LINCOLN — Scott Frost didn’t wait. He started walking onto the field well before the final seconds of Nebraska’s 53-28 win over Minnesota had ticked off the clock, and the Memorial Stadium crowd, still packed into their seats, rose and roared. Fans had waited 357 days for a Husker win. For Frost, it was seven gut-wrenching weeks — six straight losses and a rainout — until the moment when that red sea could send a rush of celebratory noise toward him.
“That’s what it’s supposed to feel like out there,” Frost said afterward.
A game ball — given to him by the team — sat on the wall behind him. He was still a little damp from a Gatorade shower and visibly relieved. Even this game — a blowout by the final margin — came with the usual sweat and worry that have accompanied every other Nebraska game this year. There were penalties, special teams breakdowns and a defense so vulnerable that Minnesota’s backup quarterback threw for 214 yards in the second half. The Gophers chomped a 28-0 Husker lead down to six, and Frost, having seen the kitchen sink of errors this season, got a little worried.
“I even thought it to myself — I’ve seen this movie before,” he said. Last weekend at Northwestern, he did.
But Frost’s hand-picked true freshman quarterback, Adrian Martinez, answered the bell. So did senior wideout Stanley Morgan. The Nebraska defense, on the ropes, dodged a few Minnesota punches inside its own 10. And what looked like potential collapse instead turned into history.
“We weren’t taking that ‘L’ today,” said Morgan, who had a career-high 10 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
“It sucks that it took so long — and (Frost) deserved one a long time ago,” outside linebacker Luke Gifford said. “But it is really cool to be a part of that and be the foundation of this thing, this machine that’s about to get rolling here.”
Gifford meant Nebraska’s program as a whole. He could have meant NU’s offense in particular.
The Huskers (1-6, 1-4 Big Ten) racked up 659 yards of total offense — at nine yards per play — with three 100-yard rushers (Martinez, Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington) for the first time since joining the Big Ten. Martinez also completed 25 of 29 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, which Frost called “senior numbers.”
NU’s offense had 40- and 59-yard touchdown runs from Ozigbo in the first quarter, and Martinez ripped off a 53-yard run on top of that in the second quarter. Three of the first-half touchdown drives lasted fewer than three minutes, and Nebraska rolled to a 28-0 lead on the back of 398 first-half yards. Frost called both a Statue of Liberty play and a fake off of it. He designed a halfback pass from Washington to tight end Austin Allen that would have scored a touchdown if Washington had seen Allen earlier in the play.
“Get your ears back, go forward, attack the defense,” left guard Jerald Foster said. “I love the way our offense goes.”
Those lightning strikes can leave Nebraska’s defense in tough spots, though, and after NU forced five punts and a turnover on downs to start the game, Minnesota’s offense got going late in the first half with an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that left Nebraska leading 28-8 at halftime.
With backup quarterback Tanner Morgan entering the game to start the third quarter — the starter, Zack Annexstad, left with an internal injury, according to Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck — the Gophers (3-4 and 0-4) scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives. NU led 28-22. The 89,272 fans at Memorial Stadium got skittish.
Martinez settled in.
“I talked to the guys in the huddle before we ran out to the field,” Martinez said. “We all knew what we needed to do. We needed to put together a good drive, go down there and score.”
Nebraska did. Martinez hit Morgan for 6 yards. Then Washington ripped off runs of 22 and 11 yards, setting up NU at the Minnesota 35.
Frost found another new play on his sheet. Martinez gently rolled to his right while Morgan worked a post route out of the slot back toward the middle of the field. Morgan broke free, Martinez hit the senior in stride, and Morgan bounded into the end zone. Martinez called it “the perfect play.”
Minnesota marched right back down to the Nebraska 5. An offensive pass interference call moved the Gophers back to the 20. By fourth down, they had reached the Husker 3 at the end of the third quarter.
Of the many plays Fleck and his staff could have chosen to start the fourth quarter, they picked a fade pass to the corner of the end zone. Morgan threw to Chris Autman-Bell. NU’s Dicaprio Bootle covered.
“Once he went to that back pylon, I knew what was going down,” Bootle said.
The pass hit Bootle in his back. Officials — in a change from recent weeks — declined to throw a flag.
The game broke Nebraska’s way from there. NU ate 7:03 off the clock on a subsequent field goal drive. The Huskers relinquished an 87-yard kickoff return, but promptly intercepted Morgan when Husker linebacker Dedrick Young gobbled up a deflected pass.
Three plays later, Morgan snuck past Minnesota’s entire defense for a 67-yard score that slammed the door. When Morgan reached the sideline, Frost picked him up in a bear hug while Morgan slapped him on the back.
Frost said he’d talked to players during the week about what they’d been thinking as Northwestern erased a 10-point deficit last weekend. He wanted his players to have a “killer instinct” and not be afraid to fail.
“At some point it’s got to come from inside them to finish it, to go out and make the play to finish it,” Frost said. “I saw it today. I saw guys fight back and not worry about them scoring a couple times. I saw guys go out and take the game over.”
Maybe it had to be this hard, the lessons this bitter, for it to finally sink in. Nebraska dominated the first and fourth quarters. It rushed for more yards than it has in any game since 2014. Minnesota converted only 6 of 17 third and fourth downs. NU committed six penalties — four fewer than its average and andtwo fewer than the Gophers.
The little things added up. And with them, Nebraska’s historic losing streak ended at 10 games. Now, Frost said, the Huskers have to build on it.
For a night, the process could wait. Nebraska could enjoy this. Frost got the Gatorade shower — “inappropriate,” he joked, because it was too cold — from redshirt freshman offensive lineman Broc Bando and Ozigbo. As he talked to the Big Ten Network, Frost got a neck pat from Morgan. In the locker room, Frost was about to speak to the team, players said, before defensive coordinator Erik Chinander interrupted and gave Frost the game ball.
“You could tell it was a big moment,” Ozigbo said. “Everybody was happy for him.”
The lasting image may be Frost’s run to the tunnel. He jogged fast. The team tried to catch up with him, but Frost was ahead of the pack. The reception in the northwest corner of Memorial Stadium was thunderous. Before he ran inside, Frost took off his red cap and tipped it toward the noise that grew louder and louder.
“I almost teared up running off the field,” he said. “That was a special moment.”
|Yards per carry||3.5||8.9|
Nebraska is 25-33 all-time against Minnesota.
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 15|
|Ohio State||Nov. 3|
|Michigan State||Nov. 17|
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