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Huskers Dominate Minnesota 38-14 in Senior Day Rout
Huskers Dominate Minnesota 38-14 in Senior Day Rout
No comebacks necessary this week, as the Huskers sent athletic director and former coach Tom Osborne off an easy 38-14 winner against Minnesota in Osborne’s 500th game as a coach or administrator at Nebraska. From the opening kickoff, it was apparent Nebraska wouldn’t be needing much in the way of heroics in their home finale with a date against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game one game and one week closer.
This was more reminiscent of the dominating Osborne teams that smacked around Big 8 and Big XII competition for the better part of 25 seasons than the wins in previous weeks, as Nebraska controlled all phases of the game to guarantee Bo Pelini at least nine wins this season. With the ninth win, Pelini joins Osborne and Bob Devaney as the only coaches in school history to win nine games in each of their first five seasons. Minnesota, while improved from last season, proved to be overmatched once again against a determined Nebraska team that wanted to send their 29 seniors out with an easy win.
Nebraska looked crisp on its opening drive, but had to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Brett Maher to open the scoring with 11:49 left in the first quarter. After a three-and-out from the Gophers, the Huskers drove 85 yards in 8 plays, capped off by a 36-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez to Kenny Bell for a 10-0 lead. Both teams traded punts on each of their next two possessions as the Huskers’ ten-point advantage stretched into the second quarter.
A third punt from Minnesota gave Nebraska the ball at their own 37 and the offense cranked began to hit their stride and put the game away before halftime. Imani Cross finished off a 5 play, 63 yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 17-0 and followed it up with another touchdown run, this time from one yard just three minutes later as the 24-0 lead held into halftime. The first half stats were as slanted in Nebraska’s favor as any this season, with the Huskers having a 306-60 advantage in total offense, 19 first downs to Minnesota’s 4, and the list continued from there. Nebraska was well on their way to a 16th consecutive win over the Gophers dating back to 1963.
The second half started with another three-and-out from Minnesota, but the ensuing drive would see something we hadn’t seen from Ameer Abdullah in quite awhile—a lost fumble, as the Gophers took over on the Nebraska 36. Any chance of the Gophers getting back into the game was quickly squashed however, as Daimion Stafford intercepted Philip Nelson on the very next play and the Huskers took over on their own 26. Five plays later, Martinez and Bell hooked up for their second score of the day, this time for 30 yards and the rout was confirmed with Nebraska comfortably ahead 31-0.
From that point on, Nebraska’s offense didn’t really have to do much and in fact, it was the Blackshirts that provided the final points on the day for the Huskers as Stanley Jean-Baptiste picked off Nelson and raced 48 yards for a touchdown that swelled the margin to 38-0 at the end of three quarters. The only drama from here on out would be whether Rex Burkhead would make a cameo appearance on Senior Day and would Minnesota get onto the scoreboard. While Burkhead did not see the field, the Gophers would see the end zone twice in the final period to make things a little more respectable.
MarQueis Gray’s one-yard touchdown run capped a five play, 58 yard drive to put the Gophers on the scoreboard with 7:39 left in the game. Both teams would punt again before the Huskers got the ball back at their own 9. A fumbled exchange between Ron Kellogg III and Braylon Heard gave the Gophers the ball at the Nebraska 6 and Gray would run in on the next play to make it 38-14 Nebraska and prove to be the final points on the afternoon. It was a dominating effort for three full quarters as the Huskers powered their way to a fifth-straight win and for once, devoid of any second half double-digit deficits to overcome. Husker Nation got a much needed breather in the home finale with the 24-point Nebraska win.
Pelini called the win a ‘pretty complete effort’, and one would be inclined to agree. Martinez and the passing game were stellar, as he went 21-of-29 for 308 yards and two touchdowns against the nation’s seventh-best pass defense entering Saturday. The running game was a little behind previous week’s production, with Abdullah running for 79 yards to break the 1,000 mark for the season, but Nebraska tallied a season-low 133 yards on 47 carries as a team. The defense shined, as Minnesota didn’t eclipse the 100-yard mark of total offense until late in the third quarter and finished with just 177 yards in the game. If it weren’t for a late Nebraska turnover giving Minnesota a six-yard field, the Huskers would have likely grabbed their second 30-point win of the season.
This game won’t necessarily be remembered for Nebraska’s dominance however, but rather for the send off given to Tom Osborne in his final home game as athletic director. It was a fitting tribute, as the game resembled so many previous games with Osborne at the helm-- the outcome was in little doubt by half time and the third string got to finish out the afternoon on Senior Day. The pre-game ‘Thanks Tom’ message spelled out in the East Stadium, a nice video at halftime, and messages from the likes of Barry Switzer, Clarence Thomas, Larry the Cable and others were the highlights of the gratitude shown by Husker fans for Osborne, who was likely a little uncomfortable with all of the attention. It would have helped to have an exciting game to maybe deflect some of that attention, but Nebraska was that dominating and Osborne remained in the spotlight, and rightfully so.
On to the grades we go…
Coupled together with other results from Saturday, Nebraska’s effort against Minnesota proved that the Huskers have one of the best offenses in the country. While in previous weeks Nebraska relied upon the ground game to move the ball, the passing game was the best part of the offense against Minnesota as Martinez became the all-time leading passer in school history by overtaking Zac Taylor for the top spot and raising his career total to 6,140 yards. Minnesota was bent on stopping Nebraska’s run game, so Martinez, Bell, Jamal Turner, and Quincy Enunwa responded with perhaps their most complete game of the season. Bell finished with nine catches for 136 yards and two scores, as he broke out of a relatively quiet stretch in the previous two games.
While the offense tallied just 19 yards in the fourth quarter, the game was already decided and the point had been made that the Huskers were the superior unit. I’d say the Huskers will see a sterner test next week in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes, but Iowa gave up 42 points to Michigan which eliminated them from bowl contention. Two turnovers didn’t help matters, but one was in garbage time and the other led to no points from Minnesota. The running game took the day off for the large part, but it didn’t matter too much. We’ll give the offense an A-.
Entering Saturday’s game, Donnell Kirkwood was the key cog to Minnesota’s offense as their leading rusher with 819 yards on the season. Kirkwood finished the day with seven carries for eleven yards and was a non-factor. True freshman quarterback Philip Nelson played like one for most of the game, completing just 8-of-23 passes for 59 yards with two interceptions. Minnesota had four first downs at halftime and finished with 11 for the game and didn’t crack the 100 yard mark of total offense until the final play of the third quarter.
The 177 yards of total offense allowed by the Blackshirts became the new season low, bettering the 188 yards allowed in the 23-9 win over Michigan on October 27th. While that may be remembered as the most dominating performance by the defense of the season, I’d submit Saturday’s effort against the Gophers as equally as impressive if maybe not more so. The longest play for the Gophers was a 17-yard reception by Derrick Engel in the first quarter until the fourth quarter with largely reserves and third string players in the game. You never got the feeling the Gophers were going to break out for a long play. Whether that was from play-calling or due to Nebraska’s dominance on defense, who knows—but the Blackshirts brought a little extra on Saturday. The defense gets an A as well.
The Special Teams
Nothing great for Nebraska, but nothing that hurt the team either. Turner did drop a punt that fell harmlessly out of bounds, and the Gophers couldn’t muster anything in the return game themselves. Brett Maher was trotted out to attempt a potential school-record 62-yard field goal in the second quarter with Nebraska leading 10-0, but Pelini thought better of it and opted for a punt instead. It would have been interesting to see if Maher could have hit it with a strong south wind at his back, but it was the right call at the time to punt with the lead only being ten points. Other than that, there was little drama on the day for the special teams. We’ll give them a B—nothing outstanding, but nothing detrimental either.
With one game to go against a hapless Iowa team that is now staring at its first season without a bowl since 2006, a trip to Indianapolis as Legends Division champions seems all but secured for the Huskers. Provided Nebraska can take care of business against Iowa in the second annual Heroes Game this Friday, the Huskers will meet the Wisconsin Badgers in a rematch of their memorable September 29th game in Lincoln, won 30-27 by Nebraska. Given what we saw from the Hawkeyes in their 42-17 loss to Michigan, it looks like Nebraska should be able to dominate their next door neighbors for a second straight season.
For all of the chatter after the 63-38 loss to Ohio State back on October 6th which sent Husker fans scrambling to the message boards saying the Huskers needed a new direction, Pelini and the team set their goal as nothing less than winning every remaining game on their schedule. Sure, there have been more than a few moments of trepidation and extreme uncertainty along the way, but the Huskers have themselves now two games away from their first conference championship since 1999 and their third trip to the Rose Bowl in school history. As mentioned earlier, Saturday’s win means Pelini joins not only Osborne, but Bob Devaney as the only coaches in school history to win at least nine games in each of their first five seasons. Previous weeks may have seen Nebraska play a little bit more ‘down’ to their competition in certain spots perhaps, but there was no doubt about Saturday’s outcome in the slightest once play started. Credit Pelini for having his team not having a letdown as has happened in previous seasons after big victories—the team clearly takes to his coaching and the leadership of the 29 seniors playing their final game at Memorial Stadium.
It was disappointing not to see Burkhead get at least one snap in the game, but Pelini said in his post-game press conference that they are waiting to have him back at 100 percent. Ideally, another week of rest against Iowa would leave Burkhead available for the matchup against Wisconsin and then the bowl game. Tim Marlowe did get to see the field for a few plays as well, which was good to see after an injury-filled season had taken him out of most of the year. Tim Beck’s offense continues to push the tempo and create matchup problems all over the field against its opponents. And the scary thing is, we still haven’t seen all this offense is capable of. There aren’t many defenses in the country that can stop Nebraska’s when it’s not turning the ball over or stopping itself with penalties.
But as we’ve seen throughout the year, football is a game which you can stop yourself when your opponents can’t. While that has been the case numerous times throughout the 2012 season, the win over Minnesota proved to be a nice throwback and perhaps Nebraska’s most complete effort in conference play this year. The Huskers also limited their penalties, with only five for 47 yards. There’s still room for improvement, but Saturday was a nice step in the right direction.
The Big Ten on the field did have some excitement, but off the field may have made the biggest news with potential additions of Maryland and Rutgers, according to various reports. It’s puzzling for a few reasons, but makes sense for a few more. The conference wants to break into the New York market and extend its footprint all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, so it makes sense to poach a team from the ACC and one from the Big East. Just when the conference re-alignment drama had settled down…we might be back into it and the Big Ten might be the one to start it up all over again. Now that the SEC has 14 teams, the Big Ten wants to follow suit and keep expanding its reach. Much more on this in the coming days if the report turns out to be true.
Rivalry games and rematches are always tough to predict. There could still be many twists and turns to the 2012 season, but Saturday was a nice break from all of that as the Huskers turned in their best performance of the season against a team not named Idaho State. It was a great win to send the most beloved coach in Nebraska history out on a high note into a much deserved retirement from his current job as athletic director. It was rumored that Coach Osborne would lead the team out of the tunnel and to the delight of the 85,330 in attendance, Pelini and Osborne led the team onto the field. For a senior class that meant so much to the Huskers and a coach and administrator that meant a good deal himself, Saturday was about as good as you could have envisioned…a nice break from the drama of previous weeks.