Gophers get moving early
Gophers go trips left on third and five, and thanks to a nice blitz pick up from Rodney Smith, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner is able to find wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky out in the flats for the first down.
You'll notice Wolitarsky stutter step and that sets up the route perfectly, as many times Drew has cut toward the center of the field there and you see the defensive back read that. Wolitarsky keeps running straight and Leidner puts it on the money and Minnesota is able to keep the chains moving.
Leidner and Still can't connect deep
On first glance Saturday night, I thought that Leidner just over-threw Still deep on a mis-fire, but when you watch Still's route back on the bottom GIF, you see that Still slowed up around the 30 yard line, then kicked it back into high gear at the 20, and by then it was too late.
Leidner's foot work isn't great on this pass attempt as you'll notice his feet are pointed to the left side of the field and he ends up throwing to the right side, but it's still an accurate pass. Also have to give credit to this offensive line and Leidner has plenty of time to make the throw here.
To me, this mis-fire is on Still. If he keeps running at 100% speed the whole time, Leidner's ball hits him right in the hands for the touchdown. I've never played a down of quarterback in my life, but I can't imagine Leidner thought Still was going to be pulling up so early in his route, so Leidner let it fly like Still was going 100 the whole time. Ends up in a two yard miss, and it's a tough one to swallow for this Gopher offense that's lacking big plays.
Nebraska's linebackers bite hard at play action
You think Nebraska was keying in on the run a bit? Check out all three linebackers on this play.
All three end up outside the right hashes to make sure Rodney Smith doesn't beat them, and that leaves Nate Wozniak wide open on a drag route across the middle of the field. I don't really expect Wozniak to do anything more than what he did in terms of catching the ball and falling forward, but I'm surprised never really went back to a play like this, especially knowing how hard the front seven bit for the Huskers.
Minnesota's able to put themselves within the ten yard line on the opening drive.
Smith finds pay dirt
Minnesota goes jet motion with Shannon Brooks and that draws the safety and linebacker off the edge. Jared Weyler pulls to the right, but Smith sees daylight between Donnell Greene and Tyler Moore and cuts light into the end zone where there's no safety waiting thanks to the motion.
Minnesota's able to take the 7-0 lead.
Husker's quick hitting passing game
This is a play that you saw the Nebraska Cornhuskers run basically all night when Minnesota sitting back in coverage. Bubble screen right and bubble screen left as eventually the outside corner for the Gophers would come up and play press coverage, but because the slot was so far off, Nebraska kept going to the quick hitting passing game with success. They were getting five or six yards a pop, and that's going to set you up for some optimal play selection on later downs.
Armstrong is able to escape the pocket
Gophers rush four on third and short, and what looks like Cover 2 Man. Two safeties deep, with everyone else in man coverage. Jack Lynn appears to be keying in on RB Terrell Newby, and he comes up to the LOS when Armstrong starts to take off, and Armstrong has a walled off lane going right. Hendrick Ekpe almost spins right into Armstrong, Richardson is double teamed and Scott Ekpe and Elmore get too far up field, and Armstrong gets yardage.
Daletavius McGhee maybe makes this play sooner, but he runs into the referee, so Winfield and Travis combine to make the tackle downfield.
Myrick makes the play on third down
Jalen Myrick is playing 10 yards off on third and eight, and he's able to come up and immediately make the tackle on the hitch from the Nebraska wide receiver. Great play from Myrick to explode out of his back-pedal to make the tackle, and it forces the Huskers to kick a field goal.
Gophers lead 7-3.
No success running the ball all night
Nebraska is sitting +1 to Minnesota in the box as the Gophers have seven guys attempting to block eight, and as you can see, it doesn't exactly work.
It's read option and Leidner keying in on the defensive end decides to give it to Smith up the gut. Not sure that this play goes anywhere even if Leidner keeps it as he would've had to cut it inside Wozniak to find any green, but Smith has nothing going up the gut.
The defensive end crashes down on him, both defensive tackles are there to meet him and there's zero chance Minnesota converts this third down. Minnesota is forced to punt.
Nebraska knows how to counter the Gophers D
This is a play Minnesota saw earlier in the season against Rutgers, where the Scarlet Knights were motioning a receiver across, taking a defensive away from that side of the field, and then pulling guys across to that specific side of the field.
This leaves Damarius Travis one on two and he elects to just dive at their feet to try and cut them out of the play. Winfield and Jack Lynn have to come from across the formation to make the play 20 yards down the field and the Huskers get a big gain to end the first quarter.
First quarter score: Minnesota 7, Nebraska 3
Missed opportunity to grab momentum
Jalen Myrick plays this ball perfectly and cuts in front of Jordan Westerkamp to nearly get the interception going the other way. You'll see here that Westerkamp is able to get his right hand in there to break up the play or else Myrick is gone the other way for a touchdown.
Bryant gets loose for the Nebraska score
Nebraska's able to score thanks to good execution on their part, and a miscommunication in the Gophers secondary.
First thing you'll notice here is the motion man setting a pick on Jonathan Celestin. Now, you'd like to see that called as a penalty because it's pretty blatant he's not looking for the ball as he shoves Celestin immediately as he arrives, and that's not exactly a football play there Big Ten refs, but it's not called and Tre Bryant catches the ball in the flats and is off to the races.
Celestin was supposed to likely have the flats close to the LOS, but watch the bottom GIF and you'll see Damarius Travis and KiAnte Hardin sucked into the center of the field, and I have to imagine that's not supposed to be happening as there isn't a single Gopher outside the hashes when Bryant catches the ball.
Hardin isn't able to push Bryant out and Travis is too late and Nebraska gets their first lead of the game.
Wolitarsky finds the soft spot on third down
Crossing routes were a real success story for the Gophers on Saturday night.
You'll see here that Drew Wolitarsky and Nate Wozniak go left and Rashad Still comes underneath going right. Both the linebacker and corner for Nebraska decide to converge on Nate Wozniak for some reason and that leaves Wolitarsky open behind him with a lot of green to run to.
Offensive line gives Leidner a clean pocket, and Minnesota picks up 29 yards on third and six.
Smith has nowhere to go
Rodney Smith came into the Nebraska game averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and on Saturday, he ended up a 2.5 on 17 carries, and it's even worse if you take out his long run, as it'd be 16 carries for 22 yards.
Smith has been fantastic at creating for himself in the backfield when the Gophers offensive line doesn't make anything for him up front, but he never had a chance to on Saturday.
By the time Smith gets the hand-off, Garrison Wright has been pushed three yards into the backfield and Smith is wrapped up a few steps in, and then the rest of the Husker defense arrives to finish up off.
You'll notice the Nebraska safety isn't buying that roll out from Leidner, and the safeties for Nebraska were keying in on the run all night, leaving one on one coverage on the outside and Minnesota wasn't able to take advantage.
Leidner gets away with one
I don't know that Leidner saw here at all.
Eric Carter has zero separation even if this ball gets through the two defenders staring him down, and I can't see a way this is completed. Nathan Gerry drops the interception that likely could have been six the other way, and Minnesota's able to escape with a punt.
Johnson can't haul in the back shoulder throw
First thing you'll notice is the zero separation 20+ yards down the field, so Leidner throws it short for his receiver to try and under cut it, which Johnson tries to do. Brian Smith was one that was successful with this earlier in the season with Leidner, and with Smith now off the team, Minnesota's trying to find their 50/50 ball guy.
Johnson stops on a dime, and goes up to meet the ball, and tries to cradle it into his body instead of catching it with his hands, and ends up missing the ball. The Hsuker defender almost ends up with the interception off the deflection, but Johnson has to go up and catch this with his hands here, and not let the ball come into his body.
It's his first year at wide receiver, but this is a catch Minnesota needs to come down with.
Wolitarsky comes through again
It's third and 10 for Minnesota and Leidner and Wolitarsky are able to hook up for the 17 yard completion. I know you're thinking, why does Leidner air it out deep to Carter at the bottom of the screen, but know there's a safety over the top that comes in to make the play on Wolitarsky.
Leidner makes the accurate throw, Wolitarsky makes the play and Minnesota moves the chains.
Gophers get zero on the draw
Another all too familiar sight for Minnesota in this game as the Gophers try to run a draw play on first down, and it doesn't go anywhere. Jared Weyler is swam off the snap, and the linebackers come down hill immediately to meet Smith, and again, watch the Nebraska safety who is absolutely keying on the run and comes up to make the tackle.
Minnesota gets positive yards, but the opportunities to make plays on the outside or even in the short passing game at the top of the screen in there, and that's the issue.
The Gophers don't have a guy that can take a bubble screen and go north and south, and that's a play the defense is giving them.
Smith finally breaks one
Here's the only time Minnesota's running game was able to get loose on Saturday.
Beebe lead blocks out of the I, and Weyler comes across to give Smith a hole. Wolitarsky comes down on the crack block from the slot, Smith makes the safety and linebacker miss five yards down field, and bounces it outside with Still in front of him. He isn't able to punch it in, but gives the Gophers great field position at the three yard line.
Claeys rolls the dice on fourth down
Head coach Tracy Claeys decides to roll the dice on fourth down at the half yard line and gets the touchdown on the quarterback sneak. He's got to thank the Nebraska edge guy who falls on him, pushing him forward into the end zone there as Minnesota takes the lead back 14-10.
Cashman keeps making plays
Love watching Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman on this play.
He blitzes and tosses the Nebraska center three yards back, and then corrals Armstrong for the minimal gain. He's the best blitzer Minnesota has at the linebacking positon, and needs to keep getting more and more reps on passing rushing situations in the final three games.
50/50 balls need some work
Leidner gets time here on play action thanks to his offensive line and a blitz pickup from Rodney Smith, and once again, you'll notice down the field that Still has zero separation when the ball is thrown and can't reel in the 50/50 ball that Leidner throws.
I talked about it earlier, but Minnesota really misses Brian Smith on these plays. The Husker defensive back has zero idea where the ball is and Still isn't able to position his body to get in front of this ball, and it falls incomplete.
Minnesota's receivers really need to work on these jump balls.
A spike with two timeouts left
I asked around about this play on Sunday, and the word I heard here is the Minnesota sidelines called for Leidner to spike the ball here, but is a little perplexing with two timeouts still in Claeys' pocket.
Especially since after this play, Minnesota decides to run it, and then call a timeout. Run it again, and then call a timeout where Emmit Carpenter connects from 42 yards out.