As a fifth-year senior, Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman understood the magnitude of Saturday’s 34-23 victory over Nebraska as well as anybody.
“I don’t know if we’ve beat Nebraska since, what?” he asked, during the postgame news conference. The answer was 1960.
“So you do the math,” Hageman said. “It’s a long time.”
Hageman was a big part of the reason the Gophers were able to shut down the nation’s 10th-ranked scoring offense. Nebraska had averaged 42.7 points per game, but after jumping to a 10-0 lead early in the first quarter, the Cornhuskers had a hard time moving the ball.
In the second quarter, Hageman sacked Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez but was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty. So on the next play, Hageman sacked Martinez again for an 8-yard loss.
“I did grab onto his facemask, but I thought I had to help my team and come back and fight adversity,” Hageman said. “I got off the ball angry and just attacked my man, and just made a play pretty much. You really don’t think when you’re out there.”
Hageman took another costly facemask penalty later in the second quarter but came back later in that drive and chased down speedy running back Ameer Abdullah with a key tackle.
That helped hold Nebraska to a field goal right before the half, allowing the Gophers to take a 17-13 lead to the locker room.
“I’m not going to worry about the facemask [penalties] because they were effort plays,” Gophers acting head coach Tracy Claeys said. “Everybody wants to point out what [Hageman] doesn’t do well. He gets better and better every week, and I’ll put him up against any D-lineman in the Big Ten.
“If they had a draft for D-lineman, I’m telling you, I would not want to play against Ra’Shede with the way he’s playing and how much better he’s getting each week.”
The 6-6, 311-pound Hageman added another key tackle for a loss in the fourth quarter, when he corralled Nebraska speedster Jordan Westerkamp after a short pass from Martinez. Hageman was shaken up on the play but later returned.
“I got the wind knocked out of me, but I was able to bounce back,” Hageman said.
Asked if Hageman was indeed OK, Claeys said, “As far as I know — I hope he is.”
Hageman broke up three passes in last week’s victory over Northwestern, including one that he grabbed for an interception. He has just two sacks this season, but he ranks among the Big Ten leaders with 8½ tackles for a loss.
“I definitely hold myself accountable for not making a lot of the plays,” Hageman said. “But I’ve been improving and watching the film, and the coaches are critiquing my game. And I feel like I’ve definitely seen improvement in myself.”