between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Here is a summary of our correspondence:
TDG: Man, what is there to say about Nebraska's absurd season thus far that hasn't already been said? Playing a challenging schedule and having been in every game has to give the fanbase some comfort.... right? I know 2-4 isn't optimal but it isn't like you've lost a game 27-0 and are 85th in S&P+ offense like the Gophers... right? Seriously though, how would you summarize the general feelings on the Cornhuskers' season up to this point in time and how do you see the rest of the season playing out?
Corn Nation: It's been a very interesting and very trying time for Nebraska. In their last 10 games, the Huskers have 3 wins, one over a Power 5 team in Iowa. Since then, the Huskers have been boatraced by Wisconsin, last seconded by Minnesota, BYU, Miami, Illinois and Wisconsin, and outscored by USC. The way Nebraska has sharted the bed in the 4th Quarter should have it's own novel. Mike Riley is doing good things in recruiting and trying to change the culture, but the problem is that a fair portion of the fanbase, even though the evidence has been right in front of their faces, refuse to want to rebuild and have the patience of a 2 year old when the ice cream is right in front of their face.
TDG: Alright, onto the business at hand. There is a Chair to be played for after all! Do you think there will be any sort of carry over from all of the close losses into this game? Dumb question, I know, but eventually that kind of thing takes a toll on a teams' psyche, especially when it is comprised of individuals who are only 18-24 years of age, right?
Corn Nation: It gets frustrating, but the good thing to see is that the team, for all intents, have not quit on the season or the staff. The Offense has struggled at times the last 2 games, but the Defense that has sharted the bed the first 4 games has gotten better. Nothing to write home to your Mom about, but definitely have helped keep the team in the game with anemic Offensive playing. I think this team is very mentally strong, but a win this week would give them a sense of accomplishment that they haven't been able to have the past few weeks, which would help the rest of the season as well.
TDG: Nebraska ranks a very respectful 25th in S&P+ rushing defense. The Gopher obviously prefer to keep the ball on the ground while they are on the offensive side of the ball. They finally had success with this strategy last week as they gained 326 yards on 6.8 yards per carry in West Lafayette. So the question is, how will the Gophers fare on the ground against a rushing defense and team that actually exists?
Corn Nation: Wisconsin did get their yards last week, but the front 7 has come around, especially the Linebacking crew. Trent Bray has kept his crew together with duck tape and bailing wire, and gotten walk-on's and buried kids on the depth chart to play well. The Defensive Line, which has caught hell for not much of a pass rush early in the year, got to Joel Stave a few times last week and they have become as hurt as the LB's were. I think Nebraska and their players/staff on the Defensive side of the ball welcome the fact that as the Run D goes this week, it could write the story of the chances for Nebraska.
TDG: Nebraska's offense seems vastly more competent than what Gopher fans are used to seeing. The Huskers are 39th in the country in S&P+ offensive rating. Who are some players that will need to have quality games for the Nebraska offensive attack to find success against a Minnesota defense ranked in 11th in S&P+ defense outside of quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr?
Corn Nation: Armstrong himself needs a bounce back game, as the last 2 vs. Illinois & Wisconsin hasn't been his best. To be fair, his QB/OC Danny Langsdorf hasn't put him in good positions, especially vs. the Illini. Three guys to watch are Jordan Westerkamp, Terrell Newby and Stanley Morgan. Newby is the RB that has been starting and has looked good at times, while the other 2 have become the main pass catchers for TAjr. The better off they are, the better Nebraska's chances are to have success vs. the Gophers.
TDG: The weather is expected to be sunny and chilly, perfect Big Ten football weather so that won't be much of an "x-factor." What do you think will be an unexpected difference maker in this game? A specific player? A particular prediction of a specific play?
Corn Nation: One thing to watch is the depth of line play for Nebraska's OL. Zack Sterup will be starting for Nick Gates at Right Tackle, and either Chris Long or Jerald Foster at Right Guard for a banged up Chongo Kondolo. Nebraska's OL play has been decent for pass blocking, but in the run game they have had issues that Ameer Abdullah isn't around to make disappear anymore.
TDG: Lastly, does Golden Gopher retain his beloved Chair he worked so hard to craft with his bare hands? Or does the ghost of Faux Pelini reside somewhere in the bowels of TCF Bank Stadium and will Nebraska claim the glorious hardware for the first time? In other words, what's your game prediction?
Corn Nation: Two's a trend, three's a streak. Nebraska is mad enough and has had enough that it takes out it's frustration on the Gophers. The Huskers hang 34 on Minnesota, the Gophers only put up 24, and the Chair comes to Lincoln.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Brian. Good luck to the Cornhuskers this Saturday!