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Minnesota Football vs Nebraska: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

Another one bites the dust

Nebraska v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Nebraska Cornhuskers, preseason contenders in the Big Ten West, suffered a bit of a setback on Saturday night, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers ran roughshod over them in a 34-7 rout to maintain a perfect 6-0 record on the year. What an unfortunate turn of events for head coach Scott Frost in his second year at the helm of his alma mater. You hate to see it.

I think that’s enough schadenfreude, right?

The Elite

The Minnesota Movers. The Gophers’ offensive line was up against perhaps the biggest and strongest defensive line they have faced so far this season, and were forced to do battle without sophomore right tackle Daniel Faalele, sidelined with a lingering injury from the Illinois game. Yet they delivered their best game of the season, paving the way for 322 rushing yards and keeping Tanner Morgan clean for the first time this year. Left tackle Sam Schlueter has been the picture of consistency, but against Nebraska it was redshirt sophomore center John Michael Schmitz who set the tone with his aggressive play. The tight ends have also been exceptional in run blocking, with redshirt sophomore Jake Paulson leading the way.

The Gophers’ three-headed monster at running back. Rodney Smith is officially back. His vision has returned, as has his elusiveness, allowing him to make the kind of cuts that leave defenders grasping at air. You can see how much the game has slowed down for him again. Smith finished the night with 139 rushing yards on 18 carries, bringing his season total to 675 yards. With at least seven games left to play, his second career 1,000-yard season is well within reach.

Shannon Brooks is also officially back, bursting through holes both narrow and wide, shaking defenders in the open field, and even dragging them with him for extra yards. He came up just short of the century mark against Nebraska, rushing for 99 yards on 13 carries.

Oh, and Mohamed Ibrahim is back too, after having missed the last three games with an undisclosed foot injury. The redshirt sophomore announced his presence with authority, racking up three touchdowns en route to 84 rushing yards on 15 carries.

Tyler Johnson. In the same week that Rashod Bateman was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, Tyler Johnson served a reminder that he is still the leader of this talented wide receiver corps. The senior wideout hauled in five receptions for 109 yards and made a couple big plays to spark Minnesota. His 45-yard catch-and-run on the Gophers’ opening drive of the second half set them up inside the red zone, leading to a touchdown and a 21-0 lead. Johnson had another 45-yard reception on their final scoring drive of the game, getting brought down at the goal line for what would be a two-play touchdown drive.

Sam Renner. The redshirt senior is one of the Gophers’ most unsung heroes of the defense but his contributions were clear as day against Nebraska. Renner led the defensive line with four tackles and a sack, and he was in the face of Husker quarterback Noah Vedral all game long.

Kamal Martin. The Cornhuskers were never able to find a rhythm in their rushing attack — two 22-yard gains were their biggest rushes of the night — and a big reason for that was the defensive line and senior linebacker Kamal Martin. Martin has emerged as an indispensable member of the Gophers’ defense, leading the team with 15 tackles against Nebraska.

Antoine Winfield Jr. Winfield had been solid through the first five games of the season but certainly came to play against the Huskers, racking up a season-high 10 tackles and even securing a sack of Vedral on a safety blitz. He helped lead a secondary that gave up one big play all night — a 50-yard reception by J.D. Spielman, which was the result of a blown assignment in pass coverage — but otherwise kept the Nebraska passing game in check.

Nebraska was 0-for-4 on fourth down. Yikes.

No turnovers. The ball is the program, and Minnesota took care of the ball. The program seems to be in good shape, as well. Not a coincidence, methinks.

The $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy is back home where it belongs.

The Gophers are 6-0 for the first time since 2003. Enough said.

The Gopher fans in the stands at TCF Bank Stadium. Thank you to those who braved the cold and blustery conditions! Admittedly, my biggest concern ahead of this matchup was whether or not Gopher fans would show up to support an undefeated team in a primetime matchup against what was once considered a helmet school. While there were maybe one too many Husker fans in the stands for my liking, I appreciate the Gopher fans who were in attendance.

The Meh

Minnesota’s passing game. To be clear, the Gophers’ air attack was “meh” by design, as Minnesota was averaging at least 12 yards per carry at one point on the ground. You can’t blame offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca for continuing to pound the ball when his running backs are gashing the opposing defense for chunks of yards every play. Tanner Morgan was a pedestrian 8-of-13 for 128 passing yards and a touchdown. It was also an uncharacteristically quiet night for Rashod Bateman, who had only one reception.

The Ugly