10 things we learned from Nebraska's win over Minnesota
1. First win gives Frost both joy and relief
The look on Scott Frost’s face as the cooler of Gatorade was dumped down his back following Nebraska’s 53-28 victory over Minnesota on Saturday said it all.
It took seven more tries than he or most anyone else would have thought, but Frost finally managed to notch his first win as the Huskers’ head coach and snap an unthinkable stretch of losing that dated back nearly a full calendar year.
The reality of their 1-6 record wasn’t lost on any of NU’s players or coaches after the game, but after a first half of the season that saw the team find about as many ways possible to lose games, being on the right side of the scoreboard was just the medicine they needed.
“It’s both,” Frost said when asked if he was feeling more joy or relief about finally winning his first game.
“This is overdue. Our guys have deserved and played well enough to win some other ones, and we found some of the most unbelievable ways to lose games that I’ve ever seen. This leaves me shaking my head, but sometimes when you break through the dam, the flood waters come.”
2. The offense finally clicked
Since the day he took over at Nebraska, Frost has said how dangerous his offensive scheme could be once things started clicking on all cylinders.
Well, after racking up their most total yards (659) in a conference game since posting 702 against Kansas State back in 2007, the Huskers finally put it all together on Saturday, and it looked fantastic.
The 53 points were the most by NU since joining the Big Ten Conference in 2011 and its most since scoring 55 in wins over Florida Atlantic and Fresno State in 2014. They were also the most points in a conference game since putting 56 up at Kansas State in 2008.
The run game was the best it’s been all year, as three 100-yard rushers paced Nebraska to its highest rushing total (383) in four seasons (458 vs. Illinois in 2014).
Quarterback Adrian Martinez had his best game as a Husker, accounting for 401 combined yards and four total touchdowns.
“I think everything was working on the ground,” Martinez said. “When you have three different guys who are running it, including myself, it makes it tough on the defense and how they are going to stop us. If they want to bring an extra guy in the box, then we’ll throw it out there.
“That’s what is so great about this offense, it’s having a lot of options. Our O-Line was playing great today. I think they are incredibly underrated, the job they've done, the yards we’ve put up, and we translated those yards into points today.”
3. Facing another potential collapse, Huskers kept fighting
A week earlier, Nebraska snatched defeat from the hands of victory by blowing a 10-point lead with just four minutes left in regulation for an overtime loss at Northwestern.
When Minnesota stormed back from a 28-0 deficit to score 22 unanswered points and make it a one-possession game in the third quarter, many fans immediately thought to themselves: “Here we go again.”
But rather than fold under pressure, the Huskers dug their heels in and came right back to outscore the Gophers 24-7 the rest of the way.
Given how last Saturday’s game ended, Frost said he issued a challenge to his players about how they were going to respond if they found themselves in that high-pressure situation again. Based on the resolve they showed in closing out Minnesota, the Huskers took that challenge head-on.
“I even thought it myself, ‘I’ve seen this movie before,’” Frost said. “Listen, the team last week was in a similar situation last week. One of the things we talked about is when you’re in that situation, what are you thinking? I asked each one of them what were you thinking. Were you thinking we were going to get this done, let’s go end this? Or were you thinking, ‘Oh no, what might happen?’
“We want our guys to play with a desire to excel and no fear of failure all the time. We can’t be worried about that. I think our team responded to that situation better today than it has since I’ve been here.”
4. Martinez shines brighter than ever
It seems as if each week Martinez takes another step forward in his development as Nebraska’s quarterback of the future, and Saturday was by far his biggest jump yet.
The true freshman was as dynamic as he’s been all season, posting 400 total yards for the third time in the past four games and coming up with one timely play after another when his team needed them the most.
After Saturday’s performance, Martinez became the first Big Ten player to throw for more than 275 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for more than 125 and a score since Denard Robinson in 2010.
He also joined only Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray as the only two quarterbacks in FBS who are averaging more than 225 passing and 50 rushing yards per game on the season.
Martinez has already etched his name in the Nebraska record books in just seven games as a starter, and based on his steady upward trajectory, he looks to only be getting started.
“Those are senior numbers, those aren’t 18-year-old numbers,” Frost said. “I’m glad he’s here.”
5. Running game has record day
It’s been a long time since Nebraska put up the kind of rushing numbers it did on Saturday.
The Huskers looked like a blast from the past in pounding Minnesota’s defense for its best ground attack of the year, with backs Devine Ozigbo (152) and Maurice Washington (109) and Martinez (125) all eclipsing the century mark in the win.
That marked just the fifth time school history and the first since Taylor Martinez, Roy Helu Jr., and Rex Burkhead all topped 100 yards at Washington in 2010.
Nebraska racked up 278 rushing yards in the first half alone, and Ozigbo now needs 400 yards over the final five games to become NU’s first 1,000-yard running back since Ameer Abdullah in 2014.
“We got some guys that are special players, and some young guys that are going to be really special,” Frost said. “We talked about Adrian, Mo (Washington), they’re going to be really special back around here, and Devine has just been awesome for us…
“Devine was in a three-way battle at running back (to start the year). He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season. He has been a really good player and workhorse for us. He is a Sunday guy. I think our strength and conditioning staff has helped him. He is a step faster and he has been making big plays for us. He has become a leader.”
6. How about Stanley Morgan?
Both Frost and offensive coordinator/receivers coach Troy Walters mentioned last week that Stanley Morgan Jr. needed to be more involved for Nebraska’s offense to be at its best.
The Huskers certainly made the senior wideout a priority on Saturday.
Morgan had the best game of his career with 10 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns, both of which coming during NU’s critical late-game closeout.
The performance gave him the sixth 100-yard receiving game of his career, which ties for the fourth-most in school history. Morgan also boosted his career catch total to 156, putting him just 25 grabs shy of Kenny Bell’s school record (181).
Morgan said the coaches did a good job of moving him around to both sides of the field and in the slot to try and create mismatches he could take advantage of, and the plan worked to perfection.
"They moved me around more,” Morgan said. “It's kind of tough being out there underneath over-the-top coverage. It's kind of tough to get the ball out there. So the coaches just moved me around more and just put more emphasis on that, and I appreciate them for that."
7. Huskers finally won the penalty battle
For the first time this season, Nebraska committed fewer penalties than its opponent.
The Huskers were flagged a season-low six times for 43 yards, while Minnesota had eight for 80. The margin wasn’t even that close until NU was called for two infractions late in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over.
Nebraska was not penalized at all in the first quarter for the first time this year.
Minnesota came into the game averaging just three penalties per game, but the Gophers topped that total in the second quarter alone, including a holding call in the first that negated a 37-yard touchdown.
That flag marked the first time a Nebraska Big Ten opponent had committed an accepted holding penalty on a pass play in 21 league games, going all the way back to the first quarter of NU’s win over Illinois in 2016.
8. Special teams weren't great, but they were good enough
Nebraska’s special teams weren’t perfect by any stretch, but for the first time all year, they weren’t detrimental to the point of helping to cost a game.
The Huskers punted just three times on the day, and Isaac Armstrong averaged a solid 41.7 yards per punt while often kicking into a strong wind.
Freshman kicker Barret Pickering did his job as well, connecting on an important 32-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter that kept NU up by three scores.
Nebraska didn’t return any of Minnesota’s six punts, five of which were downed inside the 20. The Gophers also owned a significant advantage in starting field position, getting the ball on average at their 38-yard line while NU was at its own 21.
But outside of an 87-yard kickoff return by Demetrius Douglas in the fourth quarter, there weren’t many of the game-changing breakdowns we’d seen from the Huskers’ special teams all season.
9. Spielman climbs the record books
While it was a breakout game for Morgan, fellow receiver J.D. Spielman was his same old productive self.
The sophomore hauled in eight catches for 77 yards on the day, including a nine-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
That score moved him to just one shy of cracking NU’s all-time single-season list for touchdown receptions, and he’s now the 12thHusker to reach 100 career catches (103).
Spielman has been on a tear as of late, hauling in eight or more grabs the past four games. He’s the first NU player to crack 100 catches before his senior season and is already up to 10thon the school’s receptions list.
Spielman is only 13 yards away from passing Matt Davison for 10thplace on the all-time receiving yards chart, and with five games still to go, he’s less than 400 yards away from becoming Nebraska’s first-ever 1,000-yard receiver.
10. No bye week suddenly doesn't seem so bad
Losing the Akron game due to weather cancellation caused a lot of problems for Nebraska, most notably forcing it to play 12 straight games without a bye week.
But now with a win finally in their pocket, next week’s rescheduled home game vs. Bethune-Cookman – which was supposed to be the team’s week off – suddenly doesn’t seem like much of a burden.
The Huskers finally tasted the reward of victory on Saturday, and it was clear from talking with the players after the game that none were all that disappointed about not having to go another two weeks before returning to action.
Momentum is such a valuable thing, and Nebraska has a chance to get some much-needed good vibes going heading into its road game at No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 3.
“It would be nice to try and get two (wins) in a row if we play well,” Frost said. “We are missing out on a bye week and resting our guys. We are beat up a little bit and tired. We will keep on adjusting as much as we can.