Most people thought it wasn't going to be much of a game, and the 34-0 halftime score certainly confirmed it. But frankly, it wasn't so much that Nebraska played so well, but rather that Minnesota played that poorly. That's not to say the Huskers played poorly today...there was a lot of good things we saw on the field. But the biggest reason the score got out of hand was Minnesota's mistakes.
Example 1: Nebraska faces 3rd & 10. Minnesota tries to jump the snap, but fails to get back before the snap and gets flagged for offsides. Despite going backwards at the snap, the penalty negates a sack of Martinez. Instead of punting, Rex Burkhead gets the first down. Nebraska goes on to get a field goal.
Example 2: After the Huskers went up 10-0 in the first quarter, Minnesota's Duane Bennett was tackled by his own teammate at the Gopher 25 yard line. No other Huskers were in position, and Bennett probably would have gained another ten yards on the return.
Example 3: MarQueis Gray fumbles twice; the first, returned by Austin Cassidy for a touchdown, and the second on fourth down ended Minnesota's best drive of the first half.
With an opponent playing so poorly, Nebraska did what good teams do...pounce. The Huskers racked up 330 yards in the first half. So don't get the wrong idea...Nebraska outplayed the Gophers on both sides of the ball in that first half.
Second half, Nebraska seemed to let up on the gas. Maybe it was the big lead; maybe Minnesota regrouped and played their best football since losing to Southern Cal 19-17 in their season opener. With a seemingly healthy MarQueis Gray back at quarterback, the Gophers aren't as bad as they appeared in recent weeks.
So what did we learn today? You have to like how the Huskers came out and took it to Minnesota early in the game. Taylor Martinez threw the ball fairly well with a glove on his throwing hand. We didn't see Stanley Jean-Baptiste get burned in his first start.
Early on, I didn't think the Husker offensive line blocked all that well, especially on pass protection. Martinez took a few hits early on that he shouldn't have had to. But Martinez looked fairly good throwing the ball today. One of his worst throws was redeemed when Tim Marlowe made a spectacular one handed grab. But Nebraska's first drive of the second half ended when Kenny Bell, Marlowe, and Jamal Turner couldn't make very makeable catches. I think Tim Beck had a "Tin Cup" moment, telling Taylor Martinez to give him another (deep) ball rather than take a safer play to keep the drive alive. So while Martinez's 13-for-22 passing doesn't look that good, there were so many drops today that you had to wonder if Ted Gilmore had flown to Minneapolis today.
My biggest concern about Martinez's play today was two pitches in the option game. That fourth-and-one botched pitch turned out golden...but that was purely a lucky bounce. (Is that even the correct ruling? I would think that on fourth down, the ball should have been marked where Nebraska last touched it, not where it went out of bounds. But I'm not an official and I'm not a rulesmaker.) That impromptu pitch on third and goal from the Gopher one yard line was a bad decision that fortunately bounced into Rex Burkhead's hands.
Burkhead was steady and solid once again, and Kenny Bell got our attention with a nifty 82 yard reverse for a touchdown. Why show that play today, asked former DoubleExtraPoint blogger Jeffie Husker. Good question, except that perhaps there are other things to show out of that besides just faking the reverse. On defense, the biggest concern was either Alfonzo Dennard or Daimion Stafford blew the coverage on DaJon McKnight. Couldn't tell from the video review. Doesn't matter; it just better not happen next week against B.J. Cunningham.
Speaking of Michigan State, how about that finish against Wisconsin? How much does Sparty have left in their tank after defeating Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin in October? We'll find out next Saturday in Lincoln.