Nebraska rush offense vs. Minnesota rush defense
The Huskers are averaging just 3.6 yards per carry over the last four outings, and haven’t had more than 157 yards in a game since Oct. 1 vs. Illinois. The decline in production has coincided with injuries to the line, but NU head coach Mike Riley also spoke this week about finding a couple identity runs and riding them. It won’t be easy getting matters straightened out against a veteran Minnesota defense that allows just 3.34 yards per carry to rank No. 16 nationally.
Nebraska pass offense vs. Minnesota pass defense
The Huskers’ completion percentage has gone into the tank the last few weeks, and NU is now one of just six FBS teams hitting below 50 percent (49.2). Nebraska was waiting on the status of quarterback Tommy Armstrong all week — and preparing Ryker Fyfe just in case — but Armstrong has been struggling to find any rhythm and has just four TD passes in the last six games. Teams have thrown on Minnesota with some success, including Purdue last week for 391 yards and four scores, but Nebraska would help itself first by running the ball at least some.
Minnesota rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense
Success on the ground has helped fuel a four-game winning streak, which has been highlighted by sophomore tailback Rodney Smith hitting 100 yards each week and the Gophers picking up 15 rushing TDs (now 28 for the season). Nebraska is a much tougher test, however, although the Huskers have been dented the last two weeks by Wisconsin (223 yards) and Ohio State (238). Mitch Leidner has hurt NU with his legs before, so it will have to contain the Gophers’ quarterback run game, too.
Minnesota pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense
The Gophers have just six touchdown passes all season, and four of those came against Indiana State in September. Only senior Drew Wolitarsky has more than 17 receptions and there is very little big-play threat. Last week definitely got away from Nebraska — Ohio State threw for 352 yards and four TDs — but it had been very good for most of the season. It should get cleaned back up.
Minnesota has been fairly consistent with its kickoff and punt coverage, and Smith gives them a legitimate threat on kickoff returns. Gophers kicker Emmit Carpenter also has made more field goals than anybody in the Big Ten, connecting on 16 of 18 attempts. Nebraska still seems to be ironing things out from week-to-week, although Drew Brown has been steady as expected.
One team is riding a four-game winning streak and the other has lost two straight, but the level of opponent is a big reason why. Nebraska finally gets back home, and has been very good in night kickoffs at Memorial Stadium. Both teams are fighting for Big Ten West survival, so incentive won’t be lacking. NU will have to take care of the football, with Minnesota already forcing 21 turnovers through nine games. It also has a huge edge in head coaching experience with Mike Riley (195 games) vs. Tracy Claeys (15 games).
Key matchup: Nebraska offensive line vs. Minnesota defensive front
The Huskers haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in four weeks, but it hopes by getting some linemen healthy that it can start opening some holes again down the stretch. Among those back in the mix is left guard Jerald Foster, who might be able to supply a boost. Minnesota won’t make it easy, starting with its rugged front four, so Nebraska better match the physical part of the challenge.
Minnesota caught Nebraska right after its embarrassing loss at Wisconsin two years ago, and beat the Huskers 28-24 in Lincoln. The Gophers have the mental and physical makeup to do it again, so NU will have to be firmly regrouped or suffer the consequences. Nebraska, meanwhile, can lean on some of the success and experience that it has had in close games if this one gets tight. Minnesota made a nice four-game run, but lost at home to Iowa the last time it played an upper-level Big Ten opponent.
Our prediction: Nebraska 21, Minnesota 20
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