After a week off, the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Minnesota Gophers look to get back into the swing of things this Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Huskers come into this game looking to make a statement for the second half of the season. Despite getting blown out by in-conference rivals the Wisconsin Badgers, and needing a historic comeback to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes, Nebraska has been treated very generously in both the AP and Coaches Polls and continues to hold steady at No. 13. Given that the squad has essentially already partaken in the toughest two-game stretch of the year (the aforementioned Wisconsin-Ohio State back-to-backer), theoretically, it should all be downhill from here.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez has taken a lot of punishment this season, but he was undeniably instrumental in leading the charge in that comeback versus Ohio State. After linebacker Lavonte David came up with a huge takeaway in the third quarter, it was Martinez who spearheaded the offensive attack that ultimately brought the Huskers back from 21 points down.
On the season, Martinez has accumulated six touchdowns and six interceptions through the air, and nine rushing touchdowns on the ground. As such, expect him to exploit Minnesota’s awful defense by dashing all over the field with impunity.
Also, keep an eye on running back Rex Burkhead who has been dubbed by many as the top running back in the Big Ten. Aside from a couple of weak performances in the early going, Burkhead has easily been the most consistent piece on the offensive side of the ball for the Huskers. Behind a constantly-improving offensive line, it would be shocking to see Burkhead not pull out at least two scores against the Gophers.
The Huskers are ranked No. 22 in the country in points per game and, as such, look for Martinez and Co. to dominate on Saturday. Nebraska will need that big effort from the offense to compensate for the lagging defense, which has consistently underperformed all year long.
Minnesota, meanwhile, comes into this one hoping to right the ship after a 1-5 overall, 0-2 conference start. The Gophers defense has been absolutely atrocious all season and, heading into Week 8, they rank 109th in the country in totals points allowed. Given Martinez and Burkhead’s proven ability to when it comes to running the ball, it’s safe to say that the defense will have a lot of trouble keeping the opposition from putting points on the board.
Fortunately for Minnesota, Nebraska’s defense hasn’t been up to stuff either. The Huskers rank in the bottom half nationally in most of the important statistical categories and the loss of Jared Crick only opens them up to attack even more. Then again, the Gophers only average 18 points per game and they still haven’t put together any semblance of a quality offense on display through six games. Maybe Minnesota can make things interesting for a little while due to sheer luck and the potential difficulties that Nebraska’s defense may experience, but there is no way they’re escaping Saturday with a victory.
The game is due to kickoff at 3:30 p.m. eastern time.