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Report Card: Minnesota Golden Gophers 24, Huskers 17

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Another maddening loss.

Minnesota v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

This might have been the most disheartening losses of the Scott Frost era. Sure, there were worse losses, such against Ohio State, but those were against championship caliber teams. This one was not. Minnesota was struggling mightily in 2020, and this week was playing short-handed in their first game back from a COVID-19 shutdown.

But Minnesota wanted this game. Nebraska did not.

Minnesota didn’t outtalent Nebraska. They just outplayed Nebraska despite taking the last two weeks off in quarantine. The Gophers wanted to play.

Nebraska apparently didn’t.

Seems ironic, doesn’t it, that the program that faced seemingly unending ridicule in August mailed it in on the final day of the regular season.

The parallels to the Illinois debacle were apparent right from the opening play; Nebraska tried a swing pass on the first play that fell to the ground. Unlike the play against Illinois, Wan’Dale Robinson fell on the ball for a nine yard loss instead of a turnover. It was a curious, at best, game plan that Frost and his offensive coaches put together. Minnesota’s rushing defense was ranked dead-last in the Big Ten, so coming out throwing is one of those things that leaves you scratching your head. In the first quarter, Nebraska threw the ball eight times and only ran the ball seven times.

Frankly, it makes me wonder if Frost and his coaches really have a good grip at what his teams do well. Certainly, his comparisons between good practices and good results in subsequent games are not panning out. And as the season has gone on, the offensive performance has not improved significantly. Arguably, the best Nebraska has looked was in the first half of the Ohio State game. Remember then, when everybody thought Nebraska was much better this season? It turned out to be a mirage. And Scott Frost needs to take a long, hard look at the offense he has built. And yes, these are his players now; the handful he didn’t recruit, he’s been training and developing for three years now.

Saturday, Frost pointed to the inexperience of his young players as an issue. He’s not wrong; five freshmen have started on offense over the last month. The need to rebuild at nearly every skill position is an issue Frost inherited from Mike Riley. That being said, we’re now at the end of the season, and it’s Frost’s responsibility to develop these players. That’s been lacking, and that’s all on Frost.

Defensively, I came away with a different opinion than many other media types; I suspect they are just as frustrated as the rest of the fans. Aside from a couple of plays, I thought the Blackshirts did a great job shutting down the Gophers on the ground most of the game. Mohamad Ibrahim had 44 yards rushing through three quarters; 26 of which came on a 4th down play where Nebraska stacked the line. Cam Wiley had 81 yards, 61 of which came on one busted play. But on Minnesota’s final drive, Ibrahim gained 59 of his 108 yards, sparked by two bursts ... no doubt Nebraska was trying to sell out and stop Ibrahim at the line. But Ibrahim found a couple of creases for big plays...and thus the end of Nebraska’s feeble chances to win the game. But that’s not an overall failure on the Blackshirts; they held their end of the bargain, for the most part.

So it’s on with this week’s report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.

QB: Adrian Martinez started the game adequate, at best, at quarterback. He ran the ball fine, but his passing wasn’t particularly productive. Accurate, maybe. But 13 completions for 70 yards in the first half isn’t very dynamic. Three for 11 passing in the second half is awful. Luke McCaffery came in briefly after Martinez hurt his hand, and misfired twice, with one ending up intercepted. Nebraska’s quarterback issues continue onward, which is frustrating when you consider the resources being allocated to the position. You have a head coach who played the position, an offensive coordinator and a dedicated quarterback coach. Most schools do not have a dedicated quarterback coach like Mario Verduzco, and I suspect the vast majority of schools that don’t are enjoying much better production from their quarterback than Nebraska does. Grade: D-

Wan’Dale: Nebraska’s dynamic playmaker got most of his touches once again on the ground with a big play another good play, and a whole bunch of not good. A 47 yard gain was huge, but his other carries went for 0, 2, 0, 8 and 0 yards after throwing out the fumble on the first play of the game. Wan’Dale Robinson might be perfect example of what ails this offense. Nebraska can’t/won’t get the ball to him enough downfield, so instead he lines up in the backfield way too much. He breaks off a big run to tease you, but we’re left with a two yards per carry average on everything else. Grade: C+

I-Back: As the snow fell on Friday, I suspected that Mills could see 20 or 25 carries against the Gophers porous defense. So when Nebraska went three-and-out with Robinson lined up as the running back, all I could say was “here we go again.” Maybe Mills was not capable of that type of load, but if there was a game where letting your running backs run lose, this was the one. Nebraska didn’t, and lost. Nebraska only had three drives where Mills carried the ball at least twice, and all three made it inside the Minnesota 15 yard line and resulted in ten points. Those drives accounted for 183 of Nebraska’s 308 yards. Mills ran hard when he did have the ball, and more than once ran right through the Gophers. My temptation is to give him yet another incomplete, but I’m going to reward him with a B-.

Wide Receivers: They seemed to be open at times... they just just weren’t targeted much with catchable balls. I have to wonder if I were sitting in my endzone seats, if I wouldn’t see some of these receivers wide open downfield when Martinez tucked the ball and ran. Not that some of those gains weren’t good, especially when Martinez converted a third down...but I have to wonder if there was more out there for the receivers to offer. Grade: C-

Offensive Line: Nebraska’s freshmen on the offensive line had their hands in on some of the biggest negative plays of the game. Twice, Bryce Benhart was eaten alive by Gopher defensive end Boye Mafe for a sack and a forced fumble. Ethan Piper was mistakenly called for holding to negate a Nebraska touchdown. Overall, I expected Nebraska to be able to lean on the shorthanded Gophers, and that didn’t happen. Grade: F

Defensive Line: Much of the game, Nebraska’s defensive line was dominant. Casey Rogers broke up two passes while Ty Robinson and Ben Stille each had a quarterback hurry. Hard to believe we’re getting this much protection after sending three defensive linemen to the NFL from last season. Tony Tuioti is proving to be a great hire by Frost, and is proof that if Frost decides to make changes, he can upgrade his coaching staff. Grade: A-

Linebacker: Luke Reimer’s injury could be an issue with a short week ahead of a Friday afternoon game. (Who the hell thought a Friday afternoon game on a workday was a good idea?) Nick Henrich played big in relief with nine tackles. JoJo Domann had the biggest pass breakup of the day at the start of the third quarter; I’d love to see him consider taking advantage of the opportunity to come back next season. Grade: B

Secondary: Deontai Williams had two pass breakups, but one of them could have been an interception that would have ended a Gopher touchdown drive and kept Cam Taylor-Britt in the game. Taylor-Britt continues to be Nebraska’s best corner, though another targeting penalty cost him the second half. But when Nebraska needed the secondary to make the play when a Gopher running back broke free, it wasn’t there. Grade: C-

Special Teams: Tyler Crawford’s eight yard punt really hurt, but the backup punter kicked well otherwise. Connor Culp missed his second field goal attempt of the year, unfortunately, but showed a better leg on kickoffs than we’d seen earlier this season with the attempts to pooch kick. Grade: D-

Overall: D- I almost made this an “F”, but a decent defensive performance for three quarters deserves a better grade. While Scott Frost has undoubtedly improved the program from where it was when he arrived, that progress isn’t enough - especially as the rest of the Big Ten west has improved more. I’m still of the opinion that Scott Frost is the right man to lead this program, but I’m no longer as convinced of that as I was.

Poll

How would you grade Nebraska’s performance against Minnesota

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A - I’m a Gopher fan
    (39 votes)
  • 1%
    B - I’m a Gopher fan who doesn’t want to make it so obvious
    (19 votes)
  • 7%
    C - Decent defense, mediocre offense
    (86 votes)
  • 27%
    D - Didn’t win yet again
    (317 votes)
  • 60%
    F - Awwwwww..... FUDGE.
    (704 votes)
1165 votes total Vote Now

Elsewhere in College Football

LSU A+ Well, Bo hasn’t COMPLETELY forgotten how to coach defense.

Wisconsin D How can a team look SOOOO good the first month of the season and then SOOOO awful the rest of the way?

Big Ten: F What idiot came up with the idea of playing football in the afternoon on a workday? I get there are limited television windows to work with, but still... a 3 pm kickoff?