In 2018, the Gophers fell 53-28 to Nebraska, marking Scott Frost’s first victory as the Huskers’ head coach. This year, Minnesota (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is surging off a 40-17 win over Illinois, while the Big Red’s offense is on shaky legs. The Huskers’ (4-2, 2-1) victory last week came off the toe of walk-on kicker Lane McCallum, who dispatched the Northwestern Wildcats 13-10 and was carried off the field on his team’s shoulders.
With a win, either team can climb into the Big Ten West championship picture, even momentarily. A victory by Minnesota would be particularly beneficial, as it would already punch the Gophers' ticket for bowl eligibility.
Nebraska at Minnesota
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Minnesota -7.5
When Nebraska Has the Ball
The biggest question heading into Saturday’s contest is who starts at quarterback for the Cornhuskers. A betting person has to think Noah Vedral gets the nod as Adrian Martinez’s injury versus Northwestern looked extremely uncomfortable. However, we all recover differently, and the Omaha World-Herald’s Sam McKewon noted that Martinez was in full pads and walking without a limp following Wednesday’s practice.
Clearly, Nebraska’s biggest thread is Wan’Dale Robinson. The Rondale Moore-style athlete has proven to be able to do what even Martinez or the wily Maurice Washington can’t as of late.
Washington has already sat four quarters total due to internal disciplinary reasons. Even after he entered the game last week, he proved ineffective in a battle of impotent offenses. While the Huskers do rank 42nd nationally in rushing offense, their passing game checks in at 84th. To make matters worse, frequent target JD Spielman may not be able to go due to an injury he suffered during the Big Red’s tilt with the Wildcats.
When facing the Minnesota defense, Nebraska has to contend with defensive stalwart Carter Coughlin and friends. Coughlin is joined at linebacker by the team’s third-leading tackler, Kamal Martin. Martin also has a pair of interceptions to his name, which further threatens a stalling Husker aerial attack. Defensive linemen Sam Renner and Tai'yon Devers look to stymie any and all activity up front against the Big Red’s struggling offensive line.
When Minnesota Has the Ball
Led by quarterback Tanner Morgan, the Golden Gophers will threaten Nebraska’s defense in a number of ways. The Blackshirts have proved vulnerable against the run, ranking 82nd in rushing defense.
Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are both ready to batter the Husker front seven. Mohamed Ibrahim would only add to Minnesota’s advantage, but he’s questionable as of this writing. Equally dangerous are tight ends Jake Paulson and Brevyn Spann-Ford. While not major receiving threats, the two block extremely well, meaning lanes should frequently open for the aforementioned backs.
Nebraska also has to concern itself with wide receivers Rashod Bateman, Tyler Johnson, and Chris Autman-Bell. Johnson had 11 receptions for 184 yards last year, and Morgan proved to be a nuisance both through the air and on the ground. With more confidence and experience, expect that irritation to become a bigger problem.
The Blackshirts should have a familiar look with no major injuries. Despite their good fortune in that area, their ability to stop the Minnesota attack appears questionable.
ESPN’s David Hale pointed out an interesting statistic for this game: While Minnesota is ranked 25th in the Coaches’ Poll, they remain unranked by the Associated Press. This lines up with a bit of history. Five other unranked 5-0 Power 5/BCS teams have checked in since 2004. All lost their sixth game.
Regardless, this is a game of trends, much like when the Gophers picked off Purdue. Right now, Minnesota is getting the job done on the ground and has several capable defensive disruptors.
It’s been a drama-filled week in Lincoln; just about anything that could bubble up to the surface as a potential sticking point has done so. If Frost can lead his team to a victory following this distraction-riddled seven days, it might be his most impressive work to date. However, the deck is greatly stacked against him.
This year, the boat gets rowed, Fleck gets revenge for 2018 and the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy heads to Minneapolis.
Prediction: Minnesota 38, Nebraska 23
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him, click here. (Click here for more information on the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy.)