Nebraska-Minnesota Quick React
It is 2:30 on Saturday, November 2? No, it's going to be a long week until the Huskers kick off again. The longest since after Wisconsin in 2011.
Three years into a conference where teams run the ball to a fault, it should be a surprise that it took this long for a low-in-the-pack Big 10 team to over-match Nebraska on both lines. Minnesota had been building to this, gaining confidence via the Bill Snyder-model of beating cupcakes in their non-conference games (8-0 the past two years). After two years of not scoring a point against Nebraska when the games were competitive, Minnesota beat Nebraska Saturday by sticking to a script: trust your size advantage in the trenches to run and limit Nebraska's possession, and hamper the Huskers' starting field position. After Nebraska's first two drives starting the Minnesota 31 and 45 respectively, the best starting field position they had was their own 28, largely because of Minnesota's kick coverage units.
There was no way the Blackshirts were going to be able to stop Minnesota's run game. Nebraska kept forcing Minnesota's running backs into the middle of the field, but no one could make a play or get off a block. Minnesota worked Wyoming's pre-snap motion plan to perfection. If Nebraska could have kept Minnesota down two scores or forced them to match score for score, the Gophers could have been pressed to throwing downfield, and their receivers can't separate when they have to play straight up. Instead, they just waited for Nebraska to overreact to play action. It's embarrassing that Nebraska lost to a team whose quarterbacks went a combined 8-for-17. Inexcusable.
In spite of typical defensive failings, the majority fault in this game should go to Quincy Enumwa and Kenny Bell. Nebraska's bell-cow receiving tandem repeatedly put catchable balls on the turf, none more costly than Bell's end zone drop right before halftime. He catches it, and the Golden Gophers have a little less evidence to convince themselves that they're better than Nebraska. Tim Beck's offense is built on the eventuality that it will get enough plays, and with those plays, Nebraska will score enough points to overcome defensive liabilities. They didn't -- Nebraska had 33 plays in the first half, and 60 plays the whole game, a shockingly low total. Don't drop the ball on third down, and drives get extended. Taylor Martinez bears less blame for this loss, as he did not get the help from his offensive line and receivers. In fact, he's much better looking downfield when he faces pressure.
Why not run the ball more? Without Spencer Long, Beck probably didn't feel comfortable enough to pound Imani Cross inside against Ra'Shede Hageman, and that took a lot of play action away, as well as stable running yards. Ameer Abdullah topped at 19 carries, so it's not unreasonable to think Nebraska could have called his number a few more times.
I'm trying to think of a point of comparison for this loss, and the closest thing that comes to my head is Oklahoma State 2007, when a Cowboys teams that would go 7-6 came into Lincoln and started the ball rolling that lead to Bill Callahan being fired. While Nebraska did everything wrong that day, what remains consistent between that loss and this one is that was that Nebraska played down to an opponent that they had no reason to fear.
Is Bo Pelini officially on the hot seat? The ball that would roll Pelini out of town is gathering as much steam on the edge as it possibly can. It's been pretty close before, like after that loss to Wisconsin in 2011, and right now, he is one bad loss from that boulder falling off the cliff and things falling apart.
The biggest problem for Pelini is right now, there is a Nebraska alum who is running the nation's most exciting offense for a top-5 team. This year, Kliff Kingsbury revitalized Texas Tech, as an-alum-now-head-coach bringing back to the Red Raiders what they loved about their glory days. Think Scott Frost couldn't do the same? Nebraska's personnel is perfectly tailored to run Oregon's fast-paced, run-spread style.
Does Nebraska have a better chance against Northwestern? Yes, because they are at home against Northwestern, who won't over-match them on the lines of scrimmage the way Minnesota did. However, Nebraska cannot afford as many dropped passes and mental mistakes, and even if they play poorly, they have to step up when they have a chance to win. As over-matched as they were today, they still could have won in the fourth quarter. That's the bright side.
Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on Twitter @derekjohnson05.