Nebraska vs. Minnesota, 10.16

Minnesota's Mar'Keise Irving (4) side-steps the tackle attempt of Nebraska's JoJo Domann (13) during a first-down run in the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

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MINNEAPOLIS — This wasn't the one-sided Minnesota mauling Nebraska fans had seen in the Huskers' previous two trips north to take on the Gophers.

It only felt that way for a half.

Then, even when the Huskers got back into the game in the closing 30 minutes, it was still a scene those who tune in every week have become intimately familiar with.

A flat first half gave way to a second half equally filled with big plays and mind-numbing miscues as Minnesota downed Nebraska 30-23 and threw a rather large shovel of dirt on NU's hopes of qualifying for a bowl game.

The loss dropped Scott Frost's Nebraska teams to 5-17 in one-score games. For a minute, that stat was out the window after the 56-yard touchdown run from Minnesota's Bryce Williams with 2:12 left that gave Minnesota's offense its only points of the second half and marked the first time the Blackshirts were creased for a big run all day.

But, as seems to happen often when things seem out of reach, the Huskers suddenly operated like a well-oiled machine to efficiently move down the field and cap Austin Allen's huge day with a nine-yard touchdown catch that gave the Aurora native five catches for 121 yards and a score.

Nebraska (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) had lost 34-7 and 54-21 in its last two trips north. A pair of non-competitive games under two different coaching staffs that illustrated just how large the gap was for NU to try and find its way back to relevancy in the Big Ten West.

By halftime Saturday Minnesota (4-2, 2-1) led 21-9, and it felt like the lead could have been even more.

Playing for the eighth consecutive week, the Huskers were flat on both sides of the ball. NU's defense was methodically picked apart by a Minnesota offense missing its top two running backs and an offensive lineman that had played in every game this season.

Minnesota was more than happy to take its yardage in four-to-five yard chunks on the ground, and occasionally throw to receiver Chris Autman-Bell, by far the Gophers' most dangerous target, and one Nebraska at times didn't seem all that intent on covering.

But then a bizarre call from Minnesota — a reverse with a flip back to Morgan to try and throw a pass — ended in a sack. While it didn't turn the tide fully, it stemmed the Gophers' momentum enough for NU to get to the locker room down 12.

In the third quarter Nebraska rolled up 139 yards, held Minnesota to 37, and could still only cut seven points off the deficit.

One drive ended inside the Minnesota one-yard line when, after quarterback Adrian Martinez was stopped just short of the goal line and the play was help up on a review, running back Jaquez Yant stumbled and was stopped short on fourth down.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, after NU drove to the Minnesota 10-yard line, Connor Culp missed a 27-yard field goal that would have gotten the Huskers to within two points.

With its kicking game once again in shambles, Nebraska went for it on 4th and 10 from the Minnesota 34 midway through the fourth quarter. The Gophers batted down the pass.

After yet another stop by the defense, Nebraska was set up on its own 11-yard line with 4:53 left and its fourth chance in the second half to take the lead and buck the trend of failure in one-score games.

Instead, Martinez was flagged for a safety as he threw the ball away in the end zone with the pocket breaking down. And Minnesota, which went the entire third quarter without converting a third down, was able to move the chains with 2:21 left. One play later, Bryce Williams ripped off his 56-yard touchdown run.

Nebraska started the game by going three-and-out in all of 45 seconds, then allowing Minnesota to embark on a 14-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that melted 7:42 off the clock. The Gophers didn't face a third down until the drive's 10th play.

By the end of the first quarter, Nebraska eight plays and kicked a 50-yard field goal. Minnesota had possessed the ball for 11:41, and the league's worst passing offense was 9-for-10 for 72 yards.

Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan, who hadn't completed more than 14 passes in a game this season, connected on 15 in a row spanning the first and second halves to set a school record for consecutive completions.

Morgan got to 16 in a row, then completed his next two to Nebraska defensive backs Cam Taylor-Britt and Deontai Williams as the third quarter interceptions helped nudge momentum towards the Huskers.

Even those big defensive plays didn't come without a price, though. Williams, who looked like he had plenty of room to run on a potential return, instead crumpled to the ground after trying to plant his left foot. He walked off the field, but the sixth-year senior didn't return.

Nebraska turned the Williams pick into a Rahmir Johnson touchdown to get within 21-16. The number was 16 because Culp, after making that 50-yard field goal, missed an extra point. The second extra point barely had enough to get over the crossbar.

Check back for photos and updates to this story.

 

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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