Joseph Maiorana, USA Today Sports

Nebraska vs Minnesota Primer

No. 19 Nebraska looks to bounce back from their deflating loss last week, as they take on a 7-2 Gophers team at home.

Date: Saturday, November 12th

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m.

Venue: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE 

Network: Big Ten Network

Nebraska dropped nine spots in the College Football Playoff rankings after their lopsided loss last week against Ohio State. It was the second game in a row the Huskers dropped, both coming on the road. Now, Nebraska will look to redeem the rest of their season, as they will travel back to Lincoln and host Minnesota.

The Gophers are currently on a four game winning streak, after beating Purdue 44-31 last week. Most of Minnesota’s success this season is credited to their senior quarterback, and a possible NFL draft pick, Mitch Leidner. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley is concerned with the veteran quarterback playing his best football this season. http://www.scout.com/college/nebraska/story/1726073-5-questions-minnesota

“I think Minnesota has confidence,” Riley said. “I think that that quarterback is kind of leading that with the way he’s playing. He looks like a tough guy. He looks like a guy that’s going to fight to make plays, has been a resilient player.”

Leidner has racked up over 1500 yards on the season with five touchdowns, but also six interceptions. Like Riley noted, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is a big guy that will be tough to bring down if he escapes the pocket. The Blackshirts did win the last battle a year ago, where they picked off Leidner twice and held him to completing just 26-of-40 passes.

The Gophers also have a lot of success on the ground with their run-heavy attack. Their big offensive line has aided in their success of averaging over 200 yards on the ground. Sophomore running back Rodney Smith is responsible for 954 yards on the year with 13 touchdowns. Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker noted that this week’s matchup could be another physical Big Ten game.

“They are just solid,” Banker said. “They have won four games in a row. They are staying with it and finishing well in the fourth quarter. For us, the big deal will be stopping their run game with this team, they want to run. It’ll be a physical game upfront.”

However, Smith is listed as questionable this week and may miss their biggest game of the year thus far against the Huskers. With almost every linebacker on this Blackshirt defense battling an injury this week, Smith’s absence would allow Banker to sub linebackers in and out all game. Minnesota might have to air it out more than they want if their starting running back is on the sidelines, and if that is their answer, the game falls into the favor of the Huskers secondary.

Offensively for the Huskers, they have struggled the last few weeks in both finding a rhythm and producing yards. Last week against Ohio State, Nebraska finished with just 78 yards rushing. A lot of their struggle has been due to a very hurt and thin offensive line. It looks as if Nebraska might finally have a healthy offensive front this week, and Riley knows just how important that will be for his offense. 

“Whatever you’re trying to do, you have to block guys,” Riley said. “So we have to be really confident and making the blocks that we need to block and a couple of run plays that we can call many times in the game and feel good about calling them.”

One of Nebraska’s biggest concerns in the game will be the health of quarterback Tommy Armstrong. The senior from Texas entered concussion protocol this week, and has passed all tests thus far and should still be their guy on Saturday. If Armstrong is not healthy enough to compete, senior backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe would be the guy. 

If Nebraska plays Fyfe, they will try to control the run game and the clock. The Huskers are averaging 32:44 time of possession each game, and if their starter is not under center, that could increase. Running backs Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo could get a lot of touches on the day in a conservative offensive scheme.  http://www.scout.com/college/nebraska/story/1726877-armstrong-likely-to-...

If Armstrong is sidelined and Fyfe gets injured, sophomore wide out Zach Darlington will be Fyfe’s backup. Darlington, who played quarterback in high school, converted to wide receiver in his career in Lincoln. Needless to say, Nebraska has options at quarterback, it’s just a giant question mark as to who it will be that hangs amidst the squad. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said that he has liked how Darlington has practiced so far this week.

“He’s a smart kid and we’ve got a package of plays for him,” Langsdorf said. “He was a really good player in high school and just having him there, there’s definitely a comfort level.”

The History:

Nebraska and Minnesota have a long history with each other, as the Gophers hold the overall record at 31-23-2 that dates back all the way to 1900. Since joining the Big Ten, the Huskers have been 3-2 against Minnesota, but the Gophers are 2-0 when the Huskers have been ranked. Minnesota has stuck with the Huskers two out of the last three matchups, and won last time they were in Lincoln. This will be the first time Mike Riley will square off against first-year head coach Tracy Claeys. Saturday’s matchup will also mark the 57th meeting between the two schools, the most for the Huskers against any Big Ten team.

What A Win Means For Nebraska:

A win for the Huskers is seriously needed to keep their season on track. A victory would snap their two-game losing streak and improve their record to 8-2 and 5-2 in the Big Ten. If Nebraska wants to have a chance to play in the Big Ten championship, they need to win out and hope for a Wisconsin loss.

What A Win Means For Minnesota:

Like Nebraska, Minnesota needs a win to keep their Indianapolis dreams alive. However, unlike Nebraska, the Gophers control their own destiny and face Wisconsin on November 26th. If Minnesota wins out, they will win the Big Ten West and advance to the Big Ten championship. Beating Nebraska in Lincoln would also give the Gophers a spot in the College Football Playoff ranking.  

Nebraska Players To Watch On Offense:

http://www.scout.com/player/167830-jerald-foster To refresh your memory, Foster was a guy that started in every game last year on special teams and was a front-runner to start on the offensive line this year. Unfortunately, the sophomore went down with a torn MCL in August and was reportedly out for the year. Fortunately, the Lincoln native’s healing process has been astonishingly quicker than originally diagnosed. The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder has been practicing this week and got the green light. How much he plays remains to be seen.

http://www.scout.com/player/177832-stanley-morgan If you watched last week’s matchup, it was clear that Morgan Jr. was struggling all night on coming up with a catch. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder will need to bounce back from last week and have a big one against the Gophers. The Louisiana native is capable of big plays, like his 72-yard touchdown grab against Indiana. If Fyfe is in at quarterback, Nebraska could derail from their deep ball attack they showed a week ago and stick to the short, easy ones right into the hands of the sophomore wide out.

http://www.scout.com/player/181189-devine-ozigbo Ozigbo was battling senior Terrell Newby for a starting role in the first half of season, but ever since his injury a month ago in their win over Illinois, the sophomore I-back has been quiet for the latter half of the season. Last week was his worst game of his career where he had just three carries for a total of negative seven yards. Nebraska could become a run-heavy team offensively this week, and if that is the case, the Texas native will need to show up big in order to give Newby some rest, as well as being a consistent threat on the ground each time he is on the field.

Nebraska Players To Watch On Defense:

http://www.scout.com/player/167966-nathan-gerry If there is one Husker on this defense that can redeem himself from last week’s performance, it’s their senior safety. Gerry has been one guy the Blackshirts can lead on in terms of his play and his leadership. Last year against the Gophers, the Sioux Falls native came up with an interception that sealed the deal for the Huskers. Since he is tied for leading the team in picks, it would be no surprise to see the senior captain come up with a big play. 

http://www.scout.com/player/136841-michael-rose Rose-Ivey’s performance last week against Ohio State was disappointing even to the casual football fan. It seemed that the senior linebacker was constantly in position in the first quarter to make a big stop, but could not execute the tackle. If the Missouri native is medically cleared to play, expect to hear his name on more than a few big stops. The 6-foot, 230-pounder brings a lot of energy in his play and he just may sway the momentum in favor of the Blackshirts on a big play. 

http://www.scout.com/player/173376-dedrick-young Young is another linebacker that is banged up but will hopefully see the field this week. The sophomore has been the quiet runner up for best linebacker behind senior Josh Banderas, and he has shown consistency and astuteness in his play. Minnesota is a run-heavy team and this banged up linebacker corps will have their hands full all game. Although he’s been battling an elbow injury the last few weeks, the Arizona native can help Banderas carry the load defensively and should have a big game.

Reasons To Be Concerned:

Nebraska has lost two in a row and some think that their spirits are crushed. This game could easily be a loss at home, especially considering Minnesota has won the last matchup in Lincoln. The main concern on every Husker fans’ mind is whether or not Tommy Armstrong Jr. will play. If the senior does not suit up, Nebraska could be in a whirlwind of trouble with Ryker Fyfe leading their offense. 

Injury Report For Nebraska:

OG) Tanner Farmer (ankle) Questionable

Farmer missed his second game of the year in last week’s game against Ohio State with an ankle injury. He was on the fence on playing last week, which makes me to believe he will be out there against Minnesota. Now how much he plays will obviously depend on his week of practice, but he appears set to go.

QB) Tommy Armstrong (head) Probable

Almost every Nebraska fan knows that Armstrong was left unconscious last week after hitting his head hard against the turf. The senior from Texas was carted off in an ambulance and taken to the hospital, but returned to the stadium shortly after. Riley stated that his quarterback is undergoing concussion protocol and has been on the sidelines so far this week, but is on track to return.

Senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp commented on the situation, saying that Nebraska is comfortable with either man under center. “Obviously you want your starter in there, but if he is down it’s just that next man up mentality,” Westerkamp said. “That’s how it is. Its football and guys get injured.”

OG) David Knevel (ankle) Questionable

Knevel has been battling an ankle injury for most of the year, and once again, he may or may not be good to go this week. As of now, it will depend on how the junior practices this week, but I have a hunch he will tough it out for another week.

OG) Jerald Foster (knee) Probable

See above

LB) Michael Rose-Ivey (elbow) Probable

The senior linebacker went down in the first half in last week’s game against Ohio State with an elbow injury. He walked off the field on his own, and has been practicing this week. With almost every linebacker banged up, Riley expects Rose-Ivey to play through whatever pain he is feeling on Saturday.

WR) Brandon Reilly (hamstring) Questionable

Reilly had a very limited role last week after fighting through a hamstring injury. The senior is still listed as questionable, but with a week to heel, he should be more involved in their offensive scheme. 

RB) Devine Ozigbo (ankle) Probable

Ozigbo has been playing through an ankle injury for over a month now after their game against Illinois on October 1st. He’s been slowly and progressively becoming more involved on offense, although he did digress last week with only three carries and negative yards. The sophomore back will play this week, but it will interesting to see how involved he is.

Quote To Note:

“I really liked how this team has practiced all the time, and I’m not going to stop liking this team all of a sudden. I really like this group of guys. I’ve liked how they’ve worked and been together for a long time, had a great plan starting in January. That stuff doesn’t disappear because of a bad outing. I’ve got a lot of faith that it’s going to be good, that it’s going to be a good reaction. I think that one thing that you need to be able to rely on is older guys in the program.”— Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley

Prediction:

Nebraska is hurting both physically and mentally. After losing two games in a row, the Huskers are on the prowl to pick up a ‘W’ and Minnesota is the first stop on their competitive route to Indianapolis. Obviously, the man under center could dictate the result of the game, but I think Nebraska gets it done regardless of who is leading them at quarterback. I see the Huskers run the ball like they did in their first game of the season against Fresno State, and will pass only when they have to. The Blackshirts will also show up big against the run and should also be a threat to Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner, just like they were a year ago. I see this being a close one until the fourth quarter, but a turnover from “Lockdown U” should sway the momentum towards the Huskers, and they will win by at least two scores.


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