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Report Card: Minnesota Golden Gophers 13, Huskers 10

Would have. Could have. Should have. But didn’t win.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Nebraska at Minnesota Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The emotional reaction to Minnesota’s 13-10 comeback victory over Nebraska is raw and irrational:

Nebraska’s football program is cursed.

And, of course, the corollary: There’s no hope. ‘Eff everything. Go Big Red.

But emotion isn’t rational, and the rational recognizes that Nebraska had this game under control for nearly the entire second half. The rational goes back to the line that is tiring to nearly every Husker fan: they’re close. (Again.) A handful of mistakes was the difference between victory and defeat. Much like it was the entire 2021 season and quite a bit of the 2022 season. The previous coaching staff was never able to correct those mistakes, and that’s why they are no longer at Nebraska.

The new staff hasn’t corrected them yet either. Not that anyone should have rationally expected that with just nine months in charge of the program. I summarize it this way:

This program doesn’t know what it takes to win.

They out-talent most of their opponents. More power, more speed. Coaches like PJ Fleck even acknowledge it, because those programs have something that Nebraska hasn’t really had for at least eight years: knowing what it takes to win. Fleck brags about his program’s culture. Scoff at it (“Row the boat”) all you want, but they made the plays to seize the game in the last five minutes of the game.

Nebraska didn’t.

Matt Rhule has zero responsibility for what happened in previous years. But now it’s his job to instill a new culture in Lincoln. One where players make plays to win games. And more importantly, not putting players in position to make mistakes. Rhule didn’t exactly succeed in his first try. It would have been nice if he had, but it wasn’t necessary. This is going to be a long haul. Yes, it looks like the same dadgummed story we’ve grown sick and tired of in recent years, but Husker fans can’t give up hope because week one blew up yet again in our face.

Yes, I predicted Nebraska to win. I believed Nebraska would win. And for over an hour tonight, I thought Nebraska was going to win. And in the end, Nebraska found a way to not win.

So on with the report card; as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.

QB: Matt Rhule tried to set his expectation this offseason that Jeff Sims was a pass-first mobile quarterback who could run. But with 19 pass attempts and 19 rushes in game one, the reality is that Sims remains a run-first quarterback who throws. (Mathematically, Rhule wasn’t wrong because several of those runs were called as passes.) Sims ran well and showed his physical talents for a team-high 91 yards. The passing was too erratic with three interceptions, two of which were extremely costly. Grade: D

I-Back: Gabe Ervin never touched the ball until the final minute of the first half, which is extremely curious playcalling. The trio of backs only had six first half carries; Sims had nine. I get the opening series playcalls, but after that, it’s a bit of a headscratcher as to what this offense’s identity is going to be. If it’s going to be quarterback-run dominated like it was this week, backup quarterbacks Chubba Purdy and Heinrich Haarberg had better be ready to take over for Sims. Ervin looked OK in the second half, but I do have to question using Anthony Grant late in the game when you didn’t need yards as much as you needed to take care of the ball. Rhule had already admitted that Grant had ball security issues two weeks ago, and nobody wanted to see any proof of that. In Grant’s defense, Minnesota’s Justin Walley made a great play to force that fumble. Grade: C-

WR: Marcus Washington’s half-game suspension might have driven some of the early playcalling; he looked like Nebraska’s best playmaking receiver in the second half. Billy Kemp was nowhere to be found on this night. Tight end usage was pretty limited as well; Nate Boerkircher was wide open in the end zone in front of Isaiah Garcia-Castenda on that interception at the end of the first half. Heinrich Haarberg lined up as a tight end might have been Mark Whipple’s dream, but I haven’t given up hope on him as a quarterback...and if Nebraska is going to ask their quarterbacks to be the primary ball carrier, Haarberg is going to be needed under center at some point this season. Interesting decision to go deep with two-way player Tommi Hill in the fourth quarter. I get the decision to stretch the field and possibly go for the kill shot there. But when the pass fell incomplete, Nebraska was behind the chains and wasted that possession when they probably needed to burn clock with the ground game than try to score points. That’s a wasted series. Grade: C

OL: Mixed thoughts here. When Nebraska was pinned inside their own 1 yard line on their very first snap, the line pushed Minnesota back four yards. That’s pretty good. But most of the rest of the night, there just wasn’t much of a push to open the running game. The right side seemed to be a bit better than the left side, where left tackle Turner Corcoran continues to struggle. Grade: D+

DL: Tony White’s new defense was pretty darn impressive. Granted, this Minnesota offense has a bunch of holes, but neutering their offense to just 251 yards is a good start. And it all started on the line. Nash Hutmacher really upped his game with the coaching change, as did Blaise Gunderson. Grade: A-

LB: Considering two of Nebraska’s top three linebackers didn’t play, it was a great effort. Former walk-on John Bullock slid in to replace Nick Heinrich and added six tackles. Grade: B+

Secondary: Omar Brown and Deshon Singleton are two players who are stepping up big time in this defense. Coverage wasn’t great early in the game, but as they adjusted, Minnesota didn’t have a lot of luck throwing the ball. The Gophers lone touchdown was a highlight reel catch that might have been impossible to defend. Grade: A-

Overall: C+ A somewhat equal balance of things to be pleased with (defense) and things to be concerned with (offense). But since this was game one with a new staff, you have to take it. I’m not sure a lot of people expected Nebraska to have a chance to win it, but they did.

Poll

How would you grade the Huskers performance against Minnesota?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A - BLACKSHIRTS!
    (50 votes)
  • 12%
    B - Defense great, offense needs some work.
    (197 votes)
  • 48%
    C - Some surprising good defense, some disappointing offense
    (782 votes)
  • 36%
    D - Didn’t win. Bottom line.
    (579 votes)
1608 votes total Vote Now