As is tradition, the annual Battle for the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy has intrigue baked in. Minnesota (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) can lock up bowl eligibility for the fourth time in P.J. Fleck's six years as head coach.
Nebraska (3-5, 2-3) works diligently to find any measure of momentum following a 28-9 loss to Illinois. As the Huskers enter the season's final stretch, interim head coach Mickey Joseph can make a major statement by derailing the Gophers' reliable offense.
Minnesota at Nebraska
|National Rank Category||Minnesota||Nebraska|
223.13 YPG (12th)
142.88 YPG (72nd)
198.3 YPG (105th)
259.3 YPG (50th)
31.9 PPG (T-50th)
27.1 PPG (T-77th)
106.25 YPG (16th)
168.1 YPG (6th)
268.5 YPG (110th)
14.4 PPG (4th)
3rd Down Conversions
Red Zone Conversions
When Minnesota Has the Ball
Quarterback Tanner Morgan helps harmonize an offense all about clock control. Competing 67 percent of his passes, Morgan has tallied 1,286 yards and seven touchdowns through the air eight games in.
He struggled mightily against Purdue throwing three interceptions and exited an eventual loss to Illinois with an upper-body injury. Last week's 122-yard passing effort on 21 attempts against Rutgers was his first meaningful action after sitting out a loss to Penn State.
But Morgan isn't the centerpiece or Nebraska's biggest worry.
That's senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who is responsible for 955 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground in 2022. He powered the Gophers to a 31-0 victory over Rutgers with 159 yards and three scores. That's a typical day at the office, though. No team has kept him under triple digits this season.
Morgan's favorite passing targets include tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, who leads the Gophers with 349 yards and two touchdowns. Dylan Wright and Michael Brown-Stephens help round out an attack that's textbook Big Ten football.
It averages 35:18 of possession time and converts 70 percent of its third-down opportunities against unranked opponents.
Failure to move the chains and frequent turnovers by the Huskers' offense puts even more pressure on a defense not equipped to handle what Minnesota offers.
Interim defensive coordinator Bill Busch's crew is wrestling with their inability to prevent highlight quality plays between the occasional tackle for loss.
The linebacker corps is still scrambling to find a compliment to Luke Reimer with Eteva Mauga-Clements and Chris Kolarevic showing the most promise.
Defensive back Quinton Newsome had arguably his best game of the year versus Illinois with four tackles (2.5 for a loss), a sack, and a fumble recovery. This seems to be a week-to-week occurrence for Busch. One or two players stand out with nine others trying to make things work.
Following two second-half shutouts against Indiana and Rutgers, offensive coordinators have seen what Busch can bring to the table and promptly adjusted.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Who the Huskers trot out at quarterback against Minnesota is anyone's guess. If Casey Thompson can't go following a nerve injury in his elbow, Chubby Purdy and Logan Smothers are next in line.
It's a difficult ask, but for Nebraska to have a shot at an upset, the Huskers will have to match the Gophers' productivity. Running back Anthony Grant saw all of 12 attempts versus Illinois. That number needs to soar, and he can't be the only back to touch the football.
Illinois provided the blueprint on how to eliminate wide receiver Trey Palmer holding the sensational pass-catcher a single snag for one yard. But Alante Brown showed signs he could be a valuable target. Dialing up the usage of tight end Travis Vokolek should be paramount. He stressed his value by scoring Nebraska's lone touchdown against Illinois.
This week's assignment doesn't get any easier for the Big Red's offensive line. They match up with a Minnesota front featuring Jalen Logan-Redding, Thomas Rush, and team sack leader Danny Striggow (3.5). Leading tackler Mariano Sori-Marin holds the Gopher second level down (59 total, 24 solo) along with Braelen Oliver and Cody Lindenberg.
A secondary featuring Tyler Nubin, Justin Walley, and Jordan Howden combine for seven of Minnesota's nine interceptions. They have all tools necessary to pick up where Illinois' ball-hawking efforts against the Huskers left off.
Nebraska faces a situation similar to last week against Illinois. Like Tommy DeVito, Morgan should be able to both operate an effective passing attack and pose a threat with his feet. Minnesota can lean on their offense to grind the clock, pound away with Ibrahim, and wait for the dam to break.
The Huskers now have an offense in dire need of new leadership should Thompson need to sit. If Purdy or Smothers can provide a spark and give their defense some rest, Nebraska has a legit shot to score another win or two.
Unfortunately for Joseph, the Gophers won't give his team enough chances for this to be one of them.
Okay, maybe if they find Minnesota's secret Gushers stash.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Nebraska 15
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