LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska stayed afloat in the Big Ten West race on Saturday night with a 24-17 win over Minnesota.
The Huskers are 8-2 overall, 5-2 in the conference and two wins plus one Wisconsin loss away from a trip to Indianapolis.
Here’s how we grade Nebraska’s eighth win of the season.
For the most part, Nebraska’s offense played well on Saturday.
Senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. was 19 of 27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Senior running back Terrell Newby had 86 yards on 16 carries, and senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp had six catches for 50 yards.
Statistically, it was a good day. The issues came in the first half.
Nebraska only called two run plays for Newby, and the offense became easy to read. Lots of pass plays and lots of Armstrong runs made it simple for Minnesota to read the Huskers’ third-down calls. Nebraska was just 2 for 6 in the first half on third down.
Minnesota dominated time of possession in the first half, too, so Nebraska couldn’t really get anything going. Part of that falls on Nebraska’s defense. But Nebraska’s offense shares the blame for not being able to stay on the field on third down.
For the second consecutive week, Nebraska struggled to get off the field on third down.
The Gophers were 8 of 16 on third down for the game, 5 of 10 in the first half.
Nebraska did take away Minnesota’s run game, allowing the Gophers only 85 yards and 2.5 yards per carry. But the Huskers struggled to put pressure on Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner on third down, and in general.
A big interception by Kieron Williams at the end of the game also overshadowed the fact the Blackshirts almost allowed Minnesota to drive the length of the field late in the fourth quarter for an opportunity to tie the game up.
Special Teams (1/5)
Another poor day for the special teams.
We’ll start, obviously, with freshman punter Caleb Lightbourn’s punt for negative-2 yards.
Blame the wind or the bounce. Either way, eek.
Nothing about Nebraska’s special teams was special. Punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El had three punt returns for a total of negative-1 yard, and Nebraska’s kickoff returns weren’t great either.
The one point out of five here comes from Drew Brown’s 46-yard field goal. Brown continues to be the only good thing about Nebraska’s special teams.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf was very creative in solving Nebraska’s problems up front.
He drew up two plays, for freshman Tre Bryant and senior running back Terrell Newby, both of which were swing passes, both of which resulted in touchdowns.
Instead of running up the middle time and time again, Nebraska used screen plays and bubble screens to gain a few yards on first down. And it really worked.
It feels like we’ve seen the same game four times.
Nebraska plays an awful first half, scores a bit in the third quarter, is tied going into the fourth, then pulls it out in the end. It’s a risky formula, but apparently it works for Nebraska.
But it also means Nebraska does just enough to win. Lucky for Nebraska, it’s not in the running for the College Football Playoff and doesn’t need to impress anyone. Win enough to make it matter if Wisconsin loses, that’s Nebraska’s goal.
And with its performance on Saturday, Nebraska did just that.