Huskers steamroll Minnesota 38-14 in home finale
In a game filled with emotion surrounding the Senior Day celebrations and the final home game involving legendary coach and departing athletic director Tom Osborne, Nebraska made sure to put any chance of Minnesota spoiling the day to bed right out of the gate.
After completely dominating the Golden Gophers in all three phases to take a 24-point lead into halftime, the Huskers went on cruise control the rest of the game to walk away with a 38-14 victory and move one win away from clinching the Leaders Division title.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez was as good as ever, accounting for 320 total yards and two touchdowns before being replaced by Ron Kellogg early in the fourth quarter. The Huskers ended up with 444 yards of offense and 25 first downs when all was said and done.
The performance moved the Martinez past Zac Taylor's previous school career passing record of 5,850 yards from 2005-06.
On the other side of the ball, the Blackshirts totally overwhelmed freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and held UM to just 177 yards of offense and forced two turnovers.
The win put the Huskers at a perfect 7-0 at home this season, giving them their first undefeated home record since 2001.
"Happy to get the win," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I thought it was a pretty good effort by our team in all regards; a pretty complete effort. I thought our kids come out and played hard and did some really good things. Obviously some things to clean up. Now the challenge is going to be to come back in a short week and be ready to go on the road and put ourselves in position to finish off the second half of the year the way we want."
Nebraska (9-2 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) wasted no time jumping all over Minnesota (6-5, 2-5), scoring on its first two drives of the game to take a quick 10-0 lead.
The Huskers got on the board on the opening possession with a 39-yard field goal by senior Brett Maher, and then got the ball back after three-and-out stand on defense. Martinez connected with sophomore receiver Kenny Bell for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 6:05 left in the first quarter.
While stifling the Gophers' offense the entire first half, Nebraska later extended its lead after Martinez hit Bell again for 29 yards down to the UM 3-yard line, and freshman running back Imani Cross barreled his way for the score to make it 17-0.
On NU's next possession, wide out Quincy Enunwa hauled in a juggling 29-yard catch at the Gopher 2, and Cross plunged into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day to bump the lead up to 24-0 with 4:22 left in the half.
The Huskers had a chance to go up even more in the final seconds before halftime, but Pelini opted to go for it with two seconds on the clock instead of kicking a field goal, and Cross was stuffed at the goal line.
Even so, the first two quarters were complete domination by Nebraska. The Huskers out-gained Minnesota 306-60, got 19 first downs to UM's four, and held the Gophers to just 10 rushing yards in the first half.
Martinez was nearly flawless throwing the ball, completing 17-of-23 passes for 221 yards and a score, while Bell caught seven balls for 97 of those yards, including his touchdown. Oddly enough, it marked just Nebraska's second halftime lead in seven Big Ten games this season.
"We had focused all week on really starting well and playing fast, because we've been coming out a bit sluggish in the past four or five weeks and kind of giving some people heart attacks," Bell said. "It was really important to us to really start fast and get into our game faster. We did a great job of that today and really came out strong."
Things slowed down a bit to start the third quarter, but safety Daimion Stafford picked things up with an impressive interception on the first play following a lost fumble by NU running back Ameer Abdullah. The Huskers responded with a 21-yard pass to Enunwa, a 23-yard run by Abdullah and then a 30-yard touchdown pass to Bell to make it 31-0 with just under nine minutes left in the quarter.
Bell ended the day with nine catches for 136 yards and two scores, while Abdullah rushed 18 times for 79 yards, making him the 32nd player in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season.
The Blackshirts came up with another big play a bit later in the third when senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste picked off a tipped Nelson pass and returned it 48 yards to the house to put NU up a commanding 38-0.
"I thought we played really well defensively," Pelini said. "I don't know what the numbers were, but up through three quarters when we started subbing I thought we had played pretty well and executed well."
Minnesota was finally able to get on the board in the fourth quarter after Nebraska pulled its starters on both sides of the ball, scoring on two touchdown runs by receiver/quarterback MarQueis Gray to make the final score a little more respectable.
Because Michigan easily defeated Iowa earlier in the day, Nebraska must still win next week's regular-season finale against the Hawkeyes to ensure a division title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin.
Having now won five straight since their blowout loss to Ohio State back in early October, the Huskers aren't planning to let up one bit and leave anything to chance.
"This team has proven how we respond to adversity, and now it's time for us to prove how we deal with success," Bell said. "We've got a big game, a huge game this week at Iowa. The No. 1 thing that I think we need to do is what Bo tells us: There's always so much noise with who you're going to be playing in the Rose Bowl or Big Ten Championship. None of that really matters. We've got a big game this week against Iowa, and we have to go to their house, which isn't an easy place to win. All eyes are on Iowa this week."