MINNEAPOLIS — Nebraska bit back Saturday night at those who have been dogging its defense.
The Huskers, who gave up more points (47) in their first two games than any other team in the 28-year Bob Devaney-Tom Osborne era, held Minnesota to five snaps in NU territory — three of which came in the final minute — while pounding out a 48-0 shutout.
The crowd of 58,368 at the Metrodome didn’t see Minnesota move past midfield until 12:53 remained in the fourth quarter against a Nebraska defense that Northern Illinois nicked for 17 points and Utah for 30.
By that time, third-ranked Nebraska had boosted its 24-0 halftime lead to 34-0, much to the delight of the nearly 15,000 fans in red.
“Our defense played tremendous football,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “We played defense like I thought we could play defense.
“We were able to get wound up and zeroed in on them a little better than on Utah. That helped.
“And some of those young guys on defense have got settled down to where they can play well. So defense was really the name of the game, especially the first half.”
The Huskers held Minnesota I-back Darrell Thompson — labeled a probable first-round NFL draft choice — to 45 yards rushing in 17 carries and one pass reception for 3 yards.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder gained 6 yards on his first carry, but never had anything longer. Minnesota finished with 58 yards rushing and 105 passing for 163 total yards.
“We were concerned about Thompson,” Osborne said. “But when you control the line of scrimmage, the greatest back in the world will have a hard time.”
While the Nebraska defense was rampaging, the offense shook off some early rust and finished with the highest passing yardage total in 54 games.
The 235 yards on 13 completions in 19 attempts were the 12th-most in history and tops since throwing for 236 yards against Oklahoma in 1984.
NU I-back Ken Clark scored first-half touchdowns of 6 and 14 yards to give the Huskers breathing room.
The senior out of Omaha Bryan gained 100 yards in 18 carries to move to No. 7 on Nebraska’s all-time rushing chart with 2,239 yards. He hit the 100-yard mark for the sixth straight time in regular-season play.
Wingback Richard Bell added 121 yards receiving and 78 yards on seven punt returns. NU had been 94th nationally in punt returns with a 2.4-yard average.
“We hadn’t done anything on punt returns until today,” Osborne said. “So considering the kicking game, the defense and the offense, this is by far our most complete football game.
“And I think we played a pretty good team.”
After a 17-point second quarter gave the Huskers a 24-0 halftime lead, they scored on their first two possessions of the third quarter to blunt any comeback hopes for the 19-point underdog Gophers.
Chris Drennan capped a six-play drive to open the second half with a 42-yard field goal.
Quarterback Gerry Gdowski, who left on the previous series with a sore shoulder after being hit on a 20-yard run, used his arm to set up another touchdown.
He found Bell with passes of 34 and 24 yards to set up Leodis Flowers’ 1-yard plunge. That gave Nebraska a 34-0 lead with 4:33 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Flowers bolted 37 yards for his second touchdown and a 41-0 lead.
Sophomore quarterback Mike Grant then entered the lineup with 8:18 left in the game to relieve backup Mickey Joseph.
Grant, who sat out the first two games and was expected to redshirt, promptly led Nebraska on a 16-play, 87-yard touchdown drive. Reserve wingback Mark Dowse ran the final 7 yards to push NU in front 48-0 with 2:02 to play.
Minnesota had an apparent 16-yard touchdown pass nullified as time ran out because of an illegal shift penalty. With one more try, NU’s David White intercepted a pass to end the threat.
“Some things were said about our defense that our players didn’t appreciate,” Husker defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. “Our kids weren’t mad. But they felt they needed to try harder to do a good job.”
In the first half, Nebraska’s offense sputtered early, gaining one first down on its opening two possessions.
But the Husker defense was relentless in the first half. The Blackshirts, the name given to NU’s first-team defense, didn’t allow the Gophers past their own 46-yard line, giving the offense time to right itself.
Mike Stigge’s 49-yard punt after NU’s second possession was downed at the Minnesota 2. A holding penalty on the Gophers and Jeff Mills’ sack kept Minnesota penned up, allowing Nebraska to get the ball at the opponents’ 42.
Six plays later, Nebraska had its first touchdown.
Clark’s 8-yard run and wingback Nate Turner’s 10-yard burst help set up Clark’s 6-yard TD dash. Gregg Barrios’ extra point put NU up 7-0 with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
The kicking game also aided Nebraska’s second scoring drive.
After forcing Minnesota to punt, strong safety Reggie Cooper grabbed Brent Herbel’s 35-yard punt on a bounce and returned it 13 yards to the Minnesota 46.
Six plays later, Barrios kicked a 38-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 11:30 left in the half.
After exchanging punts, Minnesota literally dropped the ball on a chance to get back into the game.
The Gophers, pinned at their own 11, caught Nebraska in a blitz. Quarterback Scott Schaffner lobbed a bomb to a wide-open Paul Hopewell at the U of M 45.
But the sophomore split end let the pass bounce through his arms incomplete.
Five plays later, Minnesota — instead of trailing 10-7 — fell behind 17-0.
On a bootleg rollout, Gdowski hit Bell with a 26-yard touchdown pass. Bell’s first TD catch in 14 games and Barrios’ extra point put NU up 17-0 with 3:50 remaining in the half.
Mills’ 8-yard sack stopped another Minnesota drive, and Bell’s 18-yard punt return put the Huskers in business at the Gophers’ 35.
Gdowski drilled a 21-yard pass to Turner to the U of M 14. On the next play, Clark pranced up the middle for the touchdown for a 24-0 lead with 1:00 left in the half.
Nebraska got one more chance to score before halftime.
Cooper intercepted Schaffner’s bomb at the NU 30. A clipping penalty on the return pushed the Huskers back to their 15.
But Clark’s 16-yard run, Gdowski’s 26-yard pass to Turner and Gdowski’s 8-yard flip to tight end Monte Kratzenstein got the ball to the Minnesota 35 with two seconds left.
Drennan, who tied the NU school record with a 55-yard field goal two weeks ago, tried a 52-yarder. But after a high snap, the kick was short and left, leaving the score 24-0 at halftime.
By preserving the shutout in the second half, Nebraska recorded its second whitewashing in the past 21 games. Minnesota hadn’t been shut out since 1986.
Nebraska’s defense collected six quarterback sacks for losses of 34 yards, intercepted three passes and held the Gophers to 163 total yards.
|Yards per carry||1.7||5.4|
Nebraska is 25-33 all-time against Minnesota.
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 9|
|Oregon State||Sept. 30|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Oct. 28|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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