Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Complete Game Preview
Nebraska faces its second opponent on the road of its 2013 season this Saturday against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Huskers are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play.
Minnesota comes into the contest with a 5-2 overall record and a 1-2 record in Big Ten play.
The two programs have met a total of 54 times. A victory for Nebraska would extend a 16-game winning streak against Minnesota to 17. The Huskers have also won the past nine matchups when playing at Minnesota.
Dating back to 1963, the Golden Gophers do hold a 29-22-2 overall advantage in the series.
Saturday's game is significant for both programs, as the winner becomes bowl eligible.
Who will ultimately grab the win?
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 12 p.m. EST
Listen: Husker Sports Network, Sirius Channel 92, XM 190
Betting Line: Nebraska (-10.5)
Nebraska's Keys to Victory
1. Stop the Run
Minnesota's run game ranks 29th in the nation. With Gopher running back David Cobb leading the way, the Minnesota offense has turned heads with its rushing attack.
Nebraska must be ready. The Huskers currently rank 34th in points against per game as well as 50th in yards against per game.
This means Nebraska will have to really step up to stop the Gophers from running all over the place.
The Huskers have had their shining moments, too. Even against UCLA, the Blackshirts had moments of control. That's going to be essential to replicate not only against Minnesota but against every Big Ten opponent going forward.
Stop the run, and Minnesota won't be able to do much.
2. Limit Turnovers
The turnover margin for Nebraska in 2013 has improved. However, it's not perfect.
So far, in fact, there have been 10 turnovers this season for a 0.67 turnover margin per game, via CFBStats.com.
Against Purdue, quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw three interceptions. There weren't any fumbles against the Boilermakers, but that's only a small consolation prize.
Some may point to Armstrong's inexperience as a factor in the turnovers. That's very possible. However, there are plenty of experienced players on Nebraska's roster who get uncomfortably close to fumbling or giving the ball away.
That has to be addressed against Minnesota. Nebraska's November schedule will not allow it to get away with turnovers.
3. Take Control of Crowd
In the Nebraska weekly press conference, head coach Bo Pelini and various players were asked about the fanbase traveling.
"It is nice, it makes you feel like you are at home when your crowd is just as loud as the home crowd," wide receiver Kenny Bell said, via Huskers.com.
Pelini also recognized that the team is lucky for that, too.
We’re lucky. We’re spoiled to a certain extent. Our fans travel. No matter where we go, we always have a tremendous showing by our fan base. That’s always an advantage. You’re pulled into an opposing stadium and you see Nebraska red everywhere and the ‘N’ everywhere, it’s always a good feeling. Our guys recognize it. They understand it.
The Huskers traveled well to Minneapolis in 2011. Expect a similar turnout on Saturday.
Nebraska fans like to turn opposing stadiums into traveling home stadiums. Just ask Notre Dame about their 2000 matchup.
Minnesota needs all the momentum it can get. If Nebraska fans can limit that crowd noise and use it effectively for their own team, the Huskers benefit.
Minnesota's Keys to Victory
1. Run the Ball
Regardless of which quarterback starts, the Gophers need to focus on the ground game.
Minnesota is currently ranked 119th in the nation in passing yards per game. Needless to say, that is not exactly what the Gophers had expected.
But Minnesota does have a solid running game.
In 2013, running back David Cobb leads the attack with 477 yards. He also boasts five touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner has 344 yards for five touchdowns on the ground.
While sophomore Philip Nelson has made a stronger case as the future starting quarterback for the Gophers, Leidner's ability to run definitely gives him an edge in the matchup with the Huskers.
Trying to win with the ball in the air is not a smart plan for Minnesota. Stick to the run game and tire out the Blackshirts' defensive line.
2. Win the Turnover Game
Nebraska's turnover game has been improved in 2013. However, it's still an aspect the Huskers battle with.
Minnesota can take advantage of that.
Depending on who is quarterback, putting the pressure up front and forcing the Nebraska offense to respond quickly could produce turnovers. That will benefit the Gophers.
For example, in 2012, 18 of Nebraska's 35 turnovers resulted to an opponent scoring. Of those 18 scores, 16 were touchdowns.
Again, Nebraska has improved its turnover margin so far in 2013, but it's tough to tell if that will continue. Minnesota needs to focus on preventing its own turnovers while benefiting from any Nebraska gives up.
3. Take Advantage of the Home Field
There is something to be said about home-field advantage. A crowd can absolutely help make or break a team.
In 2011, Nebraska traveled to Minnesota for its first season in the Big Ten. Husker fans traveled well, too. It makes sense. Minnesota is one of the closest home games, aside from Iowa. The Sea of Red has no problem heading North and filling seats.
However, that can be problematic for any home team looking for crowd momentum.
For Minnesota, it will be important to take advantage of the home-field advantage. Husker fans will be loud and proud in TCF Bank Stadium, so the Gophers will need to outshine those in red.
Failing to do so could give Nebraska momentum.
Players to Watch from Nebraska
Taylor Martinez (Sr, QB)
It was a difficult decision to list senior quarterback Taylor Martinez as a player to watch for Nebraska. However, it's starting to feel necessary.
After being sidelined for just shy of a month with a turf-toe injury, Martinez took limited reps in Sunday's practice. From here, it's day-by-day as to when he will return.
"We’ll see how it goes as the week goes on as he stresses it (the toe), and see where he is," head coach Bo Pelini said in his weekly press conference, via Huskers.com.
If Martinez does start on Saturday, it will be a big game for the senior. With experience on his side, Martinez should have no problem getting back into the swing of things.
However, if his toe is still bothering him, it could be problematic. Start or not, how the senior handles this week will say a lot about him.
Mike Moudy (Jr, OL)
Junior offensive lineman Mike Moudy has been waiting to start for Nebraska. He didn't expect it to happen quite like it did, though.
When senior offensive lineman Spencer Long went down with a knee injury, Moudy stepped in. In doing so, Moudy also had to switch from left guard to right, which is a position he had not played since fall camp.
The official lineup for this week's offensive line has yet to be determined. However, Moudy is projected to play a part. He handled the expectations well against Purdue. If asked to step in for Long again versus Minnesota, Moudy will have many eyes on him.
For a full depth chart, click here.
Players to Watch from Minnesota
David Cobb (Jr, RB)
Against Northwestern, running back David Cobb had 124 total yards and two touchdowns. Of those 124 yards, 103 of them were on 20 carries. That's pretty impressive.
In fact, Cobb is a big factor in Minnesota's success on the ground. He and sophomore Rodrick Williams combine to average 6.21 yards per carry for the Gophers.
Cobb will give the Blackshirts a difficult time. If the Nebraska defensive line allows holes, Cobb will run right through them.
The Huskers must watch Cobb. If the Huskers' defensive end Randy Gregory has any say, he will make sure Cobb is limited.
However, containing Cobb cannot fall solely on Gregory's shoulders.
Mitch Leidner (RFr, QB) and Philip Nelson (Soph, QB)
It's tough to say who will start at quarterback—redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner or sophomore Philip Nelson. Against Northwestern, it was Leidner.
However, Nelson's numbers were definitely more impressive against the Wildcats. Leading the Gophers to victory, Nelson rushed for 26 yards and passed for 112 yards and one touchdown.
Leidner, on the other hand, only rushed seven times for 27 yards and went 1-of-3 passing for 11 yards.
Both will likely see playing time on Saturday against Nebraska. Both will also have to lead the Gophers in a solid offensive attack. To stay competitive in this matchup, it will be crucial each successfully run a game plan that makes the Blackshirts uncomfortable.
When the young Nebraska defense is faced with uncertainty, it tends to struggle. To create that pressure, it won't matter which quarterback is on the field. Whoever it is at any given moment will have to be as efficient against Nebraska as he was against Northwestern.
For a full depth chart, click here.
What Are They Saying?
Head Coach Bo Pelini
On Taylor Martinez:
Taylor did a little bit yesterday. He did some field work yesterday. He took some reps. We’re just seeing how he’s progressing. How he comes out of it. How he feels later on today, tomorrow. We’ll see if we can give him a little bit more on Tuesday and kind of play it by ear as the week goes on.
On the Legends Division race:
You look around college football. I think everything is pretty wide open. That’s just the nature of college football. In my opinion, you can throw 40 teams in a hat and go week to week and the teams that are going to execute that given week are the teams that are going to win football games. It’s not just the Legends Division. It’s across college football. It’s the way it is.
On Minnesota’s win at Northwestern:
It didn’t surprise me. Minnesota is getting better. I think they believe in what they are doing. I shouldn’t say I’m glad it happened. Hopefully it caught our guys’ attention. I’m sure it did.
Wide Receiver Kenny Bell
On the possible return of senior quarterback Taylor Martinez:
I am very optimistic (he will return). I would love to have Taylor back. I have always wanted Taylor as our quarterback, but at the same time I have just as much faith in Tommy (Armstrong Jr.) and Ron (Kellogg III). They have been playing good football for us. Optimism is high with Taylor. I am excited to see him back with pads on practicing. Whoever is going to be healthy is who I want out there on Saturday.
On the short passes that worked against Minnesota last year:
Minnesota has been the same for three years now. I think we can expect the same kind of things out of them this year, not that they haven’t gotten better. That is not what I am saying, as far as schematically how they play the game will be very similar to last year.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong
On his role this week:
Right now he (Taylor) practiced yesterday and we are going to take it day by day. Coach told me to prepare like I have for the last couple weeks and whatever decision they come up with, then they come up with it. As for right now I am not really sure.
On if it is tough being in his situation:
It is not tough. I have been there. I was at the situation at the beginning of the year. At the same time though he is experienced and has earned the right to come back and take that role on. Yeah I am the future being the quarterback here for a couple of years, but at the same time you just have to understand that this guy has been here for four or five years and he has done a lot.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are courtesy of Nebraska's weekly press conference, via Huskers.com.
Both teams enter Saturday's matchup at an advantage. However, each advantage is vastly different from the other.
The Huskers are coming off their second bye week in a month. The Golden Gophers are coming off their upset win against Northwestern on the road.
However, Nebraska has an advantage with its offense.
From I-back Ameer Abdullah to WR Quincy Enunwa, the Huskers are potent on offense. Even without the starting quarterback, Nebraska has managed to win big in three games just as needed.
The Gophers, on the other hand, did win on the road without head coach Jerry Kill on the sidelines. That cannot be overlooked.
Regardless, the Husker offense will take advantage of the 400 yards the Gopher defense is allowing per game. That doesn't mean Minnesota won't put a fair number of points on the board. It just means it won't be enough.
The second half of Nebraska's 2013 season won't be a cakewalk. However, Minnesota will give Nebraska the win it needs to take the team into November.
Prediction: Nebraska 41, Minnesota 17
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter at @erinsorensen.