football Edit

10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS - Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways from Nebraska's 30-23 loss at Minnesota on Saturday...

Nebraska had every opportunity to rally back against Minnesota, but it couldn't find a way to finish.
Nebraska had every opportunity to rally back against Minnesota, but it couldn't find a way to finish. (Associated Press)

1. Nebraska still doesn’t know how to win

As badly as pretty much everything went for Nebraska in the first half, it still found itself with multiple opportunities to get back in the game and win it in the third and fourth quarters.

But with one failed chance after another, the Huskers once again showed how far away they are from owning a true winning mentality.

With the defense suddenly flipping a switch and taking the game over in the second half, NU's offense had three consecutive drives where it marched to the Minnesota one, nine, and 29-yard line.

The result of those drives? Zero points.

The next time Nebraska had the ball after that, Adrian Martinez threw the ball away to no one and was flagged for a safety.

The Huskers pulled back within a touchdown in the final minutes, but that only added to a theme of late-game ineptitude during the Scott Frost era.

Nebraska is now 0-5 in one-score games this season and 5-17 under Frost.

"We've just got to find a way to win," senior linebacker JoJo Domann said, "and we keep finding ways to lose."

2. Once again, the Huskers somehow weren’t locked in

Maybe it was because it had just played eight straight games without a bye week, but Frost and his players admitted after Saturday's loss that Nebraska wasn't dialed in mentally the way it needed to be.

In a game that carried so much importance toward the Huskers' chances at going to a bowl game for the first time in five years, that was inexcusable.

Frost said NU had another strong week of practice and was "businesslike" leading up to the Minnesota game. However, he added that he wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing.

Cam Taylor-Britt said he could sense the team wasn't locked in from the start of their morning meetings and that Frost talked with the players about it before they left for the stadium.

"We had to flip the switch and wake up," Taylor-Britt said.

It was an 11 a.m. kick against a Minnesota team fresh off a bye week, but it was also a must-win scenario for Nebraska. As they've done so many times before, the Huskers sleepwalked out of the gates. That might result in a death blow to their postseason hopes.

"There wasn't as much juice as we'd had the past two weeks," Frost said. "We needed to bring it ourselves today."

3. The Blackshirts played for Chinander

As rough of a day as it was for Nebraska, everything that happened on the field on Saturday was put into perspective by the tragedy that occurred on Thursday.

Gene Chinander, the father of NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, was killed in a car crash near his home in Iowa on Thursday afternoon.

Erik still traveled with the Huskers to Minneapolis as usual, but there seemed to be a cloud hovering over the entire team, especially the defense.

After an ugly start, the Blackshirts regrouped at halftime and came back with a dominant second half. Domann and Taylor-Britt said the entire defense wanted to play well and win the game for Chinander.

"I respect the hell out of him for sticking with us and coaching with us,” Domann said. “That’s a warrior. Not the result we wanted, but we fought for him.”

Frost, who had known Chinander’s father since he and Erik coached together at Northern Iowa, said Erik’s dad would have wanted him to coach in the game and be with his team.

“It’s been emotional,” Frost said. “I’ve known Erik since 2007 when we lived together in Cedar Falls (Iowa), and I’ve known his dad since then. His dad was a coach, just like mine, and my parents and him were really good friends.

“He’s a good man, and I know he would have wanted Erik to be here, and that’s why Erik was here. He would’ve wanted to see Erik win today… It’s not easy, and the whole team and the whole Husker family is there for him.”

4. Martinez was off, and the offense followed

It wasn’t just the several missed scoring opportunities in the second half that plagued Nebraska’s offense.

Things seemed off on offense from the start. Much of that had to do with Martinez having one of his worst games of the season.

The fourth-year junior completed 18-of-33 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown, but he missed numerous throws in the first half that could have set the tone early. He only rushed eight times for minus-17 yards (he was sacked twice for 19 lost yards).

Martinez’s most critical mistake came with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter when he was pressured deep in NU territory and was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety.

It wouldn’t be fair to put the blame solely on Martinez’s shoulders, as he was hardly the only Husker who struggled on Saturday.

But his performance further proved that Nebraska’s offense would only be as good as Martinez is on any given week.

5. Connor Culp is a problem again

Just when it felt like Connor Culp had gotten past his early-season mental block and was back to being the All-Big Ten kicker he was last year, Saturday was another disaster.

After drilling a 50-yard field goal into the wind for Nebraska’s first points of the game, things quickly fell apart for the sixth-year senior.

Culp shanked another extra point in the second quarter to leave NU down 14-9 and then went wide right on a 27-yard field goal attempt at the beginning of the fourth quarter that would’ve pulled the Huskers within 21-19.

While Culp came in having made his past two field-goal tries and 25 extra points, he’s now missed nine total kicks through the first eight games of this season (six FGs, three XPT).

To his credit, Culp stood in the Huntington Bank Stadium hallway and answered every question asked to him by reporters following the loss.

As could be expected, he was visibly dejected after the game, and it’s hard not to wonder just where Culp’s confidence in himself is at this point.

6. Tanner Morgan took the game over in the first half

The shine on Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan had nearly all worn off since his breakout debut season in 2019.

The fifth-year senior had struggled and, at times, was downright bad through Minnesota’s first five games. But in the first half on Saturday, Nebraska helped Morgan look like one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

With a balanced running game and plenty of protection in the pocket, Morgan carved up NU’s secondary in record fashion. He completed 14 of his 15 passing attempts in the first half for 171 yards and two touchdowns with a QB rating of 233.1.

Morgan ended up connecting on 16 straight passes at one point, setting the Minnesota school record.

Nebraska’s defense certainly clamped down on him in the second half, picking Morgan off twice and holding him to just 32 passing yards after halftime.

But for the first two quarters, the Huskers made a QB who came in completing just 52.2 percent of his throws on the season look like an All-American.

7. Minnesota’s running game went from weakness to strength

One of the most notable advantages Nebraska appeared to have leading up to the game was that Minnesota had just lost its second starting running back for the season due to injury.

After All-Big back Mohamed Ibrahim was lost for the year in Week 1, the Gophers ruled out new starter Trey Potts after suffering a scary injury against Purdue that left him hospitalized for six days.

That left UM leaning on junior Bryce Williams, who came in with just five carries for two yards on the season, as its starting running back against Nebraska.

So, of course, Williams ended up having the best game of his career by rushing 17 times for 127 yards in the win, including a 56-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game-winner.

The Gophers ended up running it 43 times for 182 yards on the day, with 111 of those yards coming on 21 second-half carries (5.3 ypc).

8. Cam Taylor-Britt is earning back some money

Arguably Nebraska’s best overall player and top NFL prospect going into the season, Taylor-Britt hardly played up to that level through the first few weeks.

But following what his coaches called his best game of the year last time out vs. Michigan, the fourth-year junior was outstanding once again on Saturday.

Taylor-Britt ended the game with seven tackles (six solo), two tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception against Minnesota.

It wasn’t just an impressive final stat line, either. In the first quarter, Taylor-Britt’s sack on an odd double-reverse flea-flicker call by Minnesota helped turn a likely touchdown drive into a missed field goal.

His interception in the end zone to open the third quarter not only thwarted another Gopher scoring drive but also provided NU with an emotional spark it desperately needed to try and come back.

If he continues to play at this level for the rest of the year, Taylor-Britt should vault his way back up 2022 NFL draft boards.

9. Missed opportunities left fans wondering ‘what if?’

In retrospect, there were probably a few calls Frost made on Saturday that he’d like to do over again. But in regards to a couple of his most debated decisions, Frost had no regrets.

The first would have been deciding not to go under center on the fourth-and-goal at the Minnesota one-yard line late in the third quarter.

Asked why the offense ran a play out of the shotgun rather than put Martinez under center for a quarterback sneak, Frost said they had seen on film how good the Gophers had been in stopping sneaks this season.

Martinez said he does take some snaps from under center in practice and would have felt comfortable doing it in that situation. But he believed the coaches had a good call lined up, and NU likely would have scored if Jaquez Yant hadn’t stumbled on the run.

“Look, I play on the team, and we run what is called,” Martinez said. “Maybe (going under center) is something we explore; maybe it isn’t. But we feel confident in what we had called there, and I’m sure we would do it again and have faith in our guys.”

Looking back, the other regret was opting to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-four from the UM 9-yard line trailing by five at the end of the third.

“We talked about it a lot on the headset, and at that point, I thought making the field goal and only being down two with the way we were playing on offense that we could get it back down there and have another chance at a field goal, and we would’ve if we’d made that one,” Frost said.

10. This team needs a break

Having played eight straight games, including four road trips already, Nebraska is due for some time off.

Just as much as the Huskers need a break to heal up physically from the season's grind, they also desperately need an opportunity to regroup mentally from a string of gut-punch losses.

Nebraska was tentatively scheduled to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday next week before the coaching staff hit the road recruiting over the bye weekend. It remains to be seen if that schedule gets altered, but there's no doubt NU will get a chance to step away for a few days to reset.

"We're all upset," Frost said. "I want this for the kids, first. I want this for Nebraska, second. I'm at the end of the list. These kids won't quit. We've got too many good kids and too many good players. They need a break. It's been a grind.

"That's not an excuse. Minnesota did more good things than us today. But they need a break, and I know that they'll come back strong."

Added Martinez: "We're still not discouraged, but there's some evaluation we're going to have to do and fix some things."