Minneapolis – Minnesota set the tone in the first half and Nebraska was unable to convert some golden second-half opportunities, as the Huskers suffered a 30-23 Big Ten Conference road loss to the Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday.
In a game in which most statistics were remarkably similar, Nebraska slipped to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten with its fifth loss this season by one score. Minnesota improved to 4-2 and 2-1 in the conference. Minnesota managed 396 yards of total offense, while Nebraska put up 377 total yards and won the punting battle by a total of 20 yards. Both teams were flagged for just three penalties for 25 yards. The Gophers controlled time of possession, 38:01-21:59 but ran just four more offensive plays than the Big Red. Both teams also missed a field goal. Nebraska did not commit a turnover and forced a pair of Minnesota turnovers with third-quarter interceptions.
Adrian Martinez completed 18-of-33 passes for 241 yards including a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Austin Allen, who led the Husker receiving corps with five receptions for 121 yards. Levi Falck added four catches for 36 yards, while Zavier Betts contributed two receptions for 35 yards and one carry for 27 more yards.
Rahmir Johnson led the Nebraska ground game with 11 carries for 83 yards while adding one reception for six yards in just three quarters. Minnesota’s defense held Martinez in check in the rushing game, holding him to minus-17 yards on eight carries, including two sacks for 19 yards lost and a fourth-quarter safety.
Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan completed 20-of-24 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw a pair of third-quarter interceptions on consecutive pass attempts that allowed Nebraska to change the game’s momentum.
Chris Autman-Bell led the Minnesota receivers with nine catches for 103 yards and a score, while Mike Brown-Stephens added three receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown of his own. Brice Williams led the Golden Gophers ground game with 127 yards on 17 carries, including the game-clinching 56-yard touchdown run with 2:12 left in the contest. Overall, Minnesota put up 182 rushing yards on 43 carries, while Nebraska answered with 136 yards on 31 totes.
JoJo Domann and Garrett Nelson led the Blackshirts with eight tackles apiece, while Cam Taylor-Britt, Deontai Williams and Nick Henrich all pitched in seven stops. Taylor-Britt and Williams added the two biggest defensive plays with momentum-changing interceptions, while Taylor-Britt also notched a huge 12-yard sack that stopped another Minnesota drive.
Nebraska trailed 21-9 at halftime and the Golden Gophers opened the second half with the ball. Minnesota drove to the NU 33 before quarterback Morgan took a shot into the end zone against the Blackshirt secondary. Taylor-Britt made an explosive close on the receiver and the ball, snagging his first interception of the season in the end zone to thwart the Gophers.
The Huskers were unable to turn that interception into points, but on Minnesota’s next offensive play, Morgan was intercepted again, this time by Deontai Williams – his fourth of the season – to put the Nebraska offense back in business. Johnson then turned the Minnesota mistake into points with one-yard run to pull Nebraska within 21-16 with 9:19 left in the third quarter.
The Blackshirts then forced a three-and-out on Minnesota’s ensuing drive, setting the Big Red offense up with excellent field position at the Gopher 47. Martinez quickly led Nebraska back to the red zone. But on second and goal, Minnesota mauled Johnson short of the goal line and he did not return to the game. On third down, Martinez sampled the right side and surged toward the goal line. He was ruled short of the end zone, even though his right foot stepped on the goal line with the ball tucked in his right hand.
The Golden Gophers then stopped a stumbling Jaquez Yant short of the end zone on fourth down with 3:42 left in the third period. The Blackshirts forced another three-and-out, but Martinez and the Husker offense were stymied by the Minnesota defense for the next 15 minutes, including a missed 27-yard field goal just three seconds into the fourth quarter.
The score remained 21-16 deep into the fourth quarter and Nebraska gained possession with just under five minutes remaining and 89 yards in front of them. But on the first play of the drive, Martinez retreated in the pocket and was corralled in the end zone. He unleashed a ball toward the Minnesota sideline but there was no Husker receiver in the area and he was flagged for intentional grounding, resulting in a safety to give the Gophers a 23-16 lead and the ball with 4:45 left.
Just over two minutes later, Williams blasted through the line on third-and-short and rumbled 56 yards for a touchdown in the longest play for either team in the game. Williams’ run put the Gophers up 30-16.
But Martinez and the Huskers refused to quit, racing 75 yards in just one minute to pull back within a touchdown. Nebraska then attempted an onside kick, that was not initially cleanly recovered by the Minnesota hands team, but the Gophers secured the ball before the Huskers could get their hands on it.