MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s offensive minds didn’t have to go back far to find a proven way to attack Nebraska’s defense.
Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said most of the staff’s time was spent watching video of just one recent Husker game.
“I hate to pick at old wounds, but we watched the tape of the Big Ten championship game a lot,” Limegrover said. “We felt they were a similar type of defense to Iowa, so we knew we couldn’t pound the ball.
“We wanted to go sideways like Wisconsin did. We started picking and pulling pieces from that game and we just put it together.”
While Minnesota’s 34-23 victory Saturday over the Huskers didn’t match the 70-31 pounding inflicted by the Badgers in last season’s Big Ten title game, losing to the Gophers for the first time since 1960 surely has a lot of the Husker faithful seeing red.
Especially after hearing that NU is still vulnerable to an offensive tactic that drew so much scrutiny at the end of last season.
Then there’s what Gophers senior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman politely stated when asked if Nebraska’s offensive linemen had much to say after one of his sacks of quarterback Taylor Martinez was nullified by a face mask penalty.
“Nebraska was a lot more quiet than they usually were,” Hageman said. “I was just in my zone and wanted to make a play because I felt I had to redeem myself.”
Hageman did just that. On the very next play, Hageman sacked Martinez again.
But this time it was sans face mask penalty and resulted in an 8-yard loss — three yards more than the one that had been erased.
It was that kind of day for the Gophers, who pushed and shoved Nebraska’s defense around and kept the Huskers’ offense off-balance despite NU having two weeks to prepare.
“We were able to stay committed to the run,” Minnesota acting head coach Tracy Claeys said. “There were some times when we didn’t get more than a yard or two, but David Cobb had some great runs that gave us a big spark.”
Running back Cobb, quarterback Philip Nelson and cornerback Brock Vereen all said no one was hanging their heads on the Minnesota sideline after the Huskers raced to a 10-0 lead.
“There definitely wasn’t a negative atmosphere on the sideline,” Vereen said. “It was just a matter of calming down and playing our game. Once we did that, we took over.”
Cobb was Minnesota’s workhorse, carrying the ball 31 times for 138 yards.
“From the first quarter on, throughout the game the offensive line had a great push,” Cobb said. “Really it was the O-line and just the whole play-calling scheme more so than me.”
Misdirection plays, more motion before the snap, plays dusted off from bowl games past — all of those were thrown at the Huskers ŗ la Wisconsin in Indianapolis.
“Everyone was excited about the game plan,” Nelson said. “You know it’s a great game plan when everyone is excited about it.
“We knew going into this week that Nebraska is the type of a defense that you can’t let get comfortable, so that is where all the shifts and motions came in to play, and we were able to keep them on their heels.”
The Gophers ran 11 more plays from scrimmage — 71-60 — and outgained Nebraska 430-328.
Minnesota also employed an approach at quarterback that had worked well for Nebraska for three games — using two quarterbacks interchangeably.
Mitch Leidner started the game before Nelson came in later in the second quarter and played the entire second half.
Leidner scored Minnesota’s first touchdown on a 1-yard sneak that sliced Nebraska’s lead — following Chris Hawthorne’s PAT — to 10-7.
Nelson completed 7 of 15 passes for 152 yards and one spectacular touchdown pass reined in by Derrick Engel midway through the second quarter that gave the Gophers the lead for good.
“I thought the pass was overthrown,” Engel said. “But I just let it sail and it was right there. It was definitely good that we got on the edge and were able to make some plays out there.”
Now that the Gophers, 6-2, are bowl eligible, Claeys said, it’s time to create a new season-goals sheet.
“A year ago we celebrated the sixth win because it was late in the season,” Claeys said. “We had Nebraska and Michigan State left a year ago, but now we have our sixth win in October and we can reset our goals.
“We’re going to work hard and set out to do something better than what we have done in the past.”
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the game:
Video: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez after the game:
Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon: