LINCOLN, NEB. - They honored Tom Osborne during Saturday's Cornhuskers game. Then they played a game with the Gophers that must have looked awfully familiar to the Hall of Fame coach.
The Gophers didn't move within 38 yards of the end zone until they trailed by 38 points, while Nebraska rolled up more than 400 yards of offense, leading to a throwback final score of 38-14.
Talk about a historic relic: Osborne, who led the Cornhuskers onto the field before the game as part of ceremonies to mark his impending retirement as Nebraska's athletic director, coached against the Gophers six times during his career, and managed a 328-27 total score.
Bo Pelini is the coach now, and he's got the Cornhuskers within one victory of a Legends Division championship after Taylor Martinez led a nearly flawless offensive performance. The junior quarterback completed 21 of 29 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns, and led the Huskers to scores on four of their first six possessions.
"I haven't seen Ohio State, but [Nebraska is] playing as good football as any teams in the Big Ten," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said after the Gophers' least competitive loss of the season. "We don't have any excuses. They just dominated us on the line of scrimmage."
That's not a huge surprise, given the teams' history. The Gophers have lost 16 consecutive games to Nebraska and have been outscored 277-28 in their past seven visits to Memorial Stadium.
The Gophers (6-5, 2-5 Big Ten) went three-and-out on their first two possessions and trailed 10-0 before they registered a first down. They could not run or pass -- they finished with 87 yards on 29 carries and completed only 10 of 28 passes for 90 yards. The overall yardage gap was 444-177, and it never seemed that close. The Gophers punted away all six first-half possessions, and punted four more times in the second half before finally ruining the Huskers' shutout with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"You can't go three-and-out, certainly not against a team that averages [almost] 500 yards of offense," Kill said. "It's a pretty tall task to ask [the defense] to be on the field so much."
Did the Gophers' fourth-quarter touchdowns offer any comfort? "Not really," said MarQueis Gray, who scored both of them. "The game was over."
That's true, though the late scores disappointed the 85,330 in attendance -- the record 325th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. Gray scored his first rushing touchdown since September by lining up at tailback, taking a direct snap and plowing into the end zone from a yard out.
When Nebraska's second-team offense fumbled deep in its own territory in the final minutes, the Gophers pounced on it. Gray immediately turned it into a face-saving touchdown, running the ball in from the 6.
But the game was long out of reach by then. The 16th-ranked Huskers (9-2, 6-1), needing only to win at Iowa on Friday to claim a berth against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, rolled down the field with ease in the first half. Martinez threw a 36-yard scoring strike to Kenny Bell and set up the other two Nebraska scores with a pair of 29-yard completions that moved the ball inside the Gophers 5. On both occasions, fullback Imani Cross did the honors of carrying the ball across the goal line, one from 3 yards out and the other from the 1.
"Martinez did a great job of throwing the ball around the field," Kill said. "From my standpoint, I think he knows their offense inside and out. ... We know he's got great athleticism, but he's got command of their offense."
The defeat could have been worse, too: Nebraska ran an effective two-minute drill to close the first half, moving 64 yards in the final 90 seconds to reach the Gophers 1, but Cross was stuffed at the goal line as the clock ran out.
Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson had little luck against a defense that leads the nation in completion percentage. The freshman completed only eight of 23 passes for 59 yards, and he was picked off twice, his first interceptions since his debut in Wisconsin last month. The second of those interceptions, on a pass that slipped through receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts' hands, was returned 48 yards by cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
"I don't think [the loss] has a lot to do with the quarterback," Kill said. "We got beat at the line of scrimmage, period. Dominated."