Game Day: Nebraska vs. Minnesota

Staying positive

Even though Nebraska is winless halfway through the season, the coaches are sticking to a positive message. There are bad plays, but not bad guys. Things can get fixed.

READ MORE »

2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Minnesota rush defense

Minnesota’s aggressive run defense has been excellent in every game this season but one, when Maryland chunked the Gophers for 315 yards. Outside of that, UM has allowed 2.82 yards per carry. Pretty stiff. Nebraska’s run game has proven dangerous with three games over 200 yards. NU’s scheme spreads out a defense, then sends Devine Ozigbo downhill at the middle of it. It’s working, and even if Minnesota has a stingy scheme, don’t be surprised if Nebraska grinds out at least 150 on the ground. Adrian Martinez hasn’t busted a big zone read for weeks, but he’s capable if Minnesota gives him room.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Minnesota pass defense

For having a freshman quarterback, NU’s pass offense is pretty potent under Martinez. He’s still working on the finer details of the game — reading defenses, taking check-downs when they’re his best bet, throwing the fade pass — but his 62.3 percent completion rate is snazzy. Minnesota’s pass defense was picked apart in losses to Iowa and Ohio State. The coverage isn’t bad, but the Gophers’ back end struggles to tackle receivers after the catch. Minnesota does have the league’s top sack-getter in junior Carter Coughlin, an undersized-but-quick defensive end converted to linebacker who can get around an offensive tackle. He has seven of Minnesota’s 11 sacks, which means the Gophers don’t blitz much and don’t have a lot of sack artists aside from Coughlin. Nebraska’s receivers have to break tackles and make big plays. Martinez should be able to scramble, too.

Minnesota rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Minnesota’s run game took a big hit when running back Rodney Smith tore up his knee and had season-ending surgery. His two replacements, Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams, are both freshmen. Ibrahim had 157 yards against Ohio State in a breakout game. He’s a smaller, shifty back who doesn’t need much of a hole, so he’s a good fit for UM’s inside-zone running game, which is used to set up the pass. Minnesota will use a wildcat formation with 6-foot-4, 240-pound receiver Seth Green — a converted quarterback — in red-zone and goal-line situations. Nebraska has been hot-and-cold in stopping the run but should have back a healthy Tyrin Ferguson at outside linebacker.

Minnesota pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Gophers may have the Big Ten’s biggest group of wide receivers, and junior Tyler Johnson (36 catches, 521 yards) and freshman Rashod Bateman (29 and 280) are tough covers because they’re both 6-foot-2. Eight of their 10 catches in the red zone have gone for touchdowns, so watch for those corner fade routes. Between the 20s, Minnesota likes to keep freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad in rhythm with quick stops and slants. Whether it’s an RPO or play-action pass, Annexstad uses the play-fake a lot. He’s completing 53 percent of his passes — his accuracy is so-so at best — and Nebraska needs to take advantage with good pressure and clever coverages. Does NU have the secondary depth to do it? Which of Nebraska’s safeties will be good to go Saturday? Annexstad may be the worst quarterback Nebraska faces in the Big Ten West. The Huskers have to do something.

Special teams

Nebraska has stabilized at punter, which is good, but kicker Barret Pickering missed a field goal and extra point at Northwestern. Not good. Minnesota lost its top punt returner in Antoine Winfield Jr. — out for the season with a foot injury — but the Gophers do enjoy one of the nation’s best punt coverage units, which allows them to be 17th nationally in net punting. UM kicker Emmit Carpenter missed two field goals at Ohio State last week, but he has one of the Big Ten’s stronger legs and can hit from distance.

Intangibles

Nebraska hasn’t won a home game in more than a year. Memorial Stadium is a great place to play when the team is winning and doing well. When NU struggles, the stadium becomes a giant worry box, and everybody can feel it, including the players. So the Huskers have a twisted home-field advantage in that way. Minnesota has better special teams, gets penalized less often and seems to have a clearer identity to its style of play.

Key matchup: Minnesota’s wideouts vs. Nebraska’s cornerbacks

This could be the game. Johnson and Bateman will get good looks from Annexstad, and NU’s corners — some combination of Dicaprio Bootle, Lamar Jackson, Cam Taylor, Eric Lee and others — will have to make plays. Annexstad, still growing as a quarterback, isn’t going to make throws like Clayton Thorson or David Blough, so Nebraska has to get a few interceptions. Do that, and Nebraska wins.

Our take

This isn’t a "must win" game — that’s Bethune-Cookman — but Minnesota represents a “darn well should win” game. If you think the culture change between Mike Riley and Scott Frost is big, the transition from the Jerry Kill/Tracy Claeys era to PJ Fleck is even bigger. Fleck is in Year Two of what’s likely to be a four-year overhaul, and Minnesota’s depth and talent just isn’t where it needs to be. Nebraska, at 0-6, is favored over a 3-3 team for a reason. NU has a better quarterback and skill players, and arguably Minnesota’s two best players — Smith and Winfield — are out for the year with injuries. That’s just enough for Nebraska to win and finally — finally! — deliver Scott Frost’s first win.

Our prediction: NEBRASKA 28, MINNESOTA 21

Live updates

Photos

World-Herald game action »

#Huskers on Instagram

Videos

Extras

Game notes

Check out a PDF of the game notes for the Nebraska-Minnesota matchup provided by the Husker Athletic Department. Click here »

Husker History

Find information on every win, loss and tie in Husker history. With historical World-Herald front pages, photos, stories, key stats and more, our ever-growing Husker History Database is your new home for archiving one of the nation's most tradition-rich programs. Click here »

On social media

Check out the Big Red Today page on Facebook to discuss the latest news with the top Husker fans, and follow us on Twitter to get instant updates and analysis whenever news breaks. Plus, look back at historical moments in Nebraska football by following @HuskerHistory on Twitter.

BRT app

IPhone and Android users, get your Husker updates on the go by downloading our free Big Red Today app from the App Store and the Google Play store. Omaha.com/BRTapp and Omaha.com/android

Recruiting updates

Visit the Big Red Today recruiting page to find the latest updates on potential future Huskers, including player cards for those athletes already committed. Click here »

Email alerts

Sign up for the Big Red Today email newsletter to get the Husker news, analysis, daily headlines and more delivered to your inbox. Click here »

Big Red Today coverage

McKewon: Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo increasingly praised heading into NFL draft — as he should be

It’s a heck of a thing, how a guy who didn’t even start Nebraska’s first three games of the 2018 season might be the highest pick of any Husker in the 2019 NFL draft.

Four-star safety Noa Pola-Gates will keep Husker fans up late Saturday — will they go to bed happy?

Sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, Noa Pola-Gates will finally deliver his college decision.

Nebraska A.D. Bill Moos: Husker apparel sales way up thanks to Scott Frost hiring

Nebraska coach Scott Frost has been good for the sale of Husker gear.

Former Husker John Parrella joins Cleveland Browns coaching staff

Former Husker John Parrella was among seven assistants added to the staff of Browns coach Freddie Kitchens on Friday.

Mick Stoltenberg on Nebraska's future: 'These next few years are going to be something special'

Mick Stoltenberg took a lot of pride in being a Husker and a Blackshirt. And now he's finding out that being an alumnus is also something to be excited about.

Riley Moses leaves mark on Fillmore Central, lands dream walk-on opportunity with NU

Concentration, physicality and determination led Riley Moses to success at Fillmore Central, but a brief lapse ended with the Husker walk-on standing over his high school coach.

Huskers set to host two official visitors, including a running back who's 'focused on Nebraska'

On paper, it’d seem Nebraska’s roster is in decent shape for scholarship running backs. But the Huskers this weekend will host one more back on an official visit, and apparently his eyes are all on NU.

Former Husker Jeremiah Sirles signs one-year extension with Buffalo Bills

Former Nebraska offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles signed a one-year contract extension with the Buffalo Bills, the team announced Wednesday.

Nebraska gets plenty of 'way-too-early' hype. Here's what they're saying nationally

Nebraska winning four of its final six games in 2018 is driving national hype.

Pick Six Podcast: Breaking down the Huskers' final recruiting push

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon, Chris Heady and Evan Bland tackle the hottest Husker headlines in the Jan. 15 episode of the Pick Six Podcast.

Junior college running back Dedrick Mills officially signs with Huskers

Maurice Washington officially has more company in the Nebraska football backfield.

Husker signee Ty Robinson lands top-100 ranking; Wandale Robinson rises 37 spots on Rivals

Another 2019 Husker signee became a top-100 recruit when Glibert (Ariz.) Higley defensive end Ty Robinson was rated No. 91 in the country by Rivals, which on Tuesday published its final rankings before the February signing day.

Husker walk-on Luke Reimer turned down South Dakota State to challenge himself at Nebraska

When Luke Reimer left Ashland, Kansas, for Lincoln before his junior year of high school, he didn’t imagine himself as a Husker football recruit. But two years at Lincoln North Star and a desire to push himself changed that.

Walk-on Luke Reimer wants pushed, and Huskers will be happy to oblige

When Luke Reimer left Ashland, Kansas, for Lincoln before his junior year of high school, he didn’t imagine himself as a Husker football recruit. But two years at Lincoln North Star and a desire to push himself changed that.

Signee Spotlight: Powerful Dedrick Mills will complement Nebraska's speedy skill players

The "Signee Spotlight" provides all the information you need on the newest batch of Huskers, including rankings, evaluations and a look at how they landed at Nebraska.

Iowa tight end TJ Hockenson joins 3 other Hawkeyes leaving early for NFL draft

TJ Hockenson, the John Mackey award winner as the nation's best tight end, became the fourth Hawkeye underclassmen to declare early for the NFL draft.

Carriker Chronicles: How long will it take for the Huskers to close the gap on Clemson?

On Monday's episode, Adam Carriker discusses what needs to happen for the Huskers to close the gap on Clemson, how long it will take and what realistic expectations are for the next two seasons.

Nebraska targets Miami grad transfer Lawrence Cager, who calls Husker fans 'unmatched'

Nebraska’s search for receivers has taken it to the graduate transfer market and former Miami Hurricane Lawrence Cager. The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Cager could be a big-bodied, red-zone threat the Huskers lack.

Nebraska's 25-year Super Bowl streak is in danger, but two former Huskers have a chance

Here’s a look at the two former Huskers who appear on rosters of playoff teams still in the hunt for a Super Bowl, which includes those on the active roster, practice squad or injured reserve.

Rex Burkhead, one of 2 former Huskers still in NFL playoffs, scores first postseason TD

Former Husker running back Rex Burkhead, playing Sunday in his fifth career NFL playoff game, earned his first postseason touchdown.

Sam McKewon's way-too-early Top 25 for 2019 — and yes, the Huskers are in it

The rich stay rich. A few old traditional powers begin to rise again. And a much-maligned league makes a move in 2019.

Adrian Martinez says Huskers motivated for offseason workouts, using losses as 'fuel' for 2019

Upon returning to campus Monday, Nebraska’s football players had an optional week of weight lifting with strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval. But NU players, quarterback Adrian Martinez said Friday, were ready to get to work right away.

Led by Sean Beckton, Huskers emphasize recruiting in the south, aim to 'go after 'em all'

Husker tight ends coach Sean Beckton — a key connection in Atlanta and throughout the SEC footprint for new head coach Scott Frost — understands the area as well as any NU coach ever has. His philosophy, laid out several…

Zac Taylor could be first former Husker player named NFL head coach since the NFL-AFL merger

Former Husker quarterback Zac Taylor is poised to join an exclusive group.

Rimington winner Garrett Bradbury gets praise from trophy's namesake; ex-Husker also bullish on NU's future

Dave Rimington doesn’t pick the winner of the award named in his honor. But count him among those impressed by North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury.

Recruiting: Scott Frost is first Husker coach to visit Columbus Lakeview since 'Solich in 2002'

Nebraska football coach Scott Frost stopped in over the lunch hour. Students at Columbus Lakeview High School went on pause for a minute to process that fact.

Kearney QB Brayden Miller has 'dream' opportunity at Nebraska, but that's not his only option

Brayden Miller called it his dream to play for Nebraska — he received a Husker walk-on offer late last month — but it's not the only option he's considering.

Carriker Chronicles: Frank Solich on being honored by Tom Osborne, memories from NU and more

On Friday's episode, Adam Carriker talks to Husker legend Frank Solich about returning to Nebraska to receive the Tom Osborne Legacy Award, memories from his time at NU and much more.

Lincoln Southwest's Nick Leader followed his heart, dad to walk on at Nebraska

For Lincoln Southwest’s Nick Leader, walking on at Nebraska is a family affair. Leader, a Class A honorable mention selection, is following the path his father took. David Leader walked on at Nebraska, then lettered in 1991 and 1992.

Reports: Cincinnati Bengals targeting former Husker QB Zac Taylor for head coach

Former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor appears likely to join the NFL head coaching ranks.