Nebraska Manhandled, Mauled, and Mortified by Minnesota and the Mood is for Moos to Make a Move
In perhaps the most embarrassing display of Husker football in my lifetime, Nebraska lost on the road to Minnesota 54-21. The effort by the Husker players and coaches was pathetic. Broadcaster Matt Davison called it “the low point in Husker football.” What were the Husker coaches thinking calling three timeouts at the end of the game down 33 points? Is that how Nebraska football is represented? Minnesota was ranked 119th in the nation in Total Offense and gained 514 yards (100+ more yards than they have made all year). The Gophers were 101st in Scoring Offense and the 54 points was their best effort since they defeated lowly Indiana State in September 2016 by a 58-28 score. With games at Penn State and at home against a physical Iowa club, it may get even worse as the Huskers likely plummet to a 4-8 season. Mike Riley is now 19-17 in his tenure and even his most ardent supporters can’t be pleased. It appears quite evident that the Nebraska coaches have lost the team. Riley refused to admit in his postgame presser that the team wasn’t prepared emotionally or that they quit, but it is very hard to argue otherwise. Stick a fork in Riley. He is done and hopefully AD Bill Moos is reaching out to possible candidates.
The game began poorly for the Huskers as Minnesota returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and proceeded to gain 311 yards in the first half on the way to 30 points. Minnesota averaged 10.8 yards per carry in the first half and with 409 total rushing yards averaged 9.1 yards per carry for the game. The defensive play was ridiculously unacceptable against the second worst offense in the Big Ten. How bad is it when the Gopher quarterback, Demry Croft, is the leading rusher, gaining 183 yards on just 10 carries including jaunts of 64 and 73 yards? Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco’s sparring in the past week with former DC Mark Banker about tackling seems laughable at this point as apparently the current scheme doesn’t include that as a requirement.
On offense, Tanner Lee (13 for 18 for 174 yards and a TD) had a serviceable first half but did not return for the second half as he was ill with an impact migraine. I hope he recovers well, but he was joined by many Husker fans who felt ill at that point as well. Down 16 points, Patrick O’Brien (12 for 18 for 137) started the third quarter and had a few decent throws but was sacked 6 times for 41 yards in losses. That didn’t help Nebraska’s rushing total of just 69 yards but at least O’Brien gained as many yards as he lost. The offense failed on three 4th and 1s to end scoring threats, but did get their first rushing touchdown since the Illinois game. I’m not sure why the coaches thought that the smaller back Mikale Wilbon was the better choice over Devine Ozigbo in those situations or that a pass on 4th and 1 was the answer. Ozigbo (10 carries for 37 yards) led the meager rushing attack and he scored the 4th quarter TD. Wilbon (10 carries for 28 yards) finished a 75 yard drive on the Huskers initial possession with a 1-yard score. Wilbon was led into the hole by offensive lineman Boe Wilson, who switched numbers and was a fullback for the play. I’m not sure why that play couldn’t have been repeated on a couple of those 4th and short plays.
One player who has not quit and continues to shine is wide receiver JD Spielman, who returned home to Minneapolis and turned in a sparkling performance. Spielman caught 9 passes for 141 yards which allowed him to set Nebraska freshman receiving totals with receptions (49) and yards (734) eclipsing Nate Smith's 2005 marks in both categories. With his effort, Spielman is just one catch shy of reaching the Nebraska single season top ten list. Spielman also totaled a career‐high 291 all‐purpose yards today, including 141 receiving yards and 150 yards on kickoff returns. He now has 1,445 all‐purpose yards this season, breaking a Nebraska freshman record for all‐purpose yards previously set by Ahman Green in 1995. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when an opponent kicks off ten times, but there were not too many positives in this game other than Spielman.
Stanley Morgan Jr. (4 catches for 37 yards) now has 24 straight games with a reception, the fifth‐longest streak in school history. De’Mornay Pierson‐El (3 catches for 63 yards) had a 44‐yard reception on a crossing route in the first quarter and moved up two spots to 11th on the NU career receptions list at 93 catches. Tight end Tyler Hoppes (4 catches for 33 yards and a TD) now has 24 receptions, eight catches shy of the NU tight end record of 32 catches by Mike McNeill in 2008.
Defensively, there were virtually no highlights in a game so thoroughly dominated by the opposition. Safety Antonio Reed had a career‐high 15 tackles in today’s game, including eight before halftime. He may also have had about that many misses. As I have mentioned before, it is rarely a good sign when a safety is leading the team in tackles. To add to that point, safety Joshua Kalu had five tackles in today’s game to increase his career tackle total to 203. Kalu is the sixth defensive back in Nebraska history with 200 career tackles. Linebacker Chris Weber (5 tackles including 1 for loss) did not start but played gamely though injured. Ben Stille only had 2 tackles but one of them was for a 14-yard sack. He may be one of the very few bright spots at this point for the Blackshirts. Very little pressure and poor coverage is a bad combination. When combined with poor gap responsibility and very poor tackling, you are going to have a long day and only get off the field when the other team scores. Bob Diaco, you’ve got some explaining to do.
Special Teams also played poorly highlighted by the opening kickoff taken to the house. This was the first kickoff return for a touchdown against Nebraska since USC’s Adoree Jackson had a 98‐yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Nebraska in the 2014 Holiday Bowl. Throw in a punt interference by Jeremiah Stovall setting up the Gophers at the 49-yard line and giving up 157 yards on four kickoffs and the results are self-evident. Caleb Lightbourn, who one of the commentators referred to as “Lightbulb”, averaged 39 yards on just three punts as the Huskers were two for six on 4th down attempts. Drew Brown did not have a touchback in four kickoffs. As mentioned earlier, JD Spielman had 150 yards in 7 returns to add to his all-purpose yard total.
There is very little to look forward to at this point other than the end of the season. If Rodney Smith and Demry Croft can rush for 317 yards against the Huskers, what might Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley be able to do? I’m just glad it’s not supposed to be a night game next Saturday in State College. It is a very tough time to be a Husker fan and it’s probably not much fun to be a player now either. We will weather through this and survive. A new coach will soon be named and then I trust the Huskers will once again be able to thrive. I’m trying to keep the faith as I believe the current leadership will be able to put us in a better position to win. Go Big Red!!
ThotDoc's Brain Droppings on the Minnesota Game
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