That embarrassing 59-point loss at Ohio State last week won’t soon be forgotten by Nebraska.
”You don’t exactly flush it,” coach Mike Riley said. ”It’s not that easy.”
But with a streaking Minnesota (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) coming to Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, it’s time for the No. 21 Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-2) to move on.
”There is a lot more football out there, a lot more opportunity for us,” receiver Jordan Westerkamp said. ”Like I said after the game, we are 7-2 and that’s great. We want to continue to strive to be perfect, obviously.”
The Huskers’ 62-3 loss in Columbus was their second in a row, and now they need help to make it to the Big Ten championship game for the first time since 2012. They must win their last three regular-season games and have Wisconsin lose once.
Still unknown early Friday was the status of Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who was knocked unconscious in the second quarter against Ohio State. Armstrong has been going through a concussion protocol this week. If he can’t play, senior Ryker Fyfe will make his first start of the season and second of his career.
Minnesota, which hasn’t been a conference championship since sharing the Big Ten title in 1967, will win the West Division if it wins out against the Huskers, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
The Gophers will be going for its first five-game Big Ten win streak since 1962. Nebraska won 48-25 in Minneapolis last year, but Minnesota came from 10 points down in the third quarter to win 28-24 in Lincoln in 2014 .
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner said he doubts Nebraska will let one bad night in Columbus define its season.
”They’ll be hungry, itching to get back out on the field, so we definitely have to be ready to go,” Leidner said. ”You can’t compare scores or anything like that, and we’ve learned that a couple times this year. Every team’s going to be ready to go on Saturday, so you’ve really got to respect the process.”
Some things to watch:
Nebraska’s Armstrong and Fyfe have combined to complete just 39.7 percent of their passes with two TDs and seven interceptions over the last four games. The Huskers have been running for 135 yards a game over that span That’s 100 off their average in the first five games.
”When we’re running the ball somewhat effectively, the passing game gets easier, particularly with a quarterback of our style,” Riley said. ”All of a sudden play-action becomes a little cleaner. But we have struggled when we have passed, not only with the execution of the play, but also the protection of the passer.”
NIGHT TIME’S RIGHT TIME
Nebraska has won 18 straight nights games at home. Missouri, in 2008, was the last team to beat the Huskers under the lights in Lincoln.
Minnesota leads the Big Ten and ranks third in the FBS with a plus-12 turnover margin. The Gophers have scored 90 points off turnovers and allowed only 23, after getting outscored in that category last season 72-37. The takeaways can be traced to the push by defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel for a strong pass rush and a fast, swarming approach.
Nebraska joined the Big Ten only five years ago, but this will be its 57th meeting with Minnesota. It’s the most for the Huskers against any conference opponent. The Gophers lead the series 31-23-2.
Six Minnesota players have been ejected for targeting this season. Linebacker Nick Rallis was the latest to get tossed for head-to-head contact last week against Purdue. Rallis must sit out the first half at Nebraska to complete the punishment.
Some of the hits have been clear, but the Gophers have disputed others, including the one by Rallis last week. Replays appeared to show Rallis made clean contact with his shoulder. Coach Tracy Claeys has acknowledged frustration with the implementation and interpretation of the rule. The automatic ejections that carry over into the next game, depending on the half, and some of the hits that could be deemed unavoidable are parts of the rule he’d like to see re-evaluated.
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