Nebraska Preview: #21 Cornhuskers Host Minnesota
It was a season full of promise just two weeks ago for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but after back-to-back road losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State, Big Red is at a big crossroads, as they host Minnesota in Lincoln, Saturday night.
The Huskers (7-2/4-2) fell hard, not only on the field last week at Ohio State, but in the polls as well, dropping 12 spots from number nine to number 21. Nebraska is still in first place in the West Division of the Big Ten Conference, but is now tied with Minnesota and Wisconsin, who, unlike the Huskers, can clinch the division if they win out. Nebraska needs to run the table and hope for a Badger loss in order to play in the Big Ten title game.
The Gophers (7-2/4-2) come to Lincoln riding a four-game winning streak against some of the weaker teams in the league (Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue). They've scored 31 points or more in every game during that stretch.
Minnesota has a run first offensive approach, gaining more than 200 yards on the ground in six games this season. Sophomore running back Rodney Smith is the second leading rusher in the Big Ten and leads all players with 13 touchdowns. He also added another score on a kickoff return.
Quaterback Mitch Leidner doesn't throw much (less than 20 times per game in three of the last four) and when he does he's had mixed results with five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Defensively, Minnesota is the top team in the Big 10, and third best in the nation with a plus-12 turnover margin. The Gophers have recovered a league-best 13 fumbles this season. Tai'yon Devers and Nick Rallis have two each. Rallis will miss the first half in Lincoln after being called for targeting against Purdue last week.
Minnesota is number three against the run in the league, but next to last against the pass. They have given up 18 touchdowns through the air - the most in the Big 10.
They do get to the quarterback quite regularly, with 25 sacks on the year. Six of those came against the Boilermakers last week. Linebacker Blake Cashman and lineman Steven Richardson each recorded two. Nebraska's offensive line yields the fewest sacks in the Big Ten.
Kickoff is 6:30 PM, Saturday, in Lincoln.
At Ohio State last week, things started badly for the Huskers and went downhill from there as the Buckeyes scored on a pick-six less than two minutes into the game, en route to a 31-3 halftime lead, and a 62-3 win.
OSU racked up nearly 600 yards of total offense, while holding Nebraska to just over 200.
Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong was knocked unconscious during the first half, but was later cleared at a local hospital and spent the second half watching the game from the sidelines. He is expected to play against the Gophers, Saturday.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers', Greg Sharpe, about the Ohio State loss and week's match-up with Minnesota: