In a flashback to glory days of the past, Nebraska sent retiring athletic director Tom Osborne off to a second retirement by dominating a bowl eligible conference opponent. But that's where the similarities end. This wasn't Missouri or Kansas that Nebraska beat...it was Minnesota. Nebraska only rushed for 133 yards on the day, but passed for 311.
Not quite sure what to make of the Huskers on offense today; Minnesota is giving up 185 yards a game on the ground in conference play, and Nebraska couldn't even get within 50 yards of that number. Yet the Gophers were third in the conference in pass defense and Taylor Martinez completed 21 of 29 passes with a gale blowing out of the southwest.
Nebraska's rushing attack was definitely a disappointment today, especially in the second half when the Huskers were trying to run clock. Eleven carries for 32 yards in the third quarter? Yuck - especially when 23 came on one Ameer Abdullah run. Thankfully Taylor Martinez brought his A-game with his arm this week, completing 72% of his passes with no interceptions. Kenny Bell caught nine passes for two touchdowns, though his day ended with getting clobbered over the middle. Probably just got the wind knocked out of him, but it made it clear it was time to clear the benches in the second half.
That's where the game got ugly. Ron Kellogg only completed 1 of 4 passes as the entire offense ground to a halt; the Huskers only gained 19 yards of total offense with the reserves in the game. If anybody is still holding to that tired line that Taylor Martinez should have been benched, it's time to thrown in the towel. And let's make it clear: Taylor Martinez is the most important player on Nebraska's roster; if he goes down to injury, this season would essentially be over.
The story of this game is the defense. Minnesota went ONE for 13 on third down today, and it started with the first possession of the game. Gopher freshman quarterback Phillip Nelson sprinted nine yards on a naked bootleg, yet the Blackshirts still forced a punt. The Gophers couldn't really run or throw the ball until the reserves came in late. It was a solid performance on all levels from my perspective: defensive line, linebackers, and secondary. Even when the Blackshirts made a mistake, things tended to work out anyway. In the third quarter, Nebraska mixed up the defense with a three man line and moved Eric Martin out wide to cover a tight end. Martin drops the coverage, and the receiver is running free over the middle. Nelson throws high, and the wide open receiver deflects the ball to Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Easy interception, and 48 yards later, the Huskers are up 38-0.
Nebraska needed to break the streak of having bad first half performances, and today fit the bill. Nebraska was dominant from the opening kick, and this game was never really in doubt. Did the tribute to Tom Osborne give the team that extra spark? We'll never know. It was a fitting tribute to the man that has meant so much to Nebraska football over the years.
So guess what...Nebraska is 9-2 and facing hapless Iowa on Friday for the B1G's west division title. Not bad for a team that some people thought would only win eight this season...especially for those people who wrote this team off after the UCLA and Ohio State losses. And after today's results, those losses are actually looking pretty good now. There are only two undefeated teams left in the country: Notre Dame and Ohio State. UCLA just clinched a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. If Stanford beats UCLA next weekend, those two teams will play again six days later for the Rose Bowl berth. If UCLA beats Stanford, the Bruins head to Oregon.
But let's not worry about the Rose Bowl just yet. Beat Iowa, then beat Wisconsin. First things first.