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Minnesota Football vs. Nebraska: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

The $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy stays where it belongs

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-3) became bowl-eligible Saturday, rallying past the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-6) on the road in a hard-fought 20-13 victory.

The Elite

Mohamed Ibrahim. 19 rushing yards. That was all Ibrahim had to his name at halftime. If you had started writing the obituary for his streak of consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards, I wouldn’t have blamed you. The offensive line was doing him no favors, allowing Nebraska to rack up six tackles for loss in the first half alone. But against all odds, Ibrahim finished the game with 32 carries for 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns, powering the Gophers to victory and extending his streak to 17 games. After the game, the ESPN broadcast caught him agreeing to take a photo with a kid in Nebraska gear, which speaks to his class and character.

Matthew Trickett. His then season-long 47-yard field goal got the Gophers on the board at the end of their opening drive of the third quarter, before his now season-long 49-yard field goal gave them their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter.

Athan Kaliakmanis. The box score doesn’t tell the story — 6-of-12 for 137 passing yards — but this was a hell of a performance by the redshirt freshman quarterback. The Minnesota offense looked toast at halftime, and Tanner Morgan was removed from the game by the medical staff after he took a big hit to end the second quarter. Kaliakmanis came in and provided an immediate spark, teaming up with Ibrahim to lead the Gophers down the field for their first scoring drive. Minnesota ended up scoring 20 unanswered points after Kaliakmanis took over.

The Gophers took advantage of his athleticism, allowing him to roll out of the pocket. He ran the ball when he needed to, rushing for 27 yards on three attempts. Most importantly, Kaliakmanis connected with receivers down the field, including a 38-yard pass to Dylan Wright and a 45-yard pass to Daniel Jackson. You couldn’t have asked for much more under the circumstances.

Six straight three-and-outs forced by the Gopher defense. The first quarter was a disaster on both sides of the ball — more on that later — but the response by the defense is what kept Minnesota in this game and made the second half comeback possible. Nebraska scored on their first two drives of the game before being forced to punt on their third. During that stretch, the Huskers rolled up 144 yards of offense and were 4-for-6 on third down. From there, the Gophers forced six consecutive three-and-outs, limiting Nebraska to 11 total yards of offense.

The Minnesota secondary. The Gophers didn’t have to face Nebraska starting quarterback Casey Thompson, and back-up signal callers Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers are not very good (at least at this point in their careers). With that caveat out of the way, I was impressed with the way the Minnesota secondary played, specifically with how they limited wide receiver Trey Palmer to five receptions for 37 receiving yards. As a unit, the secondary limited the Huskers to 121 passing yards, and 64 of those yards came on two receptions in the fourth quarter. Terell Smith also helped set up the game-winning touchdown with an interception.

Four straight wins over Nebraska. You love to see it.

An ignominious streak ends. Not long after Nebraska took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, one of the commentators called attention to the fact that Minnesota had lost 32 consecutive games when trailing by at least 10 points. That streak is now over.

The Meh

Mark Crawford. Every Big Ten game this season, almost without exception, seems to be a reminder that Minnesota lacks a difference-maker at punter. Saturday was another mediocre game for Crawford, who only averaged 37 yards per punt. Conversely, Nebraska punter Brian Buschini seemed to flip the field at every opportunity, averaging 55.5 yards per punt. It makes it really difficult to win the field position battle when your punter does not keep up his end of the bargain.

The Ugly

That first quarter. What a dreadful quarter of football on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Gophers were getting beat at the line of scrimmage and couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Defensively, Minnesota was not getting penetration up front and defenders were missing tackles left and right, allowing Nebraska to pick up chunk plays. The Huskers finished the game with 146 rushing yards, and 106 of them came in the first quarter alone.

Head coach P.J. Fleck admitted in his postgame press conference that defensive coordinator Joe Rossi effectively threw out their defensive game plan because the offense they had prepared for from watching game film was markedly different from the offense that Nebraska offensive coordinator Mark Whipple was attacking them with to start the game.

The Minnesota offensive line. I will give them credit for playing better in the second half, but the first half was as bad as the Minnesota Movers have looked all season. They were abysmal in pass protection, as the Huskers rarely needed to rush more than four to pressure Tanner Morgan, collecting three sacks in the first half. The Gophers’ offensive line was equally bad in the run game. Nebraska was more physical up front and able to disrupt Minnesota’s offense at the line of scrimmage, recording six tackles for loss before halftime.

Tanner Morgan’s injury. Fleck declined to get into specifics regarding Morgan’s injury other than to describe it as “an upper body injury,” which is the same language he used when Morgan suffered a concussion against Illinois. If the hit that Morgan took prior to halftime saw the return of concussion symptoms, that’s not good. Two concussions in less than a month is very bad. You have to wonder if it’s even in his best interest to return to the field this season.

The shenanigans at the end of the game. The game should have ended when Ibrahim rushed for a first down on 3rd & 7 with three minutes left in the game. Minnesota called a timeout after running the game clock down to 2:32, but as they were returning to the field, the replay booth decided to stop the game and review the previous play. Replay didn’t show anything even remotely close to indisputable video evidence that Ibrahim was short of the first down, but the replay crew decided to overturn the call anyway. Fleck opted to punt the ball on fourth and short, despite protests from an uncharacteristically animated Ibrahim.

On the Huskers’ ensuing drive, the clock operator at Memorial Stadium failed to run the game clock on a second down play, and the officiating never noticed nor corrected it.