Last week the Nebraska defense put itself in the college football record books. But it wasn’t for something the unit should be proud of.
The Cornhuskers were ripped for a Football Bowl Subdivision single-game record 408 rushing yards by Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon in a 59-24 loss to the Badgers. Seven days later, Nebraska faces another stiff challenge in the form of David Cobb, Minnesota’s star running back, when the No. 23 ‘Huskers host the 25th-ranked Gophers on Saturday.
Nebraska (8-2 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) is 6-0 at Memorial Stadium this season, while Minnesota (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) brings a 1-2 road record into Lincoln.
The Cornhuskers’ loss to Wisconsin knocked them out of the Big Ten West Division’s driver’s seat. Now in a second-place tie with Minnesota and Iowa, they’ll need to win their final two games and have Wisconsin lose its final two in order to make the conference championship game.
Minnesota needs to win its final two games (at Nebraska, at Wisconsin) for a shot at the title game.
No. 25 Minnesota vs. No. 23 Nebraska
Saturday, Noon Eastern on ESPN
Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska
Nebraska by 10
Minnesota 34, Nebraska 23, on October 26, 2013, in Minneapolis
No doubt Minnesota saw what Gordon and Wisconsin did to the Nebraska rush defense a week ago. It was exactly what a running team like the Gophers like to see. David Cobb leads a Minnesota rushing attack that ranks 28th nationally. Cobb has 1,350 yards, good for seventh in the country, and 11 touchdowns on 254 carries. Quarterback Mitch Leidner has added 297 yards and 6 more scores on the ground.
Leidner and the Gophers aren’t known for their passing attack, though the 6-foot-4 sophomore has thrown for 10 touchdowns, including 4 two weeks ago against Iowa. Tight end Maxx Williams has caught 7 of those TDs on just 25 receptions.
While Minnesota’s rushing offense has been troublesome for opposing defenses, its own rush defense has been quite generous. The unit yields 152.7 yards per game on the ground and has allowed 13 touchdowns.
Allowing 22.3 points per game, the Gophers rank 28th nationally in that category. But they have struggled in the red zone, ranking 110th out of 124 FBS teams. Opponents have scored 24 times (18 touchdowns, 6 field goals) in 27 trips inside their 20-yard line.
While Minnesota has a strong running game, Nebraska’s has been even more productive. The Cornhuskers’ rush offense ranks 9th in the nation, averaging 264.4 yards per game with 32 touchdowns. Leading the way is Doak Walker Award semifinalist Ameer Abdullah, who leads the team with 1,319 yards and 17 touchdowns. Abdullah has four 200-yard games this season and has added 2 receiving touchdowns.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr., has proven to be a headache for opposing defenses with both his arm and legs. He’s thrown for 1,889 yards and 14 touchdowns and has added another 5 scores and 588 yards on the ground.
Nebraska’s 38.8 points per game are good for 12th in the nation and the defense allows 23.6 per contest (42nd).
The Cornhuskers’ defense ranks in the top five nationally in 3rd down conversion percentage (3rd) and pass efficiency (4th).
While the ‘Huskers did allow 581 rushing yards against Wisconsin last time they were on the field, they entered that contest giving up 123 per game, which ranked in the nation’s top 25. Thanks to Melvin Gordon and Co., Nebraska’s run defense now sits at 74th in FBS at 169.5 yards per game.
Nebraska 34, Minnesota 30
Was the rush defense Nebraska displayed last week an anomaly or a sign of things to come? I’d say it’s closer to the former. But David Cobb and Minnesota will pose problems for the Cornhuskers’ run defense. Nebraska’s offense, though, is a slightly more explosive overall. And while both teams have been inconsistent, Nebraska has been a little less so. Also, the Gophers don’t play so well on the road and the Cornhuskers are undefeated at home. Advantage: Nebraska.