Minnesota, Nebraska have plenty left to prove
Nebraska is happy to play any number of games it can in order to springboard into next season.
Minnesota is just thankful to be playing after a two-weekend pause for COVID-19 reasons.
The Cornhuskers and Golden Gophers should be in good spirits when they meet Saturday at Lincoln, Neb., even though the game doesn’t mean much in the Big Ten Conference standings.
Nebraska enters with some momentum, having nearly won at Iowa on Nov. 27 before earning a 37-27 win at Purdue last Saturday.
The Cornhuskers are 2-4, but coach Scott Frost is happy with the development of some of his younger players and how the team has stuck together despite a rough year with the pandemic and the won-loss record.
“I think we have more guys on the team now that love football,” Frost said. “That certainly helps. I think we’ve got guys that care about each other more. They still feel like they are having fun playing and have something to prove.”
One big difference for Nebraska the past two weeks has been the play of quarterback Adrian Martinez, who appears as if he has taken over the starter’s job after sharing snaps with Luke McCaffrey earlier in the season.
Martinez completed 23 of 30 passes for 242 yards and a score and also rushed for two touchdowns in the victory over the Boilermakers.
For Minnesota, this will be the first game since a 34-31 home win over Purdue on Nov. 20. The Golden Gophers then had a COVID-19 outbreak that saw 49 positive cases on the team: 23 players, 26 staff members.
As a result, Minnesota’s scheduled games against Wisconsin and Northwestern were canceled.
“Our players and the guys that were out there did a great job practicing on Sunday and really look forward to playing again,” Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said early this week. “It’s never our call whether we play or not, but again, as from this point as of right now — everything changes by the minute — but we plan on playing against Nebraska on Saturday. And we prepared accordingly.”
Despite entering with a 2-3 record, Minnesota has been prolific on offense, other than in a 35-7 loss to Iowa on Nov. 13. At the forefront is one of the best passing combinations in the conference, quarterback Tanner Morgan and wideout Rashod Bateman.
Morgan has connected on 59.4 percent of his passes (76 of 128) for 1,033 yards. He has thrown for four touchdowns and been picked off four times. Bateman has caught 36 passes for 472 yards and two scores, topping 100 yards in three of five games.
The Golden Gophers also have received production out of running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who has rushed for 817 yards and 13 touchdowns in five games. He has a pair of 200-yard games this year.
Minnesota earned a convincing 34-7 win over the Cornhuskers in last year’s meeting at Minneapolis, but the Golden Gophers have not won at Nebraska since 2014.
–Field Level Media