One of the Gophers’ worst losses last season was at Nebraska, when the 0-6 team stormed to a 53-28 victory. The Gophers have already remedied a bad showing at Illinois last year with a dominant victory last Saturday. Repaying the favor to the Cornhuskers is next on the slate.
Prediction: Gophers 40, Nebraska 28
THREE BIG STORY LINES
The Cornhuskers lost their two best players last week. Coach Scott Frost has been elusive about QB Adrian Martinez and receiver JD Spielman’s returns from leg injuries. Without them, their offense takes a huge hit and the Gophers’ defensive game plan changes.
Up and running
The Gophers’ run game averaged just 2.6 yards per carry during the first four games, among the lowest in the FBS. Last week was a breakout with Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith each eclipsing 100 yards. The Gophers hope injured Mohamed Ibrahim returns and those two continue their momentum.
With a temperature in the upper 30s and snow forecast for the night game at TCF Bank Stadium, both teams might have to deal with cold, wet conditions. The Gophers passing game struggled in misty weather a week ago, but they have practiced with wet and frozen footballs since then.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Nebraska’s Lamar Jackson vs. Gophers’ Tyler Johnson
The Cornhuskers’ best cornerback against the Gophers’ best receiver, both with NFL potential. Jackson has 18 tackles, including three for loss and one sack. More important, he has two interceptions and nine pass breakups. But Johnson has a knack for making acrobatic catches no matter how many defenders are tailing him. So this should be a fun matchup to watch.
Nebraska’s Wan’Dale Robinson vs. Gophers’ Kamal Martin
Robinson draws comparisons to Purdue All-America receiver Rondale Moore. The Nebraska freshman can run the ball and catch it, making him a versatile threat. Martin has been the defense’s most dynamic player despite missing two games this season, tackling, intercepting and forcing fumbles. He’ll need to keep Robinson in check.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
315 None of the Cornhuskers’ three defensive linemen weighs less than 315 pounds. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said the line is big, strong, active and capable of throwing many different looks at an opponent. “They make it very difficult on you,” Fleck said.
THE Gophers WILL WIN IF …
they don’t regress. The game against Illinois a week ago saw the defense and the running game finally click. The Gophers’ passing game has already shown its capabilities. Now the team needs to fit all the pieces together at the same time against a potentially weakened opponent.
The opponent WILL WIN IF …
the defense comes up with a clutch game. The possibility of missing Martinez and Spielman, the team’s best passer/rusher and receiver, means the defense might have to fill in the gaps. Linebacker Mohamed Barry has 49 tackles and could lead that push.