A balanced offense and a great defensive performance guided the Minnesota Golden Gophers to a win over Nebraska with a final score of 30-23. Tanner Morgan led the Gopher offense by completing 20 of 24 passes and Bryce Williams secured the game with a 56-yard touchdown late in the 4th quarter to propel the Gophers to their 4th win of the season.
Most Gopher games have a story, a clear line of what the overall narrative and story of the game was. But this game was different and hard to pin down what the story really was. It was a tale of two very different halves where Minnesota dominated the 1st and Nebraska moved at will in the 2nd. It was a story of a great offensive game plan led by a highly efficient Tanner Morgan. And really the Gopher defense was great all day.
The first half was really all Minnesota. Morgan was 14/15 passing with 2 touchdowns, Chris Autman-Bell had 100 yards, Bucky Irving was averaging 7 yards per carry and the defense limited Nebraska to 134 yards and just 9 points. But the second half was very different. The Cornhusker offense moved the ball down the field with relative ease, thanks in part to Morgan throwing 2 interceptions on the first two Gopher drives of the half. But they just could not put points on the board getting stopped on 4th and goal from the 1 as well as missing a 27-yard field goal attempt to start the 4th quarter. Those missed opportunities as well as an Adrian Martinez intentional grounding penalty from the endzone really killed any hopes of a Nebraska comeback.
But it wasn’t just a tale of two halves. Today’s Gopher offense was a little different. And I liked it.
The game plan very clearly changed for the Gophers over their bye week. After running the ball 71% of the time in their first five games, the Gophers came out letting Morgan throw the ball today with a healthy Autman-Bell. The clamoring for a more diverse and interesting offense either came from an extra week to self-scout or out of necessity because the Gophers are down to their 3rd running back. More than anything it was great to see some offensive balance and enough creativity to keep Nebraska off balance most of the game.
Morgan was 20/24 passing and set a school record with 16 consecutive completions in there. He did throw two picks to start the half, but other than those decisions he was highly efficient. Clearly having CAB back and healthy was beneficial. The senior receiver finished with 11 catches, 103 yards and a great TD catch in the 2nd quarter. And not to be ignored is the running game. With the “pair” both injured for the season it was time for the offense to turn to their collective group of “spares.” Bryce Williams finished with 127 yards and huge touchdown to put the Gophers up 14 with 2:12 left.
And finally, the defense deserves a ton of credit today. Sure, they gave up 377 yards, but the offense put them in tough spots more than once and when it mattered, they made some huge plays to win this game. Two plays at the goal line to keep Nebraska from taking their first lead were huge. And the Otomewo sack of Martinez to get a safety put the Gophers up 7, setting up the Bryce Williams touchdown on the subsequent drive. What really helped was keeping Martinez from being able to use his legs and thwarting the Cornhusker ground game. Making Martinez throw 33 times is a win for the defense.
And it was a win for the Gophers. Giving Minnesota a 3-game winning streak over Scott Frost and Nebraska. More importantly this game puts Minnesota at 4-2 on the season and with a stretch of games leading up to Iowa where they should be favored in all three. It starts with Maryland coming to TCF Bank Stadium next Saturday.