Injuries and inconsistencies combined to produce some offensive struggles for the Gophers through the season's first five games, with the team finishing with fewer than 300 total yards three times in a four-game stretch that included a season-low 241 yards in a loss to Bowling Green.
However, Saturday's game against Nebraska featured a step in the right direction for Minnesota, which had 396 total yards in a 30-23 victory over the Cornhuskers. Certainly, a healthier Chris Autman-Bell made a difference with 11 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. What also helped: The Gophers offensive line came to play and play well.
"They did fantastic. I feel they do fantastic every week,'' quarterback Tanner Morgan said Tuesday, ahead of Saturday's home game against Maryland. "We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football together. The protection was phenomenal, and they did a phenomenal job in the running game as well. It was a very clean and very efficient game up front.''
Morgan completed 14 of his first 15 passes and had a school-record run of 16 in a row. Nebraska sacked him only once, on a blitz by cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, who blew up a double-reverse flea-flicker for a 12-yard loss.
Meanwhile, the line paved the way for Bryce Williams — the running back pressed into duty because of season-ending injuries to Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts — to rush 17 times for 127 yards. A key play was Williams' 56-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run in which he took advantage of pancake blocks thrown by tight end Ko Kieft and guard Axel Ruschmeyer.
"We're going to play hard every single play. That's our identity,'' said Sam Schlueter, a senior left tackle in his sixth year in the program.
Morgan credited the preparation of the offensive coaching staff, led by coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., who took more chances in the passing game than in previous weeks.
"I felt really good about our game plan,'' Morgan said. "… When you get the looks you're prepared for, then it just comes down to players making plays. The coaches put us in good situations.''
Kramer impresses Morgan
Operating out of the wildcat formation, quarterback Cole Kramer threw his first career touchdown pass against Nebraska, a 5-yard toss to tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter. Morgan was thrilled for his teammate.
"That was his first completion: one-for-one for one tuddie,'' Morgan said.
Kramer has rushed 16 times for 74 yards and one TD this season, and Morgan sees more potential.
"Cole's a phenomenal quarterback, and he can throw the ball really well,'' he said. "In any way I can help him out is something I'm going to do because I know how you feel to throw your first pass — the nerves, the jitteriness of it. … That's only the beginning. The sky's the limit for Cole.''
Terrapins lose two players
Maryland coach Mike Locksley announced that two starters, wide receiver Jeshaun Jones (leg) and outside linebacker Durell Nchami (upper body), will miss the remainder of the season because of injuries.
Jones has 18 catches for 224 yards and was filling in for top receiver Dontay Demus, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago. Nchami has nine tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks and one forced fumble.