Gophers-Nebraska series goes from rivalry to rout-fest

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 22, 2011 - 11:33 AM

The Gophers and Nebraska meet for the first time since 1990 in a series once ruled by Minnesota. But the Huskers have asserted their dominance, scoring nearly 500 points in the past 10 meetings.

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Gophers running back Darrell Thompson was buried under an avalanche of white-shirted Cornhuskers in 1989.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The Gophers football team enters Saturday's homecoming game against Nebraska as a 25-point underdog and loser of 14 consecutive games to the Cornhuskers, including a 71-point drubbing that ranks as the worst loss in school history.

The series has become a one-sided affair, which actually is how it always has gone. Except it used to be the Gophers who carried the big stick.

Believe it or not, the Gophers own a 29-20-2 advantage in the series, despite the current double-digit losing streak. Of course, much of their success predates World War II during the grainy film heyday of Gophers football.

Heck, former Gopher Bob McNamara doesn't know what it's like to lose to the Huskers. He played from 1951 to '54 and went 3-0 against Nebraska.

McNamara likes to use that personal trivia on occasion.

"I'll see if I can make a bet, see if anyone will believe me," he said.

Saturday's game marks the 52nd meeting in the series, which began in 1900. The Gophers have played Nebraska, which joined the Big Ten this season, twice as much as any other nonconference opponent. In fact, the Gophers have played Nebraska more times than they have Ohio State or Michigan State.

The geographic location of the two schools made it a logical nonconference matchup.

"We saw them as rivals," said McKinley Boston, a former Gophers player and athletic director. "Our games were always close. We were really competitive."

Judge Dickson played on the last Gophers team to defeat Nebraska, a 26-14 victory in Lincoln in 1960 when the Cornhuskers were ranked No. 12 nationally. That game held extra significance for Dickson, a running back who was recruited by Nebraska. His older brother, Joe, had played for the Cornhuskers but left the program after having a bad experience.

"I think the only reason I saw a rivalry with Nebraska was because I didn't like them," Dickson said. "It's not like an Iowa or Michigan where it's really rooted in a good tradition."

The Gophers-Nebraska series stopped being competitive in the 1970s. The Huskers have won the past 10 meetings by a combined score of 489-58. That shift coincided with the end of the Bob Devaney era and the beginning of Tom Osborne's, two coaches who turned Nebraska into a national power in college football.

Since 1970, the Huskers have won five national championship and 408 games -- 25 more victories than any other school. The program has produced 107 All-Americas.

"That's why it's always fun to say how great we were [because] Nebraska kicked the heck out of everybody," McNamara said.

One memorable rout

One of those you-know-what kickings remains etched in Gophers lore. In 1983, Nebraska came to town as the nation's top-ranked team with a blue-chip roster that included a Heisman Trophy winner (Mike Rozier), Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner (Dean Steinkuhler), All-America wingback (Irving Fryar) and star quarterback (Turner Gill).

The result was an 84-13 Huskers victory that still elicits a range of emotions from the Gophers involved.

Chuck Dickerson, the Gophers defensive coordinator that season, declined an interview request, saying he had no desire to "relive" that nightmare.

"Oh boy," said former linebacker Pete Najarian, who finished the game with 26 tackles. "I don't know how fond those memories are, but that game may have even taken a few years off my life."

Live by the blitz ... die by the blitz

Dickerson presumably realized his unit was so overmatched that he devised a scheme heavy on blitzes to try to contain Nebraska's option attack.

"Minnesota's defensive coordinator decided to blitz us almost every play," Osborne recalled. "It was a situation where they either held us to no gain if they guessed right or in many cases it was a touchdown."

Statistics illustrate Osborne's claim. Nebraska scored 84 points despite having the ball for only 22 minutes, 35 seconds in possession time. The Huskers rolled up 790 total yards, including 595 rushing; both marks still are records by a Gophers opponent.

Gill rushed for 100 yards on four carries. Rozier had 196 yards rushing on 15 carries. Fryar, who went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 NFL draft, caught two passes for 138 yards.

"We were literally the meat for the day, unfortunately," Najarian said. "We just didn't have an answer for anything that they had. It was a long day."

The Gophers were so consumed with stopping Rozier and the option that they literally forgot to cover Fryar on one play. That too resulted in an easy touchdown.

"I'll never forget it," Najarian said. "I was standing at middle linebacker and I looked in the eyes of Turner Gill. He looked to his left. I looked to my right and I see Irving Fryar virtually jumping up and down, waving his arms because no one was there. That wasn't good."

Osborne said he began substituting in the second quarter and played every player who traveled to the game.

"In the fourth quarter, we did have to put some first-team players back in, not to run up the score but simply because we had some [backups] that couldn't go anymore," Osborne said.

Gallows humor

Najarian, now a successful businessman who is a CNBC contributor and founder of Optionmonster, said he still gets asked about that game quite often. Enough time has passed that he can laugh about it now.

"It can only be looked at as a source of learning and humor at this point," he said. "It was by far one of the most brutal games ever for anybody at any collegiate level, probably at any sports level. The memory of seeing 21 points every single quarter for four quarters has definitely been burned into my memory for life.

"There's 100 percent embarrassment involved with it. But you always take something out of everything. That game certainly, if you didn't get anything, you learned humility. You definitely were humbled, and you never wanted that feeling ever again."

Nobody is predicting another 71-point loss Saturday, but the Gophers once again face a whopper of a mismatch. That's a foreign concept for those who remember when things were more competitive between the two schools.

"It will be a pretty bizarre game because they're a powerhouse and we're trying to get our act together," McNamara said.

  • GOPHERS VS. NO. 13 NEBRASKA

    2:30 p.m. today at TCF Bank Stadium • TV: Ch. 5 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

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