Nebraska football: Huskers, embarrassed by Gophers in '19, are better against run as they seek revenge
Minnesota had a special season in 2019. While doing so, the Gophers controlled their contest with Nebraska from start to finish, beating the Huskers soundly, 34-7, as the snow fell and the wind blew in Minneapolis.
It was a loss so bad and embarrassing that it made Scott Frost question the toughness of his team.
“I don’t like coaching a team that’s not the most physical team, and we weren’t,” Frost said after the game.
Frost even talked about the fact that some of his players wore hoodies during pregame warmups, which he didn’t like. It was around 37 degrees that night in Minnesota.
This soundbite from Scott Frost, my goodness.
"I don’t want guys that go out in Minnesota with hoodies on and everything for warm ups. That just says to me just OK is enough, I’m a little cold so I’m going to come out here in that." #Huskers pic.twitter.com/9Vjl6P7isS
— Andrew Ward (@AndrewWardKLKN) October 27, 2019
But Minnesota is 2-3 and not the same team that it was in 2019. Whatever the reason — and there are many — Tanner Morgan isn’t having similar success to what he had as a sophomore. Minnesota’s defense is allowing a B1G-worst 34 points per game, which doesn’t help matters.
But Nebraska isn’t the same team it was in 2019, either — the defense is better. Despite losing key starters from his front 7, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has done solid work against the run this season largely with a group of guys who are seeing their 1st real action, like Ty Robinson, Damion Daniels, Casey Rogers, Jordon Riley and Keem Green. Along with senior Ben Stille, the D-linemen have turned into a strength of the defense, which didn’t seem like it’d be the case in the preseason.
Mix in a healthy Will Honas and young in-state stud Luke Reimer at the middle linebacker spots, and Garrett Nelson, Caleb Tannor and JoJo Domann at outside linebacker, and you have a solid front 7 that has held its ground for the most part in 2020 (the Illinois game tape should be burned and forgotten).
Nebraska held Purdue to -2 yards rushing, and they’re holding opponents to 4.05 yards per carry. Last year’s defense allowed 4.82 yards, 2nd-to-last in the B1G, better only than Rutgers. But we all know Minnesota’s rushing attack doesn’t compare to Purdue’s — that’s obvious. Nebraska’s run defense will get a major test this Saturday in Lincoln.
Behind an O-line that blocked the Huskers well in their zone-run scheme in last year’s game, the Gophers’ Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Mohamed Ibrahim did the heavy lifting, combining for 322 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Smith and Brooks are gone, so it’s Ibrahim’s show now. And head coach P.J. Fleck is riding his 5-foot-10, 210-pound redshirt junior from Baltimore.
Ibrahim is the definition of a workhorse. He’s averaging a B1G-best 163.4 rushing yards and 31 carries per game, which is the most attempts per contest in the nation. He’s going to get the rock plenty on Saturday.
Nebraska knows they’ll be seeing a lot of Ibrahim, and their front 7 wants to continue its recent success stopping the run. It has done well the past 2 games against Purdue and Iowa. The Huskers held the Hawkeyes to just 2.87 yards per carry and 1 score.
Iowa’s Tyler Goodson is averaging 18 carries per game, which is 3rd in the B1G. He’s the running back who has the highest volume of work that Nebraska has faced so far. The Huskers did well against Goodson, holding him to just 3.7 yards per carry.
But Ibrahim is a different back, of course. He is a more physical runner who brings more of a punch, while Goodson is faster and shiftier.
This is an opportunity to build off a much-needed win for Frost. You have to believe he remembers last year’s game and wants payback. After 2 consecutive games of strong play from his quarterback and defense, a winning streak in Lincoln is possible.
Adrian Martinez is regaining the fans he lost after the Northwestern loss on Nov. 7, when he was benched. In his past 2 outings, he has completed 82 percent of his passes (41-of-50) for 416 yards with zero interceptions. He has rushed for 73 yards and 3 touchdowns during that stretch, too.
Of course, Frost still searches for a more explosive passing offense rather than settling for swing passes and underneath routes. But the Huskers have at least been competitive in their last 2 games while being inept at the downfield pass. Besides, Martinez is starting to throw deeper, as we saw with some 20-plus-yard completions to Wan’Dale Robinson and Austin Allen, who would’ve had a long touchdown catch against Purdue if he caught his balance and didn’t fall over.
Frost got revenge against Purdue, which came from behind to win last year’s game. Getting redemption against Minnesota this Saturday would be even sweeter if the Huskers won the game behind a strong effort against the Gophers’ run.