After a difficult six games, the Nebraska Cornhuskers needed an easy win.
Coming into the year with the heavy expectations of Husker Nation on their shoulders, the players felt the need to dominate everyone and anyone in sight.
They were able to blow out the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs with ease in the first game of the year; however, it would only get harder from there. Against the Fresno State Bulldogs and Washington Huskies, the Huskers got far more competition than they bargained for. Then, after another fairly easy victory against the Wyoming Cowboys, Nebraska got blown out in their first conference game of the year versus the Wisconsin Badgers.
They bounced back strong the following week and were able to pull out a historic victory against the Ohio State Buckeyes to go 1-1 on the year within the Big Ten, but that game was the epitome of a “hard-fought” win.
Coming out of their off-week, the Huskers needed an easy win. They needed a Chattanooga-like outing to boost their confidence and give them some momentum heading into a grueling rest of the year where they have to play against the likes of the Michigan State Spartans, Penn State Nittany Lions and Michigan Wolverines.
That easy win came in the form of a “road game” versus the Minnesota Gophers in Week 8. On both the offensive and defensive ends, Nebraska absolutely dominated the opposition with impunity. Quarterback Taylor Martinez was efficient and didn’t have a single interception for the outing, and running back Rex Burkhead surpassed the 100-yard plateau as he ran all over the Gophers at will.
More important than the offense’s feats, though, was the fact that the defense got its mojo back a little back. Coming off a week where they lost preseason All-American and unit leader Jared Crick, the rest of the Huskers knew that they would have to step up and compensate for the loss.
And that’s precisely what safety Austin Cassidy did, as he put forth the marquee heads-up play of the game when he scooped up a loose fumble and ran it in for a touchdown to extend his team’s lead going into halftime.
“When you shut a team out in the first half, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it feels good,” said Cassidy after the game.
“When you go out there and you can shut some guys down for any amount of time, that’s encouraging and that helps build that confidence.”
The Gophers had to punt the ball away on their first four drives of the game and, really, quarterback MarQueis Gray couldn’t get anything going all day. For the outing, he only had 67 yards on 17 carries and 122 passing yards on 50 percent efficiency. Minnesota also only had 254 yards of offense for the game – it was Nebraska’s first truly strong defensive showing of the year.
Ultimately the responsibility of replacing Crick fell on freshman Chris Rome in long spurts, and Terrence Moore and Thad Randle in shorter ones. Given the circumstances they were forced to deal with, the defensive unit handled everything well.
“It was a lot of fun being the first one out there and setting the tone and getting business taken care of,” Rome said.
After the game, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini expressed a certain amount of satisfaction with the way that his defense looked after the game. The confidence, the swagger – it appeared to be back.
“They weren’t hoopin’ and hollerin’,” he said. “Our guys were happy. Another day at the office is their approach. Everyone in that locker room knows there’s no one in there that played a perfect game and we’ve just got to keep upping our level.”