Dec. 12: The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cornhuskers (SCORE) to take home the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy.
The Gophers returned to the gridiron for their first game in 22 days. They headed to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on Scott Frost’s 2-4 Cornhuskers. The game started out in classic 11 a.m. Big Ten fashion with back-to-back punts. It quickly heated up with a Tyler Nubin interception, which led to a 26 yard Mo Ibrahim touchdown giving the Gophers a 7-0 lead. Minnesota’s next offensive drive led to a 31 yard Anders Gelecinskyj field goal extending the Gophers lead to 10. Unfortunately, after a great start, Joe Rossi’s defense reverted back to its old ways. The linebackers began to overpursue leading to Nebraska running its way to a 14-10 lead. Tanner Morgan answered with a touchdown drive highlighted by a 61 yard Cam Wiley run, and a four-yard Brevyn Spann-Ford TD. The Gophers led 17-14 heading into the break.
The second half could’ve very easily been the 2-3 Gophers best defensive half of football in 2020. Allowing only three Nebraska points is the best you can do for a struggling offense. After getting virtually shut down for his standards, Mo Ibrahim overcame some first-half injuries to carry the Gophers to a 24-17 win. The All-American RB finished with 20 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns, and he very well could have a third but opted to milk the clock to seal a Gophers win.
What we learned:
After starting the season 0-2, P.J. Fleck has led his team to win three of its last four and now sits at 3-3 for the season.
As for this week’s contest, it was the first game without Rashod Bateman for Minnesota. After beginning the year as a run-heavy team it seemed Mike Sanford Jr’s gameplan was to even lean on the run attack more against the Cornhuskers. 43 run plays were called compared to only 30 passes. Chris Autman-Bell did his best to replace Bateman’s production with 5 catches for 82 yards, and the Gophers really didn’t need much more. The running game was dominant again, with 212 yards. We even saw Cam Wiley finish with his best game as a Gopher with seven carries for 81 yards.
The defensive side of the ball continues to be a huge question mark for this Gophers team. This week was no different, but it certainly was much improved. The first quarter and third quarter were arguably the two best of the season for this team. There were little to no explosive plays, and the linebackers were playing with discipline. As for the second and fourth, it wasn’t as bad as it has been, as there were some big plays, but only enough to keep Nebraska in the game rather than take the Gophers out.
Overall this was a very promising performance on both sides of the ball, as there was clear improvement all over the field.
What is next:
Minnesota’s final regular-season opponent has not yet been officially announced. There have been rumors that the Big Ten could schedule a game with Wisconsin, but giving the current rules of playing cross-division, the Gophers would likely be slated to take on Penn State.
It will be incredibly valuable for this young Gophers team to close out this season with positive momentum going into 2021. This will happen with substantial improvement in how many games they play to close out the season. Although this year has certainly not gone how anyone has planned, a winning record could go a long way heading into next season.
*There are technically no officially requirements for bowl games in 2020, but I would have imagine a 4-3 team wouldn’t get much consideration.