Oct 5, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers receiver Quincy Enunwa (18) salutes after scoring a touchdown against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Before every Gopher game, I take a look at each team’s offense, defense, special teams, and coaching. From there I provide a quick summary and provide my opinion as to which team has the edge in each specific category. This week I’m going to do something a little different. Instead, I’m going to provide you with some scenarios that will need to take place for the Gophers to beat Nebraska — a game in which Minnesota are the heavy underdogs. Vegas currently has Nebraska as a 10 point favorite.
The Gophers haven’t beaten Nebraska since 1960. The Huskers have won 16 straight, yet despite this, the Gophers still lead the all-time series 29-22-2.
It goes without saying that the Gophers need to play their best game of the season to pull off the upset. Here is what will need to take place on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
1.) The running game must get going:
Nebraska has a potent offense and one way to slow them down is to run the ball effectively, eat the clock, and keep the Huskers offense off the field.
2. ) The crowd needs to be loud:
The Huskers have yet to play in a hostile road environment. In fact, they have only played one road game all year and that was in West Lafayette against the Purdue Boilermakers, which is hardly a tough road game. At TCF Bank Stadium, the crowd should be able to rattle the Nebraska offense on third and longs. The key for the Gophers will be to keep the game close and to force Nebraska into those third and longs.
3.) Special teams need to be flawless:
The Gophers can’t afford any mistakes on special teams. Chris Hawthorne must convert his field goals and extra points, Peter Mortell must continue to punt the ball well, and Marcus Jones must provide explosiveness on punt and kick returns. When you’re playing a team that has better personnel on both sides of the ball, one way of leveling the playing field is with exemplary special teams play. Any lapses on kick and punt return coverage could doom the Gophers.
4.) The Gophers must avoid costly penalties:
Minnesota can’t afford first and 20 because of a holding penalty, or first and 15 because of a false start. They certainly can’t afford to hand the Huskers a first down because of a pass interference penalty. Again, when you are playing a team that is better on paper, you can’t afford mental mistakes.
5.) Both lines of scrimmage need to assert themselves:
The Gophers can’t afford to be pushed around like they were against Iowa. If that happens again, the game will be over by halftime. The defensive front needs to generate a pass rush, yet must remain disciplined and not over commit, leaving themselves vulnerable to big running lanes. The offensive line must give Nelson and Leidner time to throw on passing downs, and create holes for the all-important running game.
The Gophers have to win the turnover battle. It wasn’t a coincidence that the Gophers won the turnover battle 3-0 and beat Northwestern last week. For the Gophers to win, they need to take care of the football and need to cause at least a couple of Nebraska turnovers.
Someone needs to take charge on the field. Whether that’s Philip Nelson or Mitch Leidner taking charge in the huddle or Tracy Claeys taking charge on the sideline, someone needs to take charge and lead the team if the Gophers are going to pull off the upset.
8.) Jerry Kill:
Coach Kill will be watching the game from the press box once again. A motivational speech before the game and at halftime could go a long way.