Nebraska's Adrian Martinez is widely considered one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, and he entered Saturday's game against the Gophers averaging 314.9 total yards per game, including a team-leading 64.2 on the ground.
When the clock struck 0:00, Martinez was left to exit Huntington Bank Stadium with 241 passing yards and a TD, but with minus-17 rushing yards, the worst output of his Cornhuskers career, as Minnesota held on for a 30-23 victory.
During the lead-up to the game, Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi stressed the need for his players to keep in their lanes and have eye discipline in the hopes of preventing Martinez from escaping the pocket and doing damage with his speed.
"I'll tell you what: Joe Rossi and his staff executed the game plan to perfection,'' Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "… We had to condense the run lanes and we couldn't just rush the passer. We had to rush the passer through the offensive line. We weren't going to rush past Adrian. … We did exactly what we needed to do.''
The Gophers defense forced two first-half three-and-outs to help their offense take a 21-9 lead, then came up strong after the offense misfired in the second half.
After Tanner Morgan threw an interception at the Nebraska 33 on the first possession of the second half, Minnesota's defense forced a three-and-out. Though Nebraska scored to make it 21-16 after a second interception, the Gophers held strong under further pressure.
"We knew a game like this could come down to the narrow margins,'' said defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney, who had three tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. "… When we'd get to third down, we'd have to toughen up and make a play.''
And fourth down, too. When Nebraska drove to the Gophers 1 late in the third quarter, Mariano Sori-Marin and Jordan Howden stopped Martinez for no gain on third-and-goal, then Tyler Nubin stood up running back Jaquez Yant on fourth down to complete the goal-line stand.
"We had to go down there and bow up,'' said linebacker Jack Gibbens, who led the Gophers with eight tackles. "We knew they were going to try to run it in. We just had to have some pride, bow our chest out and go make a play. That was an awesome play. We got great push up front, and Tyler made a great play.''
The defensive line was a force, too, with Esezi Otomewo forcing Martinez to intentionally ground the football in the end zone for a safety that put the Gophers up 23-16. Fellow defensive end MJ Anderson contributed two pass breakups.
"It's everybody, honestly,'' Pinckney said. "The linebackers and the secondary, those guys cover for us and give us a chance to make plays and get a great rush, especially with a quarterback like Martinez.''
Liking the line's play
The Gophers offensive line took a step forward, giving up only one sack and paving the way for the committee of running backs to rush 43 times for 182 yards.
"Tough, dirty – in a good way, not unsportsmanlike,'' Fleck said of the line's play. "Put your hand in the ground, run the football, be nasty. They were absolutely tremendous.''
* Gophers receiver Daniel Jackson, who entered the game with a team-best 14 receptions, did not play because of an unspecified injury.
* Sori-Marin returned to the lineup after leaving the Purdue game because of an ankle injury. He finished with six tackles.
* Anthony Burke, who played defensive tackle for the Gophers from 1983-86, gave the speech at Saturday morning's captains' breakfast.