Nebraska (2-4) vs. Minnesota (4-2)
Time: 2:30 P.M CT, Saturday, October 17th
TV: ESPN2 - Eamon McAnaney (play-by-play), Rocky Boiman (Analyst) and Jane Slater (Sideline)
Last week: Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 23-21; Minnesota beat Purdue 41-13
All-time series: Gophers lead the series 31-22-2 (28-24 Minnesota in Minneapolis, November 2014)
Vegas betting line: Minnesota (-2)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Nebraska publisher Josh Harvey
Five things you need to know
1) After opening the Big Ten season with two straight road games (Minnesota was the only Big Ten team to do so) the Gophers return home on Saturday to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Minnesota leads the all-time series with Nebraska 31-22-2 and has won two straight against the Huskers. The Gophers prevailed 34-23 at home in 2013 to snap a 16-game losing streak to Nebraska. Minnesota then erased a 21-7 halftime deficit on the road last year to win 28-24. That was Minnesota’s first win at Nebraska since 1960 (also the same year that Minnesota last beat the Huskers prior to 2013). Minnesota last won three straight games against Nebraska in 1951, 1952 and 1954 (teams did not play in 1953).
2) The Gophers beat Purdue 41-13 last Saturday on the road to earn their first Big Ten win. Minnesota trailed 6-0 at the end of the first quarter, but then scored 41 straight points in the victory. The 41 points scored by the Gophers were the most they had scored consecutively since last season when Minnesota scored 51 unanswered against Iowa in a 51-14 home win. The Gophers scored 28 points in the third quarter at Purdue. That is the most points that the Gophers have scored in one quarter since they dropped 28 points on Iowa last season in the second stanza. Minnesota’s 28-point win at Purdue was its most convincing conference road win since it won by 30 in a 37-7 win at Illinois in 1999.
3) Minnesota’s defense has been staunch all season and it was no different at Purdue. The Gophers yielded a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the first five minutes of the game, but then shut Purdue down until late in the fourth quarter when the score was 41-6. After Purdue’s first drive, the Boilers were held to 98 yards of total offense on their next 12 drives, which included seven punts, three interceptions, one lost fumble and one turnover on downs. Purdue, which passed for 101 of its 207 yards in the final 5:37 of the game, managed only 68 yards rushing on 28 attempts in the game. The 68 yards were the fewest by a Gopher opponent since San Jose State rushed for 47 yards in 2013 and were the fewest by a Big Ten opponent since Iowa rushed for 54 yards in 2009. Minnesota held Kent State to 79 rushing yards earlier this season and it has held three of its last 10 Big Ten opponents (Michigan 88 yards rushing and Iowa 84 yards rushing last season) to under 100 rushing yards.
4) Nebraska is the fifth non-ranked opponent that Minnesota will face this year. Previously, Minnesota has played six ranked teams in its last 10 games dating back to last season and includes contests this year against No. 2 TCU and No. 16 Northwestern (Gophers ended 2014 with consecutive games against No. 8 Ohio State, No. 21 Nebraska, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 16 Missouri). The Gophers are 4-0 this year against non-ranked teams and are 18-4 in their last 22 games against non-ranked teams. Minnesota is 9-2 in its last 11 Big Ten games against non-ranked opponents.
5) Minnesota is 10-6 in its last 16 Big Ten regular season games, which is tied with Iowa for the fourth best mark in the league during that span. Ohio State in 16-0, Michigan State is 15-1 and Wisconsin is 13-3. Minnesota and Iowa are both 10-6, while Nebraska is 8-8.
Nebraska players to watch
1) Tommy Armstrong, quarterback: Armstrong in the engine that drives this Husker offense as he's almost 1800 total yards through six games. He's combined for 14 touchdowns with six interceptions, so he is suspectible to make some risky throws. Nebraska is going to win or lose the game on the shoulders of Tommy Armstrong.
2) Terrell Newby, running back: The junior running back is emerging for what was a running back by committee as he's got a majority of the market share in recent weeks. Nebraska will try to establish the running game early on in the game and Minnesota will have to stop it.
3) Nate Gerry, safety: Gerry is one of the leader's of this Husker defense that has been abysimal through the air giving up almost 350 passing yards a game. That's crazy high and last in the Big Ten. If Minnesota's passing game is going to get on track, it's going to be this week.
Keys to the game
1. Quick start: Same as last week and the week before. Minnesota has scored three points in the first quarter all season and Minnesota needs to get something positive going on offense and points on the first drive would go a long way. If Nebraska gets out to a quick 10-0 lead, Minnesota is going to have to open things up through the air where the Huskers are extremely suseptible, and guys like KJ Maye, Drew Wolitarsky and Brandon Lingen are going to have to have big games. I don't believe the Gophers will abandon the run at all, but the place to attack the Huskers is through the air.
2. Big plays: I sound like a broken record, but Minnesota has only two plays over 40 yards this season through six games, and I think that'll have to change if the Gophers are going to win at home against Nebraska. Minnesota didn't even attempt a deep ball down field last game and some of that was because of game plan as the Gophers were up by so much, but the point remains that Minnesota hasn't attempted a pass over 25 yards since the Ohio game, which was over 10 quarters ago. That has to change 100% if Minnesota is going to win the game Saturday. I also think this could be the game Rodney Smith or Shannon Brooks breaks one for a long touchdown run.
3. Switching field position: I believe this is going to be a very close game and Minnesota will have to win the field position battle, and that's going to be on the right foot of Peter Mortell. He's been very good again this year coming off an All-Big Ten season and he'll have to pin the Huskers deep time after time and force them to drive the entire length of the field on Tracy Claeys' defense.