LINCOLN, NEB. -- The Gophers took a 17-10 lead into halftime against Nebraska on Saturday night, keeping a crowd of 90,456 at Memorial Stadium subdued.
Emmit Carpenter hit a 42-yard field goal as time expired on the half, stretching Minnesota’s lead, in a battle to stay alive in the Big Ten West race. The Gophers took advantage after Caleb Lightbourn shanked a punt that took a bad bounce and went minus-2 yards.
Minnesota outgained Nebraska for the half 172-137. The Gophers also had the ball for 18:58, compared to 11:02 for Nebraska.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner completed 9-of-14 passes for 105 yards, and Rodney Smith had 13 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. The 55 yards put Smith at 1,009 for the season. Drew Wolitarsky had five catches for 72 yards.
Tommy Armstrong Jr., returned from a concussion, and completed 10-of-14 passes for 84 yards for Nebraska.
Nebraska had two costly penalties on Minnesota’s opening drive, helping the Gophers go 75 yards for a touchdown. The Gophers were ready to punt from midfield, but Nebraska was flagged for having 12 men on the field, gifting a first down.
A passing interference penalty on third down gave the Gophers another new set of downs. Smith finished that 14-play, seven minute, 33-second drive with a 3-yard run.
Nebraska got the ball back and trimmed the lead to 7-3, but there was another costly flag on that drive. De’Mornay Pierson-El was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty after a long run by Armstrong.
With senior right tackle limping, the Gophers had trouble getting their running game going. They had to punt on their next drive, and then Nebraska took the lead on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to freshman running back Tre Bryant.
The touchdown came on a fourth-and-2 play, and Bryant was uncovered coming out of the backfield. Two plays earlier, Jalen Myrick had just missed a pick six, when he jumped the route on an Armstrong pass to Jordan Westerkamp.
Two drives later, the Gophers went back in front with a 1-yard touchdown sneak by Leidner. Smith had the big play on the drive with a 31-yard run.