Nebraska and Minnesota head into Week 13 needing a victory to keep their Big Ten West Division title hopes alive. The Cornhuskers lost to Wisconsin 59-24 in a record-setting performance by running back Melvin Gordon, while the Golden Gophers fell short in their upset bid over Ohio State (31-24).
At 5-1 in conference play, Wisconsin is the clear favorite in the West Division. However, the Cornhuskers and Golden Gophers aren’t out of the title mix, but a win is a necessity on Saturday to keep alive in the West.
Minnesota owns a 30-22-2 series edge over Nebraska. The Golden Gophers won last year’s meeting in Minneapolis by 11 (34-23). Although Minnesota owns an edge in the overall series, Nebraska is 2-1 against the Golden Gophers since joining the Big Ten.
Minnesota at Nebraska
Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Nebraska -10
Minnesota’s Key to Victory: The Passing Game – Offense and Defense
In Minnesota’s three losses this year, quarterback Mitch Leidner is 31 of 75 for 476 yards. He’s also tossed six interceptions in defeats and only one score. For the Golden Gophers to win in Lincoln, Leidner needs to be more efficient and do a better job of limiting his mistakes. Nebraska will stack the box to prevent running back David Cobb from having a huge day, which leaves Leidner with some one-on-one matchups on the outside that he can exploit. In addition to Leidner, Minnesota’s pass defense will be critical on Saturday. The Golden Gophers’ secondary has intercepted 13 passes this year (tied for third in the Big Ten) and is playing against a quarterback (Tommy Armstrong) that has tossed seven picks in Big Ten games. Limiting running back Ameer Abdullah on the ground, forcing Armstrong to throw and then making a play or two for turnovers would significantly help the Minnesota upset odds.
Nebraska’s Key to Victory: Stop the Run
Nebraska’s No. 1 priority on Saturday is to fix the issues that allowed Wisconsin to rush for 581 yards on 53 attempts last week. Was the performance against the Badgers a one-week speed bump or a sign of things to come? Prior to last week’s game, the Cornhuskers allowed two Big Ten opponents to rush for at least 143 yards but limited rushers to 3.7 yards per carry for the season. But after playing Wisconsin, Nebraska’s season total ranks 11th (conference-only games) against the run. Minnesota’s David Cobb isn’t on the Heisman radar like Melvin Gordon, but the senior is capable of recording 150-175 yards. In 10 games this year, Cobb has 1,350 yards on 254 attempts. The senior has rushed for at least 118 yards in each of his last three games, including 194 yards against Purdue and 145 against Ohio State.
These two teams are very similar in terms of style and on the stat sheet this year. Both teams prefer to establish their ground attacks, with All-Big Ten running backs leading the way. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah has only 70 yards in his last two games, but he should eclipse the 100-yard mark against a Minnesota defense allowing 4.9 yards per carry in conference play. After Melvin Gordon gashed Nebraska last Saturday, the Cornhuskers should be motivated to stop Minnesota’s David Cobb – or Cobb could have a huge effort against a defense struggling with confidence right now. Even though these two teams are similar, the edge in talent goes to Nebraska. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the Cornhuskers have more of a threat in the passing attack and will be at home on Saturday.