LINCOLN, Neb. – All that goodwill the Gophers generated by hanging with Ohio State for most of last week's game?
All the optimism when looking at a seemingly easy stretch in their Big Ten schedule?
And all the thoughts of keeping Nebraska winless in Scott Frost's first year as Cornhuskers coach?
Not a chance.
A Nebraska team starving for its first victory in nearly a year feasted on the Gophers on Saturday afternoon in front of 89,272 at Memorial Stadium, rolling to a four-touchdown lead in the first half on their way to a 53-28 thrashing of the Gophers.
The Huskers (1-6, 1-4 Big Ten) ended a 10-game losing streak dating to last Oct. 28 against Purdue and dropped the Gophers to 3-4 and 0-4 in the conference, with a Big Ten losing streak now at six games.
Nebraska did so by throwing big play after big play at a Gophers defense that is giving up 43.3 points per game in conference games. The Huskers had 10 plays of 20 yards or longer and rolled up 659 yards of offense.
"They're very dangerous on offense, which everybody got a chance to see," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "… We didn't stop 'em tonight, at all. We didn't come close to stopping 'em."
Nebraska didn't get that win for Frost until fending off a Gophers rally from a 28-0 deficit. Behind backup quarterback Tanner Morgan, in for Zack Annexstad — who suffered an internal midsection injury and was taken to a hospital for evaluation before flying home with the team — Minnesota cut the lead to 28-22 in the third quarter.
The Huskers, however, responded with a touchdown and two-point conversion, then a fourth-down stop of the Gophers from their 3 early in the fourth quarter. Nebraska, certainly remembering its 54-21 loss at Minnesota last year, poured on 17 more points to pull away.
"It's long overdue," said Frost, whose team had lost three games by a combined 13 points. "This feels great. This is what it's supposed to feel like."
Huskers true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez completed 25 of 29 passes for 276 yards and three TDs and rushed 15 times for 125 yards and a TD. He was one of three 100-yard rushers against the Gophers. Devine Ozigbo finished with 152 yards on 11 carries, and Maurice Washington added 109 on 14 runs. Stanley Morgan Jr. caught 10 passes for 163 yards and two TDs, while Eden Prairie's JD Spielman had eight catches for 77 yards and a score.
"I saw from Martinez exactly what you saw from Martinez," Fleck said. "I think he's one of the best players in the country already."
Added linebacker Kamal Martin, "Making mental mistakes — that just can't happen."
Nebraska took a 14-0 lead on TD runs of 40 and 59 yards by Ozigbo in the first quarter. In between, the Gophers had a chance to tie it at 7-7, but Annexstad's 37-yard TD pass to Rashod Bateman was wiped out by a holding call on Jared Weyler. It was one of four first-half possessions in which the Gophers reached Huskers territory but didn't score.
"I think it's a completely different game if that's not a holding penalty," Fleck said. "You get down 28-0, and right now we're not designed to come back from that kind of deficit."
The Gophers finally scored with 52 seconds left in the first half when Annexstad hit Demetrius Douglas for a 13-yard scoring strike and Matt Morse added a two-point conversion run out of a field goal formation, trimming the lead to 28-8.
Morgan passed for 214 yards while leading the Gophers on three TD drives in the second half. He also rushed four times for 35 yards, adding another dimension to the offense, and executed a reverse flea-flicker that Seth Green caught for a 31-yard gain. Annexstad went 9-for-20 for 135 yards and a score in the first half. Tyler Johnson caught 11 passes for 184 yards.
But Nebraska, which entered the game averaging only 23.3 pointer per game, found the perfect opponent against which to break out — the Gophers and their defense. Stanley Morgan Jr., whose 67-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter made it 46-22, found it easy.
"My last touchdown, I don't even think the guy saw me run past him," he said.