Gophers Suffer Another Big Ten Beating

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For the first time in the Big Ten season, Minnesota was actually putting up a fight against its opponent. Then all the life and energy the Golden Gophers were showing against Nebraska seemed to be washed away by a bizarre first-quarter play that led to the Huskers' first touchdown.

A botched option pitch wound up getting batted forward to give Nebraska a first down, and the 13th-ranked Huskers scored two plays later en route to a 41-14 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.

On fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 13, the Gophers defense collapsed the line on the option dive, so Taylor Martinez pulled it and pitched it left to Aaron Green. The pitch was high and Green couldn't handle it, but he knocked the ball forward and it landed out of bounds ahead of the first down marker.

After a short conference, the officials spotted the ball there because it was a backward pass and not a fumble, therefore marking it where the ball landed out of bounds, and not where the muff occurred.

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill protested vehemently, but to no avail. Martinez hit Tyler Legate for a 10-yard TD pass two plays later to make it 10-0.

''Because it was fourth down, I'm sure everybody thought it was a fourth-down fumble ruling,'' referee Todd Geerlings said, referring to the rule that prevents the offense from advancing a fumble. ''But for a fumble you need to have possession of the ball. ... When it touched the player on the muff, it's still a backward pass when it goes out of bounds and that's what we had.''

Kill conceded after the game it was the correct call, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

''I told the official, 'How can you reward somebody for a mistake?''' Kill said. ''He goes, 'You're right Coach, but that's the rules,' and he's right.

''Was that a big swing in the game? That was huge.''

Kill wasn't the only coach confused about the play.

''Actually I didn't understand the rule myself,'' Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. ''I thought, probably like coach Kill did, that it was a fumble, that they were going to rule it as a fumble. But it's not. It's a backward pass.''

The wheels came off for the Gophers (1-6, 0-3) from there, with Nebraska rolling to a 34-0 halftime lead.

Kenny Bell scored on an 82-yard reverse on the next drive and Austin Cassidy returned MarQueis Gray's fumble 11 yards to make it 27-0 with under 10 minutes to play in the first half.

Rex Burkhead's 4-yard touchdown dive just before the half ended made it 34-0 at the break.

''We've been hit with a lot of adversity this whole season,'' Minnesota cornerback Kyle Henderson said. ''It's never good when things like that don't go your way.''

In this new wide-open, pass-happy era of football, the Gophers are doing their best to turn the clock back, and not in a good way.

Gray was just 2 for 8 for 9 yards in the first half, and 53 of his 122 yards passing for the game came on a flea-flicker to Da'Jon McKnight in the third quarter. That set up Gray's 1-yard TD run, snapping a streak of 145 straight points for the Huskers in the series against Minnesota. They lost 56-0 in 1990 and 48-0 in 1989.

''We always seem to make good plays, then turn around and have bad plays,'' Gray said. ''That cost us. We have to eliminate those and get better play from me, also.''

McKnight finished with two catches for 77 yards and Duane Bennett rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown.

It was the first meeting in the series since 1990, and the Husker faithful took over TCF Bank Stadium. Chanting ''Go Big Red!'' before the opening kickoff, Huskers fans accounted for about two-thirds of the fans in attendance, and they watched their team cruise to a 15th straight win in the series.

Nebraska racked up 346 yards on the ground, including 117 and a touchdown from Burkhead. Martinez added 52 and also threw for 162 yards, though the Gophers defense was able to hold the Huskers to field goals twice in the first half after driving inside the 5.

''There were some good things out there, but they don't happen all the time. That's my fault,'' Kill said. ''We have no room for error, and we certainly don't need to help anybody (with mistakes). We can't overcome that.''

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