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LINCOLN — Minnesota has dominated the clock all season while Nebraska’s fast-paced — or ineffective — offense has spent more time on the sideline.
Both trends continued Saturday in the Gophers’ 24-17 win. The visitors chewed up 35 minutes, 48 seconds of game time while Nebraska possessed the ball for barely 24 minutes.
“They just tried to bleed the clock,” NU senior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said. “They did a good job of checking with their coaches, getting into the plays that they wanted and trying to execute them against us. At the end of the day we just gotta be better as a defense and I know we will be better going forward.”
Minnesota ran 43 times against 30 passes and churned out 206 rushing yards at 4.8 per try. It salted away the final 4:42 of the game after Nebraska’s field goal cut it to a one-score contest.
While the NU offense struggled to stay on the field, the defense failed to produce a takeaway and only forced one three and out on 12 Minnesota possessions.
“Things weren’t really going our way on the other side of the ball so we had to create a turnover and we had to get off the field,” JoJo Domann said. “We didn’t do either of those.”
Nebraska is still only consistent at one thing: being inconsistent, writes Tom Shatel.
Martinez healthy despite missing plays
Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez was physically good enough to run all of NU’s offense on Saturday, coach Scott Frost said after the game.
Martinez left the game for a handful of plays. NU staff checked out his left hand. Last week at Purdue, he missed a handful of plays, as well, with an apparent shoulder issue.
“He’s been dealing with what happened to him last week all week,” Frost said of Martinez’s ding-up at Purdue. “But he threw great in practice all week. I don’t know if that was a factor or not.”
NU running back Dedrick Mills, on the other hand, isn’t quite full strength, Frost said. Mills had 12 carries for 50 yards on Saturday.
“I’m not sure we’d want to leave him in there the whole game, but I think he’s close,” Frost said.
To suggest that Scott Frost didn’t have the preparation to succeed in Lincoln is laughable, writes Dirk Chatelain. But what good is knowledge if you can’t pass it on to your players?
Huskers struggle to find rhythm
Frost loved NU’s passing gameplan headed into Saturday’s contest, and thought Nebraska had receivers open downfield. A couple times, Frost said, NU linemen got beat on protection.
“It’s just got to be consistency,” Frost said. “You’ve got to hit the majority of them, you’ve got to protect the majority of the time. It’s not an excuse — not meant to be an excuse — but we’re playing a lot of young guys. As they grow, they’re going to win more often than they lose. You can’t call however many pass plays that we called and miss five and get sacked and get beat in protection two or three times.”
Shouldn’t the offense be further along after seven games?
Frost said it was hard to get a rhythm against Minnesota because NU trailed 10-0 and the Gophers were attempting to bleed as much clock as possible.
“It seemed like we had a media timeout before every offensive drive,” Frost said. “It just never felt like we got clicking. It’s hard to talk about. I see it coming in practice. I see how well we’re executing in practice. It didn’t show up on the field today often enough. Too many mistakes for us to overcome. But I’ve got confidence in our guys.”
Scott Frost has said it before — "we had our best week of practice" — and he said it again after the Minnesota loss. If only Tuesdays could stand in for Saturdays, writes Sam McKewon.
On special teams
Husker fans saw a new face on fourth downs in the 24-17 loss to Minnesota: place kicker Tyler Crawford. The true freshman from Oklahoma averaged 38.4 yards per boot, with a long of 61 yards and a short of 8 yards. Coming into the game, Nebraska averaged 39.64 yards per punt (12th in Big Ten), with a 33.28 net yardage (13th in Big Ten and 120th in FBS).
Crawford replaced William Przytup as the punter on Saturday. When asked to specify Przytup’s status after the game, Frost said the punter was “not available” or “out.”
Connor Culp made his second mistake of the year, missing a 32-yard FG mid way through the third quarter. Frost said after the game that he didn't know if the missed field goal took the wind out of NU's sails, adding he thought Nebraska should have been up at that point if the Huskers hadn't made so many mistakes. The following Minnesota possession would result in a punt, but Nebraska struggled to score after the miss. Culp later rebounded with a 30-yard FG with five minutes to go in the game.
The return game – for both teams – was relatively quiet.
» Running back Dedrick Mills carried 12 times for 50 yards Saturday. Frost said the senior – who missed multiple games with a knee injury before returning last week – is “close to full strength.”
Said Frost: “I’m not sure we’d want to leave him in there the whole game, but I think he’s close.”
» Starting punter William Przystup was “not available” and “out,” Frost said. Freshman Tyler Crawford did the job Saturday, punting five times for an average of 38.4 yards per try.
» Saturday was the second straight home game Nebraska began with a disastrous play on offense. It threw a backward pass for a fumble and turnover against Illinois last month. Against Minnesota, a lateral went for a 9-yard loss and led to the Huskers punting on their opening series.
“You just can’t start games that way,” Frost said. “We try to execute something simple that we think is going to get positive yards for us on first down. You compete it 40 times in practice all week and it’s a little off. It’s a horrible way to start a game.”
Nebraska closes out regular season against Minnesota