Gophers Get Signature Win, Beat Ranked Nebraska 34-23
MINNEAPOLIS -- Philip Nelson rushed for two touchdowns and passed for another, guiding Minnesota to a 34-23 upset Saturday of 25th-ranked Nebraska, the first win by the Gophers since 1960 against the Cornhuskers.
Nelson made all of his seven completions count, totaling 152 yards, and carried the ball eight times for 55 yards. He spun across the goal line from the 1 with 48 seconds left to seal the victory for the Gophers (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten), who became bowl-game eligible and stopped a 16-game losing streak to the Huskers.
Taylor Martinez returned from a turf-toe injury that kept him of the last three games for the Huskers (5-2, 2-1), but he had only 16 yards rushing on eight attempts and 139 yards on 16-for-30 passing, plus one touchdown and one interception.
David Cobb gained 138 yards on 31 rushes for the Gophers, who outgained the Huskers 271-189 on the ground.
Ameer Abdullah had 165 yards on 19 carries for Nebraska.
Nelson relieved Mitch Leidner on the fourth series, continuing the quarterback rotation for Minnesota, and delivered one of the best performances of his two seasons here. He helped the Gophers improve to 12-0 when leading at halftime since coach Jerry Kill took over in 2011.
Kill watched from above in the box with his assistants, still on leave from his regular responsibilities while he’s managing his epilepsy. This was the third straight game he wasn’t in charge, with defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys taking over on the sideline. Video of Kill addressing the players in the locker room a few minutes before the game was shown live on the giant scoreboard behind the west end zone.
The Gophers credited Kill’s surprise appearance and impromptu halftime pep talk last week for spurring them to a victory at Northwestern, and they played with plenty of fire in this one, sensing the opening for their first win over one of the conference’s powerhouse programs sine Kill was hired.
They even sidestepped an ominous start, when Martinez hit Kenny Bell in stride for a 42-yard completion and Imani Cross finished the six-play drive with a short touchdown run. The Gophers went three-and-out, and the Huskers followed with a 45-yard field goal by Smith to make it 10-0.
But then the game took a forceful turn toward the home team. Leidner scored on a sneak to cap a commanding 13-play march. Nelson came in for the next possession and, on fourth-and-10 from the 33, flicked a perfect pass over the top of the defense to an outstretched Derrick Engel. He tumbled into the end zone for a 14-10 advantage, the first lead by the Gophers over the Huskers in this series since 1969.
The Gophers had gone 11 straight matchups with the Huskers, including each of the last two years as Big Ten games, without holding a lead, let alone getting a win.
Hawthorne added a field goal after Abdullah fumbled and Cedric Thompson recovered at the Nebraska 47. Then in the third quarter, Nelson started a drive with a 21-yard pass to tight end Drew Goodger, who was open on play-action fakes all afternoon, and finished it with a sneak from the 1 to put the Gophers up 24-13.
Senior Ed Olson, bothered by ankle problems the last two seasons, was back at left tackle to lead a strong push at the line for Cobb and Nelson.
On the other side, the Huskers were missing senior right guard Spencer Long, lost for the season with a knee injury in their last game. They had a hard time keeping the Gophers out of the backfield. Martinez was off target with a lot of throws, too.
They finally found a rhythm at the end of the third quarter, fueled by a 35-yard, twisting-and-spinning run by Martinez to set up a short touchdown pass to Sam Cotton that cut Minnesota’s lead to 27-20. The thousands of red-clad Nebraska fans, who filled at least one-third of the 50,000 seats, snapped to life in celebration.
The Huskers had another long drive, but Martinez’s third-down pass to the corner of the end zone for Quincy Enunwa fell incomplete as the senior slipped, forcing a third field goal by Pat Smith.
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