Hey, look! A winnable game for the Minnesota Golden Gophers! And a chance to retain the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy? Say no more. But with the Second Coming at the helm, aren’t the Nebraska Cornhuskers too much for the Gophers to handle?
Not so fast.
Were they any good last year?
Record: 4-8 (3-6, 5th B1G West)
S&P+ Overall Ranking: 103rd
I’m sorry, what was the question?
What about this year?
Record: (0-6) (0-4, 7th B1G West)
S&P+ Overall Ranking: 69th
No. This is not a good football team. I feel very confident in that assessment.
In head coach Scott Frost’s first season at the helm — which managed to dwarf even Jim Harbaugh’s return to Michigan in terms of preseason delusions of grandeur among the Nebraska faithful — the Cornhuskers are winless through their first six games. To be fair, it could be even worse, considering their season opener against Akron was cancelled due to weather, and the Zips proceeded to beat Northwestern two weeks later.
That return to glory is going to be a steep climb for Frost.
Can they score on offense?
Yes. There is talent on the Cornhuskers’ offense. Albeit, talent that has been inconsistent and undisciplined up to this point in the season.
Let’s start with Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez. Like the Gophers’ own Zack Annexstad, Martinez is a true freshman quarterback who is learning as he goes, riding his raw talent as far it will take him and making questionable decisions along the way. He has kicked it into high gear in the Huskers’ last three games, averaging 319 passing yards and at least one touchdown per game, although some of that is certainly a product of Nebraska playing from behind.
Martinez’s two favorite targets in the passing game are sophomore JD Spielman and senior Stanley Morgan, Jr. Spielman is their version of Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson, leading a one-man show at wide receiver with 40 receptions, 537 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. Spielman is far and away the Huskers’ most dangerous home run threat, and a short-handed Gopher secondary will have their hands full trying to contain him.
I anticipate we’ll see Martinez dropping back to pass plenty, but he can also extend plays with his legs and even take off when he escapes the pocket. Martinez is the team’s second leading rusher with 66 carries for 290 rushing yards and three touchdowns, behind only senior running back Devine Ozigbo. Ozigbo has been feast or famine this season, held in check by the likes of Michigan and Wisconsin — a combined 34 rushing yards on 11 carries — and running wild against Purdue and Northwestern — a combined 329 rushing yards on 39 carries. Let’s hope for the former from an improved Gopher run defense that looked strong against Iowa and Ohio State.
Penalties are what have crippled this offense. The Cornhuskers are averaging about seven offensive penalties per game, and rank almost dead last in the country in total penalties. If they could get out of their own way, this would be a formidable unit. The Nebraska offensive line has been responsible for a significant share of those penalties, and are allowing an average of at least two sacks per game, which should be music to Carter Coughlin’s ears.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
I would hope so.
Here are the “blackshirts” at a glance:
- 109th in rushing yards allowed
- 77th in passing yards allowed
- 120th in scoring defense
- 87th in third down defense
- 111th in red zone defense
The Cornhuskers have one of the worst defenses in the country.
The Nebraska defense hasn’t even been able to lend their offense a helping hand by forcing turnovers, as the Huskers rank 114th in the country with only six takeaways.
It all starts up front for Nebraska. The defensive line started the season strong, helping the Husker defense rack up 10 sacks combined in the first two games. But in the four games since then, Nebraska has produced only a total of five sacks, and have had to dial up blitzes to bring pressure. The problem with having to dedicate more bodies to pass rush is that puts more pressure on the Cornhuskers’ mess of a secondary.
To make matters worse for Nebraska, this is not really a case of opponents attacking a weak secondary because of a lack of success running the football (with the exception of Northwestern, who opted to attempt a staggering 64 passes rather than try to get their anemic ground game going). Purdue, Michigan, and Wisconsin all utilized a balanced attack against the beleaguered Huskers defense, to different degrees of success.
Limiting chunk plays has been particularly difficult for this defense, especially through the air and on third and long. I mean, I don’t know how many more ways I can explain that this defense is bad. They allowed a 99-yard touchdown drive to tie the game for Northwestern last week.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
Nebraska is winless in the Big Ten so far this season, but so is Minnesota. So in spite of the Cornhuskers’ remarkable futility this season, don’t expect them to roll over against the Gophers, especially at home. With that said, I think I’ve made it clear how poorly Nebraska has played on defense. That is the difference in this game for me. Minnesota 31, Nebraska 28.