A game that otherwise could have been remembered as the first start of quarterback Noah Vedral’s career instead quickly became a stunning display of Minnesota’s running backs and offensive line, as they accumulated 322 yards and four rushing touchdowns, resulting in a dominating 34-7 win over Nebraska (4-3 overall, 2-2 B1G) on a cold, wet, and windy Saturday night in Minneapolis.
“We got pushed around on both sides of the ball up front,” head coach Scott Frost observed after the loss. “Made mistakes, weren’t physical on the perimeter; whether that’s a mindset or what it is, I don’t know. It’s disappointing.”
The Golden Gophers (6-0, 3-0) only threw seven first half passes, but let 14-0 behind a 9.6 yards per carry average on 23 run plays, good for 220 yards. That easily eclipsed their typical 60-minute output by halftime, having entered the game averaging 159 rushing yards per game. After they tacked on three more rushing touchdowns in the third quarter, the outcome was no longer in doubt with a 34-0 advantage.
Vedral, the sophomore from Wahoo who transferred from UCF in 2018, went 15-23 for 135 yards passing and led NU in rushing with 49 net yards on 15 carries. “I thought Noah played with some guts and played well, made some plays,” Frost said. Starting in place of the injured Adrian Martinez, he commanded three straight first quarter drives into Minnesota territory. None, however, led to points.
“It was working,” Vedral said. “Things looked clear, I think we had a good game plan.” The first drive ended on downs at the 29-yard line. The second featured a 51-yard pass to JD Spielman that got NU to the Gopher 26, but back-to-back sacks derailed that possession. Then, the third was sidetracked by false start and illegal block penalties. “Can’t shoot yourself in the foot,” Vedral continued. “You’ve got to make things count, especially down in their territory. We would have liked to finish those, I think it might have changed the game.”
Running back Dedrick Mills scored the only touchdown for the Big Red, a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter that made the score 34-7 and avoided a shutout. Mills carried nine times for 28 yards and that TD, while catching one pass for another 13 yards. Wide receiver JD Spielman led NU with 59 receiving yards on three receptions. Kade Warner, who had only played a handful of snaps all year while dealing with an injury, also caught three passes for 38 yards, all on one drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters. That was the same drive that provided Nebraska’s only points of the night.
Wan’Dale Robinson, the true freshman star who has played a huge part in the Huskers’ two Big Ten victories this season, was featured early and often but suffered a second quarter ankle injury. He contributed 34 yards on eight offensive touches before getting knocked out of the game.
While the NU offense did not commit a turnover for the second consecutive game, they only managed 299 total yards. Behind a backup QB, offensive struggles are understandable and perhaps expected. The defense, however, had no such personnel limitations and allowed 450 total yards.
“I thought we had a team that was ready to play,” Frost said. Then the game started. Three different Minnesota running backs – Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks, and Mohamed Ibrahim – averaged 5.6 yards per carry or better on between 13-18 carries apiece. Each of them had at least one carry of over 20 yards as well. “We got pushed around on both sides of the ball up front. Made mistakes, weren’t physical on the perimeter. Whether that’s a mindset or what it is, I don’t know. It’s disappointing.”
Senior defensive tackle Darrion Daniels tried to put the Blackshirts’ struggles into words. “It’s one of those things where once you get out of position, it messes up what people see. I feel like if everyone was in their proper fits, it would have minimized a lot of the movement, and we would have been able to make a lot more plays.” Frost added, “They could rely on their run game. We knew what run plays they were going to run. They ran them and they worked. I don’t like coaching a team that isn’t the most physical football team, and we weren’t. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to address that.”
Now the Huskers enter the bye week with a chance to get some much-needed time off, and fix some lingering issues on the field, too. “First of all I want to get healthy,” Frost said. “I think the guys need to get away a little bit, recuperate mentally and physically. We’re still in a better place than we were this time last year, so I’m pleased with that part of it. But we still have a ways to go, and a lot of work to do, and we’re going to get to that work right away this week.”
The next game for Nebraska will be at Memorial Stadium on October 26, when the Huskers host Indiana. Kickoff time for the game has not yet been announced.