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LINCOLN — After each game this season, The World-Herald's Sam McKewon will hand out his Husker Report Card, assessing Nebraska's performance in several areas. Here are the grades coming out of the Minnesota game.
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The Huskers ran it well most of the time; they just didn’t run it enough. It may seem like 36 carries for 197 yards was a good day, but Minnesota allows 6.82 yards per carry. Its defense was further depleted by injuries and COVID-19 issues, so running the ball wasn’t going to be hard for the Huskers. Quarterback Adrian Martinez led the way with 96 yards. Dedrick Mills only had 12 carries. Why? Wan’Dale Robinson had a terrific 47-yard run, but that was the only major chunk from the running backs. A bad holding call on Ethan Piper brought back a touchdown — NU coaches should be hot about that — but the Huskers remain a work in progress when it comes to giving the ball to a back and going downhill, which would set up a more effective passing game. GRADE: C
Nebraska suffered a 24-17 loss to the Gophers in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, dropping their record to 2-5 on the season.
Awful. Discount the 55% completion rate, which wasn’t very good in the first place. It means little when your quarterbacks throw for 3.83 yards per attempt and commit two turnovers. Martinez missed multiple open receivers, including Oliver Martin three times. Defensive end Boye Mafe was able to get around right tackle Bryce Benhart for a third-down sack in the second half. You can’t sugarcoat how deficient and inexplosive NU’s passing game has become. GRADE: F
Nebraska held up better than last season against Minnesota — it would be hard not to — but allowing a 26-yard touchdown and a 61-yard basic outside zone run that set up another is a bad look. And giving up two touchdowns on fourth down, on direct snaps to the running back, is a bad look because NU’s linemen simply got shoved out of the way. Though the Huskers held the Gophers near their season average in total yards and yards per carry, they weren’t able to hold them in key moments, like Minnesota’s final drive in the fourth quarter. Good defenses do OK for most of the game. Great defenses bow up at the end. NU didn’t. GRADE: C-minus
Disappointing. While the Huskers got a couple of fourth-down stops on pass knockdowns — and those are nice — quarterback Tanner Morgan had too much time to operate and the Huskers allowed too much cushion to receivers. Morgan finished 17 of 30 for 181 yards and a touchdown. The only pass he really threw in harm’s way was late in the second quarter, when safety Deontai Williams dropped an interception, perhaps because he lost it in the sun. Nebraska just didn’t make many plays. GRADE: C-minus
Tom Shatel offers his quick thoughts on the Huskers' loss to Minnesota and explains why this one falls on Scott Frost's playcalling and why targeting ejections are a ridiculous punishment.
Another tough day. The Huskers were without punter William Przystup. Freshman backup Tyler Crawford had a strong 41-yard punt on his first attempt and a 61-yarder on his fifth. But he shanked an 8-yarder on his second punt, which set up Minnesota at the NU 49. Later, kicker Connor Culp — so reliable this season — missed a 32-yard field goal. The Huskers’ kickoff return unit remains a self-imposed penalty to start drives. Martin did a decent job fair catching punts. GRADE: C-minus
PLAY-CALLING/ GAME MANAGEMENT
Against a Minnesota defense that’s historically bad against the run, Nebraska chose to throw the ball on the first play of the game. That went for a 9-yard loss when Robinson fumbled the ball. It was the beginning of a bizarre day of stubbornness from NU’s offensive brain trust, who insisted on throwing the ball in tough, windy conditions, much like Bill Callahan did at Iowa State in 2004. Perhaps the most inexplicable sequence came at the end of the third quarter into the teeth of a north wind. NU called three passes — two incompletions and a Martinez fumble — that would have had a better chance of being completed in the fourth quarter. Why not wait a single play? Why insert Luke McCaffrey for two plays in the first quarter — while Martinez was having his hand looked at — to throw passes? Why choose to receive the ball to start the game when the wind was going to make it hard to throw? Add in an iffy targeting penalty, and the Huskers’ management phase had its worst day of the season. GRADE: F
Frost’s demeanor after the game — calm, a little detached, praiseworthy of NU’s effort and execution in practice — signals how bad of a loss it was. He’s not going to try to push buttons with a team that wants to play well, appears to get down on itself a bit when it doesn’t, and can’t consistently execute the things needed to play winning football. NU played better Saturday than it did against Illinois, but it wasn’t nearly good enough. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck has crafted a better identity for his offense than Frost has for his. Minnesota plays a certain way. NU’s play is all over the place. One day it may change. Or it may not. GRADE: D
Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt was ejected for targeting in the second quarter against Minnesota. It's the second time that's happened to Taylor-Britt this season.
Nebraska closes out regular season against Minnesota