Here are my five takeaways from tonight's loss.
1) Didn't take advantage of stacked boxes all night
Nebraska was content to put seven + guys in the box all night against this Minnesota offense, and from my count, the Gophers only two took deep shots on the night. One that was a near miss to Rashad Still on a go route early, and then Minnesota also took a shot on the sidelines on a 50/50 ball to Still on the sidelines in the second quarter.
No shots down the field after that as the Huskers continued to load the box, and Minnesota's offense couldn't get going until that final drive of the game. There's one, maybe two times that the Gophers tried to take a shot deep in the second half, but Leidner never threw it, presumably because there wasn't any separation there.
Drew Wolitarsky was able to take advantage in Minnesota's short passing game with eight receptions for 90 yards, but the lack of field stretching ability from this Gopher offense hindered them all night. The running game couldn't go going because of it.
You have to take shots deep to just keep the defense on their toes and make them at least think you're able to take the top off the defense, and the Gophers just didn't do it, especially in the second half.
2) Leidner's last throw is costly
I'll be the first one to say that Leidner receives far too much blame when in reality it needs to be distributed elsewhere, but this throw is going to haunt Gopher fans for awhile.
Minnesota's playing with pace as their final drive starts at 2:58 on their own 27, and end up getting it into the Nebraska red zone.
Gophers look to run four verticals with Rodney Smith as the check down, and with the Huskers sitting back in zone, Leidner tries to force the ball into a tight window to Wolitarsky, but the defender reads it perfectly and tips it to the safety for the interception.
I understand that Minnesota's success on that drive was due in part to their up tempo nature, but slow it down once you're in the red zone. You have 90 seconds on the clock and a timeout left, and there's no longer a reason to push the pace as you don't want to give the Huskers time to get a drive together after a potential score. Will not understand the reason to push the pace once you have it within the red zone.
Leidner locks onto Wolitarsky early after the snap, and it ends in a pick. Hindsight is 20/20, but just check the ball down to Smith there and take what you can get.
Frustrating night from Minnesota's signal caller.
3) Poor tackling in the secondary
I can't recall a worse game from the secondary with tackling this year, and it's unfortunate that it comes in a big game like this. Not wrapping up and throwing shoulders on the sidelines will do it.
Minnesota also had a tremendous time trying to get off the field on third down in the second half as they just couldn't do it. Nebraska was four of five on third down in the third quarter, and had two drives of over 11 plays in the second half that seemed to gas this defense.
Things started real well with Jalen Myrick getting a couple of big hits, and Antoine Winfield played tremendous ending up leading the Gophers with 10 total tackles, but this group needs much better execution next week against Northwestern on Senior Day if they're going to get their eighth win of the season.
4) Offensive line can't get push
34 rushing attempts for 85 yards (2.5 yards a carry) for Minnesota tonight isn't going to put them in a lot of winning situations.
Some of the issues up front were because the five guys up front were being asked to block seven guys for Nebraska and obviously the math will tell you that it's not feasible to do. Some of the issues were also on the play calling as the group wasn't getting a lot of help when the defense knew what was coming with the lack of deep passing, but they also didn't allow Rodney Smith or Shannon Brooks any room. Take out Rodney's big 31 yard carry, and Smith would have only had 22 yards on 16 carries, which is crazy considering he came in averaging 5.4 yards a carry.
Some are battling injuries with Jonah Pirsig and his ankle, Garrison Wright and a shoulder and Vincent Calhoun and his shoulder, but they need to figure out some things up front for next.
5) How does this group respond next week?
Tonight sucks. Sure does.
That being said, Minnesota's got to turn the page in the morning onto a Northwestern team that's been playing a lot better of late.
It'll be senior day which means guys like Leidner, Damarius Travis, Jalen Myrick, Jonah Pirsig and Jonah Pirsig among others will be playing their last game at TCF Bank Stadium and I assure you that they do not want their Gopher careers at home to end with a loss.
Minnesota couldn't find a way to win a close game tonight, but hopefully they learn from it as I anticipate another close contest next week.
I'm thinking a big bounce back performance from this rushing offense will be in order.
Gophers are 7-3 (4-3 in the B1G) with two regular season games remaining.