Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are 4-2 after a 41-13 route of the Purdue Boilermakers last week, and this Saturday is their first home game since the start of Big Ten play. The Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-4) have lost their first two conference games by a total of three points, and their four losses this season have been by a total of 11 points.
Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s game, which will kick off around 2:30 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium, followed by my score prediction.
The Minnesota View
The Golden Gophers domination of Purdue was highlighted by 326 rushing yards, and true freshman tailback Shannon Brooks led the way with 176 yards on 17 carries that included a 71-yard touchdown run that helped tilt the momentum of the game.
Gophers’ quarterback Mitch Leidner only attempted 12 passes last week, completing eight for 59 yards, but he did account for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in the game. It’s fair to say freshman Demry Croft will see action in Leidner’s place this week, but I think it will and should be earlier than the fourth quarter of a blowout one way or the other.
After struggling to force turnovers, the dam broke for the Golden Gophers’ defense against Purdue. Three interceptions of Boilermakers’ quarterback David Blough were among four total turnovers forced, and a pick-six by cornerback Jalen Myrick effectively sealed the victory late in the third quarter.
Even though Nebraska enters this week’s action with the eighth-best run defense in the country, establishing the running game is a priority for Minnesota and it’s a formula that worked last week.
The Nebraska View
As previously mentioned, the Cornhuskers are eighth in the country in run defense so far this season (95.3 yards per game), and they’ve allowed just 3.3 yards per carry so far. But before you think the “Black Shirts” are back, Nebraska is dead last (128th) in the FBS in passing yards allowed (348.5 yards per game). Some of those struggles against the pass can be traced to volume, with the second-most pass attempts against (270) in FBS, but it’s safe to say the Cornhuskers have a secondary that can be beaten.
Nebraska has scored just 34 points over their last two games, which has directly coincided with the struggles of quarterback Tommy Armstrong. After throwing for at least 300 yards three times in the first four games this season, with at least 270 yards through the air in all four games, the junior signal caller has thrown for just 234 yards over the last two games.
11 of Armstrong’s 12 touchdown passes came in those first four games, so the Cornhuskers need him to turn things around on Saturday. An 0-3 record in the Big Ten would leave little hope for the rest of the season.
Saturday’s game is looking critical for both teams, since the loser will effectively be eliminated from any remote chance to win the Big Ten West division. It should be a close game between two fairly banged up teams, but I have to go with the home team here.
Score Prediction: Minnesota 23, Nebraska 21
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