The Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 38-14 Saturday afternoon in Lincoln to retain their lead in the Legends Division race.
This lopsided matchup was never really in question as the Big Red stormed out to a 24-0 halftime lead and tallied a 38-0 margin before the Gophers notched two scores against Nebraska’s reserve players.
The biggest storyline of the day, however, belonged to the Husker seniors. While the graduating offensive stars are few, fans did say goodbye to running back Rex Burkhead as well as linemen Seung Hoon Choi and Justin Jackson. Among the several graduating defenders, the Husker faithful bid farewell to Will Compton, Eric Martin and Daimion Stafford.
Let's take a look at the winners and losers from this heart-felt Senior Day at Memorial Stadium.
Heading into Saturday, it was no secret that Minnesota presented the easiest challenge Nebraska has faced in almost two months. After squaring off with the top teams from both Big Ten divisions in back-to-back weeks, the Huskers were in for a nice break this weekend, at least on paper.
Yet Nebraska did not falter in a possible trap game. From the outset, the Huskers came out focused and determined, performing well in all aspects. The defense tallied multiple three-and-outs while the offense put together time-consuming drives. Ultimately, Nebraska accumulated over 260 more total yards than Minnesota in a dominant victory.
All season long Kenny Bell has been Taylor Martinez’s No. 1 target at wideout and has established himself as one of the best receivers in the entire Big Ten. But Bell’s performance Saturday was on another level.
Frequently creating vast amounts of space between him and the Gopher defensive backs, Bell was consistently spotted by Martinez, to which his stats attest.
Bell tallied personal bests in receptions (nine) and yards (136), and tied his best in touchdowns (two). If he continues at this pace, he will have a great shot at becoming the first Husker ever with 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.
As is his custom, Cross was primarily called upon in goal-line situations where his size and strength is best utilized. In three short yardage situations in the Minnesota red zone, Cross came away with two touchdowns.
While this success was of little surprise to the Huskers, Cross is particularly a winner in this game because of the extra carries he received due to Nebraska’s sizable lead.
Although Heard is more of a regular contributor to the Husker attack, he too benefited from additional carries thanks to the large lead Nebraska had amassed by the second half.
The value of carries like these will be shown in later years when Cross and Heard become key components of the Husker offense.
It has been a tumultuous season for the Husker defense, full of ups and downs, accolades and criticisms. Awful performances against UCLA and Ohio State have largely overshadowed quality showings against Michigan and Michigan State.
Saturday’s game, however, will be another step for the Blackshirts in forgetting about that dismal night in Columbus. Nebraska’s defense held Minnesota to 177 yards as they pitched a shutout into the fourth quarter.
They also came up with two interceptions, including Stanley Jean-Baptiste returning one 48 yards for a touchdown. With Iowa’s struggling offense next up this Friday, expect the Blackshirts’ excellent play to continue.
Perhaps this loser could have been penciled in even before kickoff Saturday. Seemingly every Saturday is the same story for the Huskers in the turnover battle. The Big Red continue stringing wins together despite its turnover issues. And unsurprisingly, this again was the case against Minnesota.
Jamal Turner muffed yet another punt for the Huskers, but was lucky enough not to lose possession after the ball took a fortunate bounce out of bounds. Later in the game, Ameer Abdullah coughed up the ball, squandering a scoring chance.
Ron Kellogg III fumbled deep in Nebraska’s territory setting up Minnesota’s final score.
Usually, this would be a crucial flaw that Nebraska would need to remedy to find success. But with the level of success the Huskers have enjoyed in this crazy season despite these mistakes, maybe this is just a necessary evil for the 2012 Big Red machine.
Nebraska’s multitude of close games lately has brought a need for the starters to play from start to finish and has kept backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III on the bench.
Kellogg III was finally called upon once the game was under control against Minnesota and he showed the rust that has Nebraska fans fear every time Martinez takes a hit.
Kellogg III ultimately recorded one completion on four attempts for three yards. But his real trouble came in the run game as he fumbled on each of his last two snaps of the game. After fumbling during a delayed exchange on a zone-read, Minnesota promptly scored, cutting the lead to 24.
Bo Pelini had clearly seen enough at this point as he sent Kellogg III to the sideline and gave the reins to redshirt freshman quarterback Bronson Marsh on the last drive.
The 2012 Nebraska football season was supposed to be the season of Rex. After becoming the backbone of the Husker offense in 2011, more of the same was expected from Burkhead in his senior year as he was considered a likely all-Big Ten pick and even a dark horse Heisman contender.
But hampered by nagging injuries that began minutes after recording his first touchdown early in the season-opener against Southern Mississippi, Burkhead has never been able to get his senior year going the way he expected.
Having sat out for multiple games after re-reaggravating his injury, Burkhead wanted little more than to play in Memorial Stadium one last time in front of the Sea of Red. But it was not in the cards. Despite suiting up for his final home game, Burkhead was not able to carry the ball for one last time in Lincoln. Thankfully, he will likely be back in play before season’s end.