Nebraska football: 5 gut reactions from the Huskers' loss to Minnesota
The better program won the game between Minnesota and Nebraska on Saturday.
Minnesota hadn’t played in 22 days and was reportedly without 33 players, including 2 starting offensive linemen, 4 defensive tackles and 2 tight ends. The Gophers still left with a 24-17 win over the Huskers in Nebraska’s own house on Senior Day.
Everyone knew Nebraska needed to win that game — against a West Division foe — after learning how decimated Minnesota’s roster was going to be. But just like the Illinois game, the Huskers players and coaching staff struggled to react well after a win. After beating Penn State, Nebraska got embarrassed and outcoached by Lovie Smith’s crew. Now, P.J. Fleck and his players got the last laugh and will be rowing the Gophers’ boat all the way back to Minneapolis with smiles on their faces.
Here are 5 gut reactions to Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota:
Martinez was off the mark all day
The offense didn’t do its job on Saturday. Minnesota’s defense came into the game as the worst unit in the B1G, but Nebraska’s offense made the Gophers look good on that side of the ball.
It wasn’t because of play design, though. There were Huskers receivers open; quarterback Adrian Martinez just missed them with inaccurate throws.
Martinez ran well, finishing the game with a team-high 96 rushing yards and 1 touchdown on 6.4 yards per carry. But the vertical passing game continued to be nonexistent. Martinez overthrew what would have been long gains by Wan’Dale Robinson and Oliver Martin.
It looked difficult to pass the ball in the 28-degree temperature in Lincoln. Balls were bouncing off receivers’ hands like they were hitting a brick wall. But it was cold for Minnesota’s players, too, and Tanner Morgan, who threw for 181 yards, was sharp in the Gophers’ play-action, run-pass option attack that’s full of slants to the middle of the field.
Questionable handling of the quarterbacks
After a 1st-down run from Martinez in the 1st quarter, he had to leave to get his left hand looked at by the trainers. So in came backup Luke McCaffrey, who everyone knows excels at running the ball and is more of an athlete than a true quarterback.
Knowing what we know about McCaffrey, why would the coaching staff have him throw 2 consecutive passes? One of McCaffrey’s throws was picked off because it was not accurate. That turnover led to a Minnesota touchdown 4 plays later.
Another decision that should have left fans scratching their heads was at the end of the 3rd quarter. Frost called 3 straight passes with less than a minute left. Martinez didn’t complete the first 2, then was sacked and fumbled, which Minnesota recovered.
Nebraska’s best chance at moving the ball is on the ground. So why call 3 straight passes?
There were tough breaks
Nebraska was set to go into halftime leading 14-10, but Minnesota’s Cam Wiley busted loose for a 61-yard run. Then after an interception went through the hands of Deontai Williams — the sun looked to be right in his eyes — corner Cam Taylor-Britt, maybe Nebraska’s best player on the defense, was ejected on a targeting call after a hit on Morgan. That led to a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brevyn Spann-Ford to put the Gophers up 17-14.
Yes, it was a good targeting call and should have been called. Although targeting makes it almost impossible to play defense these days, Taylor-Britt led with his head down and was flagged for it. It’s yet another example of 2 senior defensive backs — Taylor-Britt and Williams — who can’t seem to stop leading with their head. Williams was lucky on a couple of instances Saturday that he wasn’t flagged.
A special teams lapse came when kicker Connor Culp, who went 3-for-3 at Purdue, missed a 32-yarder in the 3rd quarter. Another play that made Huskers fans throw their hands up was the holding penalty by guard Ethan Piper that negated a 12-yard Martinez touchdown run in the 4th. Whether it was a good call or not, and it was debatable, Nebraska had to settle for a field goal.
Nebraska’s defense didn’t have much room for error
Minnesota enjoyed much better field position than Nebraska did.
The Huskers never had a possession that started better than their own 27-yard line. Just 1 of the Gophers’ 4 scoring drives had to travel more than 40 yards. Minnesota’s scoring marches were of 35, 36, 75 and 39 yards.
Nebraska’s defense started well, but it clearly ran out of gas against Minnesota’s outside-zone running scheme. That was especially true on the Gophers’ final drive, when Mohamed Ibrahim took over to seal the win with clock-eating runs. He finished with 108 yards and 2 scores.
This is probably the worst loss of Frost’s career
This unfortunately seems like a recurring theme — Huskers fans asking themselves if the most recent loss is the worst in Frost’s time as head coach in Lincoln.
The Illinois defeat was bad — so, so bad. It looked like the players didn’t take the Illini seriously that day. But this Minnesota loss, where the Huskers were hosting a team that hadn’t played in more than 3 weeks and had a decimated roster? Nebraska needed to win this game, plain and simple. They didn’t.
It’s yet another embarrassing loss for the program, and Frost’s worst as the head man at Nebraska.