MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota trounced Nebraska at home 54-21 on Saturday, handing the Huskers their fourth loss in five games and dropping NU’s record to 4-6.
This is the second time in three years under Mike Riley the Huskers have started a season 4-6. Without a win over Penn State or Iowa, Nebraska is now in jeopardy to finish with a losing record for the second time in three years, after having just one losing season from 1962 to 2003.
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee was 13-for-18 for 174 yards and one touchdown in the first half. Lee did not, however, return to the game after halftime. Nebraska officials said Lee was feeling ill at half.
Which meant redshirt freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien, down 30 to 14 after the half, was tasked at engineering a comeback. O’Brien was 12-for-18 for 137 yards, but couldn’t really get the offense rolling through the air. The Nebraska rushing attack didn’t do O’Brien any favors, either. The NU backs ran for just 56 total rushing yards and averaged 2.1 yards per carry. Scrambles by O’Brien pushed the total rushing yards up to 81.
The Nebraska defense had no answer for the Gopher rushing attack, which buried NU in the first half. Demry Croft ran for 183 yards, a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He also had three rushing touchdowns. Running back Rodney Smith added 132 yards. Running back Kobe McCrary also had 93 yards. Minnesota averaged 9.3 yards per rush.
In total, Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense gave up 409 rushing yards. The Gophers average 173 rushing yards a game this season.
Nebraska’s now allowed at least 199 rushing yards in five straight games, the first time a NU defense has done that since the 1996season.
Minnesota jumped all over Nebraska in the opening seconds. Running back Rodney Smith returned the opening kickoff 100 yards to put the Gophers up 7-0.
Smith went the length of the field untouched, which was a theme for Gopher touchdowns in the first half.
The Huskers tied it up 7-7 on its first drive. Mikale Wilbon capped off a 12-play drive from 1-yard out. Tanner Lee was 4-for-5 on the drive, twice completing passes on third down to keep the the Huskers moving.
Minnesota answered with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive of its own, which included a 22-yard scramble from quarterback Demry Croft to put the Gophers in scoring position. All 11 Blackshirts bit on a zone-read keeper at the 3-yard line, and Croft walked into the end zone to make it 14-7 with 3:08 left in the first quarter.
A 44-yard connection from Lee to De’Mornay Pierson-El sparked the second NU drive. As Pierson-El cruised down the sideline, new Athletic Director Bill Moos was screaming in the press box “Go! Go!”
Nebraska got all the way down to the 6-yard line, but on fourth-and-1, Mike Riley elected to go for it. Wilbon was smothered at the line of scrimmage.
The Gophers took over on downs, and on third-and-1 four plays later, Nebraska was again burned on a zone-read keeper by Croft, who this time ran untouched 73-yards to the end zone. Minnesota failed the extra point, but led 20 to 7.
Minnesota had scored 20 points in the past two weeks combined.
The Gophers tacked on another touchdown with 6:40 left. Running back Kobe McCrary spun through two tackles and rumbled into the end zone to make it 27-7.
The Huskers found life near the end of the half. Lee found redshirt freshman JD Spielman for 10, 18 and 27 yard passes. Those string of plays put Spielman over the all-time freshman receiving record.
On fourth-and-3, Lee found Spielman for 11. Lee connected with tight end Tyler Hoppes from 14 yards later to cut the lead to 27-14 with 2:50 left in the first.
Minnesota added a 36-yard field goal right before the half to bump the lead to 16 before the half.
In the second half, the hole just kept getting deeper.
O’Brien started the second half for Lee and found no rhythm in his first extended time as a Husker. NU’s offense didn’t pass midfield in the third-quarter. After O’Brien was sacked on a fourth-and-1, Moos was heard from the press box yelling “No!”
Meanwhile, Minnesota kept pouring salt in the wound. A 9-yard touchdown from Kobe McCrary made it 37-14, a 30-yard field goal pushed it to 40-14.
O’Brien and Nebraska put together a fourth-quarter drive to pull within 19 thanks to a 1-yard TD from Devine Ozigbo. With 10:17 left, Nebraska trailed 40-21.
Gophers added a fourth-quarter touchdown for good measure to make it 47-21. And then another 43-yard touchdown run for 54-21.
Two straight sacks on O’Brien closed out the game.