Last year's game between Minnesota vs. Nebraska was not a pretty one for the Gophers as Gopher QB Phillip Nelson showed his youth as he went 8 for 23 for just 59 yards and two interceptions. The Gopher RB's didn't fare any better rushing for a total of just 87 yards. Nebraska won the game 38-14, but the Gophers only points came in garbage time in the 4th quarter. Not only did the Gophers offense fail to produce, the defense failed to limit the Cornhusker offense, especially QB Taylor Martinez. Martinez threw for 308 yards and 2 TD's and completed over 70% of his passes.
The Husker Offense:
The Husker offense will once again be formidable as QB Taylor Martinez is back for his senior campaign. Martinez is a true dual threat throwing for over 2800 yards and rushing for over 1000 yards last season and scored a combined 33 touchdowns. If something were to happen to Martinez however the back ups are young and inexperienced but Martinez has withstood the rigors of being a running QB in the Big Ten thus far. Martinez will no longer be able to hand the ball off to Rex Burkhead as Burkhead has finally graduated after what seemed like a ten year career at Nebraska. Martinez does however have his top rusher from last year back in Ameer Abdullah (1137 rushing yards last year) as well as a bruising short yardage back in Imani Cross (7 TD on 55 carries). Martinez also has his primary weapon on the outside back in Kenny Bell. The Huskers must replace two starters at TE but they should still be solid there. Up front the Huskers lose two starters but return a ton of starts. Two of the returning starters were on All Big Ten teams and RG Spencer Long was also 2nd Team All America last year. This unit will definitely be a position of strength for the Huskers once again.
The Husker Defense:
Last year the Husker's had a very un-Husker like season on defense finishing 92nd nationally in rush defense. This year they have to replace four guys who started games including two guys who were on All Big Ten teams. While the Huskers will be young up front, they will also be big and they should be better than last year's unit that allowed just 87 yards rushing to the Gopher's. Behind the D-Line is another young unit as Nebraska must replace all three starters at linebacker. Again, while young, this unit should improve a bit, at least against the run. The only unit that had success last year for the Huskers was the past defense who allowed just 168 yards per game (good for 4th nationally!). They do however lose both starting safeties and two key backups. This unit should again be good, but they likely won't perform as well as last year's unit.
3 Keys to the Game:
1. Get turnovers. The Nebraska offense is loaded, so the only way the Gophers can realistically hope to compete in this year's game is to take the ball away from them and in turn give the Gopher offense, which struggled mightily in last year's match up, good field position.
2. Time of possession. With the Husker offense being so strong, it'll be up to the Gopher offense to try and keep the Gopher defense fresh by getting them some time off the field to catch their breath. Last year Nebraska had 9 more minutes of possession than the Gophers. If that happens again, the Gophers could again see themselves trailing 38-0 headed into the 4th quarter.
3. Phillip Nelson. Last year, Nelson was just 8 for 23, which not only allowed the Huskers to key in on the running game, but his two interceptions allowed the Husker offense to go to work. If Nelson can have more success passing the ball, the Nebraska defense won't be able to key in on Donnell Kirkwood and the Minnesota run game.
Much like the Michigan game, the opposition is likely going to be too much for an improved Gopher's squad. Nebraska's offense, despite their performance in the Big Ten Title game, is one of the best in the conference and possibly the country. The Gophers just aren't ready to handle that. Nebraska 45 Minnesota 17.
Brice Marich also contributed to this report