Game Day: Nebraska vs. Minnesota

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Run. Pass. Tackle. The Huskers are ready for Minnesota’s physical challenge, but they’ll have to handle it better than in 2013 or 2014. There’s nothing subtle about the tactics of teams like Minnesota. They want to ram, bash, pummel and maul — for four long quarters.

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Minnesota rush defense

Nebraska owns the second-best mark for yards per carry in the Big Ten at 5.4, but its attack has lacked consistency. The use of fullback Andy Janovich adds to the versatility, and the Huskers would benefit from Tommy Armstrong doing damage on some quarterback runs. Minnesota ranks ninth in the Big Ten in rushing defense at 142.8 yards per game.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Minnesota pass defense

It might be a good time to go after the Gophers' secondary considering its injuries, which include All-Big Ten cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. The only problem is that the Husker passing offense has gone into a two-week funk, and Armstrong has completed just 35.6 percent of his passes against Big Ten teams. The Minnesota defense has more interceptions than TD passes allowed (six to five), and opponents are completing just 52.8 percent of their throws.

Minnesota rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Minnesota went for 326 yards last week at Purdue, but against the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten. Nebraska currently ranks third, holding opponents to 95.3 yards per game and 3.3 per carry, and will surely load up against the run this week. The Gophers like freshman back Shannon Brooks (176 yards at Purdue) and their magic number is 200 yards rushing as a team (20-3 under Jerry Kill when reaching that plateau).

Minnesota pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Gophers won’t scare many teams with how they throw it, but Nebraska has been shredded by teams just about every week this season. The Huskers would love to make Mitch Leidner throw it 30-plus times, but they thought the same thing with Joel Stave — and the Wisconsin quarterback burned them for 322 yards and a TD. NU will need to make some plays on the ball, hit Leidner a few times and get off the field on third down.

Special teams

Neither team has been effective with its return games, so the edge might simply go to whoever can break anything of substance Saturday. NU is solid with kicker Drew Brown and punter Sam Foltz, but Minnesota leads the Big Ten in net punting at 39.4 yards per kick and Peter Mortell is one of the league’s best.

Intangibles

Nebraska can’t seem to shake this problem it has with penalties, which is currently costing it 82.8 yards per game. The Huskers also haven’t forced a turnover in October. NU, however, ranks near the top of the Big Ten in both red-zone offense and defense, while Minnesota is 13th in both categories. The Gophers also have a negative turnover margin. Injuries have hammered both teams, so hard to say who is better off or worse off there.

Key matchup: Nebraska receivers vs. Minnesota defensive backs

The Husker receivers struggled getting open against Wisconsin, and Minnesota will come with some of the same physical coverage. NU also needs to get Jordan Westerkamp active again after a quiet two weeks, and maybe unleash De’Mornay Pierson-El in his third game back. The Gophers potentially have one of the best secondaries in the Big Ten, but have had to piece together that unit because of a string of injuries.

Our take

Several of the above categories easily could have gone either way, so no surprise that the oddsmakers have this one right around even. Nebraska might have the potential difference-maker with Armstrong, who’s leading the Big Ten in total offense, but the junior needs to find the rhythm that he had going in September. The Huskers easily could be beaten down by the events of recent weeks, but maybe some things start turning around in the second half of the season.

Our prediction: Nebraska 24, Minnesota 13

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Game notes

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