Stating the obvious – this is a big game for both teams. Minnesota could move into position where they’re seen as an upper-level (not Michigan-Ohio State level, but upper) team in the Big Ten, while Nebraska wants to keep momentum going under Mike Riley.
Remember last season when Nebraska upset Michigan State and then went on to win three of their last four games and things started to feel better about the direction of the program? That’s how pivotal this game against Minnesota is tonight.
The good news is that Nebraska is the first ranked team the Gophers have faced this season, so they haven’t faced much tough competition. The bad news is that the last ranked they beat was Nebraska 28-21 on November 22, 2014. They came from 10 points behind in the third quarter to win that game.
I was supposed to make you feel better, wasn’t it?
Let’s get to that.
Minnesota = Loserville
The Minnesota Gophers are 7 – 2. The Gophers have won four straight Big Ten games. The last time they won five straight was 1962. That’s the last year Minnesota made it to the Rose Bowl.
If they beat Nebraska they moved to 8 – 2 - thanks Captain Obvious. What's not so obvious is that these are lofty heights for a Minnesota team.
I'm not talking about just University of Minnesota football; I’m talking about the entire state.
The Minnesota Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. There's never been a season in which they haven't let their fans down. They started this season 5 – 0 and it looked like they were gonna light up the world, but now they've lost three in a row and things are falling apart.
The Minnesota Twins had World Series victories in 1987 and 1991. Since then, it’s mostly been about losing. Why do the Minnesota Timberwolves exist? Is it solely that they can provide other NBA teams with assured victories over the years? That seems to be the only reason I can find.
The only place in which Minnesota succeeds in sports is if the women play them, and the women won't be suiting up to play football on Saturday. The men can’t handle the heights.
At Night At Home
Straight from the game notes from the Nebraska athletic department:
Nebraska has won 18 straight prime-time games at Memorial Stadium heading into Saturday night's game. The Huskers have not lost a home night game in Lincoln since 2008.
It’s the 353rd sell out for Nebraska. Between that, a full stadium full of fans juiced up ready to see the pride of their state get back on track, Minnesota won’t stand a chance.
Running The Ball
During his press conference at the beginning of the week, Mike Riley mentioned having to establish two identity running plays that would help the team consistently execute a play and gain yardage against an opponent. The obvious reason is production, the lesser obvious is to use the plays as a mental reset – the equivalent of taking deep breaths to regain your composure while everything around you is going crazy.
I have to believe that Danny Langsdorf will stick with a heavy run game today, especially now that he has guard Jerald Foster back on the field. Foster was projected as a starter at the beginning of the season, but injured his knee.
Last week’s game wasn’t just about injuries. It was about a talent gap that’s pretty big on top of offensive linemen that didn’t play worth a crap. Look for that to get back on track this week.
Nebraska’s Pass Defense
Minnesota starting quarterback Mitch Leidner has thrown for five touchdowns with six interceptions this season, and he hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since the Gophers played Penn State on October 1st.
Nebraska leads the Big Ten in interceptions with 15. The Huskers are 10th in conference in passing yardage per game (221.7), but fourth in pass efficiency defense.
You think Nebraska might be stacking the box and forcing Leidner into passing?
Big Play Ability
Minnesota’s defense is 84th (Nebraska: 8th, 8) in giving up pass plays longer than 30 yards with 16. They’re 46th (Nebraska: 7th, 3) ) in pass plays longer than 40 yards with six, and 108th in pass plays longer than 50 yards with six (Nebraska: 16th, 2).
Brandon Reilly should be back this week, giving the Huskers an extra boost of speed with which to take advantage of that big play liability.
Nebraska gets some = win, Nebraska.