The Gophers played a throwback game Saturday. They paid homage to their storied history of woeful defense.
Seriously, what was that?
On a day when their quarterback finally looked up to the task, the Gophers reached into their vault of defensive misery and laid an egg.
A giant egg that now makes bowl eligibility seem like an iffy proposition, which is not the scenario many envisioned for this season.
At least Mitch Leidner can't be blamed this time.
No sir, a 48-25 pasting at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers falls squarely on a defense that hasn't experienced many moments like Saturday in recent memory.
The Gophers couldn't stop the run or the pass. Or 99-yard drives for that matter.
They gave up 464 total yards and the most points since a 58-0 embarrassment at Michigan in 2011, coach Jerry Kill's first season.
"They outcoached us and outplayed us," Kill said. "They played harder than we did. We got outcoached a little bit."
Not often does that statement apply to the Gophers defensive staff, but Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf got the upper hand on Tracy Claeys.
Nebraska kept the Gophers so off-balance that they looked like wobbly passengers departing a deep-sea excursion. They didn't know which end was up.
The Huskers basically did whatever they wanted on offense. They rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns, and passed for 261 yards and three touchdowns. They averaged a staggering 7.1 yards per play.
Claeys' unit has been so resilient and stubborn in recent years that a dud of this magnitude felt strange. Their defense has been a beacon of light on days when the offense looked lost in the wilderness.
This represented a stark role reversal.
"They made some explosive plays," Kill said.
Their problems began on Terrell Newby's 69-yard touchdown run on Nebraska's third offensive play. A busted assignment by the Gophers gave Newby a running lane roughly the size of Lake Minnetonka.
The crown jewel of the Gophers' flop, though, came in the third quarter as Nebraska marched 99 yards defiantly, almost effortlessly.
The Huskers converted plays of 20, 13, 18, 25, 11 and 10 yards. They just kind of glided down the field, chewing up large chunks one play at a time.
"I think it took a lot out of us," Kill said.
Meanwhile, struggling Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. felt invincible. Armstrong had completed only 21 of 59 passes for 234 yards in back-to-back losses to Illinois and Wisconsin.
He picked apart the Gophers with efficiency, completing 18 of 26 passes for 261 yards.
Kill referenced the team's injuries again afterward. Middle linebacker Cody Poock and safety Damarius Travis didn't play because of injuries, outside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell was limited and backup defensive end Alex Keith suffered a broken hand in warm-ups.
Let's be clear: Injuries were not the reason the Gophers lost.
Yes, they have been hit hard, but every team deals with injuries. The Gophers have more quality depth now — especially on defense — so they should be able to withstand personnel losses better than what they showed.
Besides, even their best player — cornerback Eric Murray, a future high-round NFL draft pick — had a tough day. To his credit, Murray refused to accept the injury excuse.
"I don't think the injuries are affecting the defense at all," he said.
As poorly as they played, the Gophers clung to a glimmer of hope until Kill's strange decision to kick a field goal in the fourth quarter with his team down by 16 points.
Trailing 38-22 with seven minutes left, the Gophers faced a fourth-and-15 from the Nebraska 21. Kill elected to play it safe.
Fourth-and-15 is not an ideal situation for any offense, obviously, but Kill should have gone for it. The Huskers have the worst pass defense in college football statistically and Leidner looked as comfortable and confident throwing the ball as he has in his career.
The field goal still kept the Gophers behind by two scores with 6:49 left. Given the way their defense had played, the chances of getting two possessions seemed fairly remote.
Kill pinned his hopes on recovering an onside kick, which didn't happen, and the game was over once Nebraska drove for a field goal.
"That's the decision I made," Kill said. "You can put it on me."
The game was lost long before that decision. The Gophers defense made sure of that.