The Nebraska Cornhuskers looked strong in their 27-point beat down of the Minnesota Gophers on Saturday – really, really strong. Everything from the passing game to the running attack to the line play to the defense looked to be noticeably better than it had been in weeks past.
All of that could have been the direct byproduct of a week-long reflection during the Huskers’ off-week, or perhaps a renewed sense of urgency, what with the end of the year fast-approaching.
Or, maybe Minnesota is so amazingly atrocious that any team could’ve run up 41 points on them.
Still, a win is a win regardless of whether it comes in historic fashion versus the Ohio State Buckeyes or in an absolute romp against the hapless Gophers. And, more importantly, it offered one and all yet another opportunity to gauge just how good Nebraska looks heading into another rough stretch during which they’ll have to play the Michigan State Spartans, Penn State Nittany Lions and Michigan Wolverines. (The latter two will be road games.)
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With all of that in mind, here is the good, bad and ugly from this week’s 41-14 victory:
Two weeks after they came up with a superb second half effort against the Buckeyes, the Huskers offense came up with an equally great first half against the Gophers. Throwing out Austin Cassidy’s one fumble return for a score, the Nebraska offense managed to lob 27 points on the board by virtue of their sheer effectiveness, grit and, in the case of one peculiar first quarter play, blind luck.
The Huskers offense understandably cooled down in the second half, and the starters didn’t even bother to come out in the fourth quarter by which point the squad was up 41-7.
Rex Burkhead was excellent once again, further solidifying himself as the best running back in the Big Ten with a 117 yards and a touchdown. In fact, if you want to get nitpicky, the outing wasn’t even one of Burkhead’s better ones of the last few games considering he got his yardage on 4.8 yards per carry, substantially less than the 5.8 he averaged for the year coming into the game.
The other major piece of Nebraska’s offensive puzzle, quarterback Taylor Martinez, had a solid game as well, putting up 162 yards and a touchdown through the air, and 59 yards on the ground. His low points of the game came on a bad pitch to Burkhead on the first drive of the outing -- that resulted in a seven yard loss -- and a few poorly thrown balls down the field which didn’t come close to the intended receivers.
Most importantly, the offensive line was strong – again. They led the way as the Huskers racked up 346 yards on the ground for the game, and continued a trend of improvement that is as impressive as it is crucial to the team’s future success.
The only bad points of the game for the squad were their periodic stints of ineffectiveness on the offensive end. Because Minnesota was terrible on both sides of the ball, the whole outing was largely a game where Nebraska was playing against itself. That didn’t leave much for the defense to do, and it explained why the offense would get a bit “wild” once in a while.
Twice in the first half the Huskers failed to score a touchdown and had to settle for field goals. That’s not a huge flaw, obviously, but given the caliber of defense they were playing you would have liked to see them punch it in a bit more. And the aforementioned debacle on the first Nebraska drive of the game was mildly startling if for no other reason than how badly it was executed by two of the more important pieces of the offensive puzzle – Martinez and Burkhead.
That being said, most of the suggestions regarding this game are minor tweaks – not major necessary adjustments. The squad was excellent on Saturday, and the final score reflected that excellence.
There was nothing ugly about Saturday’s game for the Huskers, but there was plenty of ugly for their opponents.
Despite the fact that Nebraska was theoretically the road team, it was very clear that they were the fan favorites in TCF Stadium. More than half of the people in attendance were obviously Husker fans and the lack of momentum that Gophers experienced all game long could be partially attributed to that.
Fans aside, when something like this happens – you know you’re in for a rough day.
And, finally, this took the Gophers down to 1-6 for the year and in effect confirmed that they’re in for a long rebuilding project.
If that isn’t ugly, I don’t know what is.