We finally made it Huskers’ fans. Game day has arrived.

It’s been 279 days since Nebraska beat Iowa 24-17 on Black Friday in Iowa City to cap a disappointing 4-8 2022 season. Plenty has transpired since.

Interim coach Mickey Joseph was arrested the following day and later let go. Matt Rhule was hired to put the pieces back together after Scott Frost’s epic debacle.

Rhule has an impressive history of rebuilding programs. He’s been busy this offseason building a foundation in Lincoln.

The curtain finally pulls back tonight, and there’s no tip-toeing in. Mighty Minnesota awaits the Huskers at Huntington Bank Stadium for a 7 p.m. CT kickoff on FOX. The Gophers are 7-point favorites.

It’s the 4th straight year Nebraska has opened with a conference opponent. They’re 0-3 in those contests, and last year’s 31-28 loss to a 1-win Northwestern team in Dublin still leaves a bad taste.

Can Nebraska reverse its issue with early hiccups and pull off an upset? Can Rhule, who is 0-3 in openers with Temple, Baylor and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, put a tally in the win column?

Defensive delight?

The Huskers best lace ’em up tight. Pads will be popping. Yards will be hard-earned. Nebraska’s new 3-3-5 defense must be up to the task.

First-year DC Tony White wants his guys flying around making plays. The Huskers have a solid LB group led by Luke Reimer, Nick Henrich and Chief Borders.

They’ll need to be at their best against Minnesota QB Athan Kaliakmanis and company. Look for the Gophers to sling it around more than in years past. Gone is Mo Ibrahim and his 1,665 yards and 20 TDs.

But a bevy of talented receivers remain led by Daniel Jackson (5 TDs, 557 rec yards) and healthy-again veteran Chris Autman-Bell. Kaliakmanis has the potential to be a legit star behind center.

Nebraska must do a better job tackling in space than in years past. Containing a talented Gophers receiving core will be a challenge.

Third down woes

Reimer (86 tackles in 2022), Henrich, Borders and MJ Sherman anchor the 2nd level defensively. Sure-tackling and limiting yards after contact is a must for this unit, especially on 3rd down.

Nebraska was awful on the money down in 2022. The Huskers ranked 103rd at getting opponents off the field on 3rd down (42.4%).

Safety is another area of concern. After Myles Farmer (73 tackles) departed in early August, Omar Brown slid in. Brown, a senior from Minneapolis, returns to his hometown, getting his first start as a Husker after beginning his career at Northern Iowa.

Coaches have raved about Brown and fellow starter DeShon Singleton, a junior former JUCO transfer. They’re a talented pair, but how they perform under the bright lights remains to be seen.

Safeties in White’s 3-3-5 are called upon to cover in space and tackle in run support. Key areas to keep an eye on Thursday.

Ball security and moving the chains

Nebraska must take care of the football if it expects to win. Losing the turnover battle — especially on the road — in this league is a recipe for disaster.

Quarterback Jeff Sims battled turnover issues at Georgia Tech, throwing 23 picks in 23 starts over 3 seasons. Anthony Grant, last year’s starter at running back, has struggled with fumbles in fall camp.

The Gophers ranked 34th (+5) in turnover margin in 2022, while Nebraska was 86th (-3). Exactly 7 points have decided the past 3 series matchups — all Minnesota wins. The Gophers won the turnover battle in 2 of those 3.

Rhule and OC Marcus Satterfield have stressed running the football and playing like the physical Nebraska teams of old. Can they run the ball, move the chains and keep Kaliakmanis and the Minnesota offense off the field?.

The Gophers have dominated time of possession recently against Nebraska. During their wins in 2021 and 2022 they held the ball 10+ minutes more than the Huskers. That must change Thursday night for Nebraska to win.

Tight game turnaround?

It’s well known that Scott Frost struggled winning close games. Nebraska was 5-22 under Frost in 1-score games. Almost comical numbers.

There’s plenty to dissect in those numbers, but ultimately it comes down to finishing in the 4th quarter. Something Nebraska hasn’t done. Will things suddenly be different in 2023?

Rhule uses plenty of acronyms and sayings to motivate. He’s worked hard to instill confidence in his players. Will it translate in a game setting?

“I’m confident we’re going to play hard, confident we’re going to be a physical team and confident that if things don’t go well early, we’re not going to panic,” Rhule said.

“I’m also confident that, if things do go well early, we’re not going to celebrate. I think our guys understand that this is a 60-minute game, and this is a 12-game season.”


This series has been tight of late. Tonight has the look of another close contest.

With Minnesota able to attack through the air more, it will test Nebraska’s resolve. The Huskers must win their share of 3rd downs to have a shot.

Offensively, Sims and the offense must take care of the ball. Scoring opportunities against one of the league’s best defenses are few and far between. Finishing drives in the red zone will be huge.

While it’s tempting to drink the Rhule-Aid and pick an upset, my head says Minnesota, at home, finds a way to prevail in a competitive affair.

Minnesota 24, Nebraska 20