When: Sat. Nov. 12, 2016; 7:30 pm ET
Where: Lincoln, NE; Memorial Stadium (90,600)
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 31-23-2
Last Meeting: Nebraska 48-25 win, last year
Line: Nebraska (-7)
This is a big one in the West that’ll go a long way towards deciding who goes to Indy as the champion of the divison if Wisconsin happens to slip up somewhere along the way. Even without a loss by the Badgers, a tie for the division is still worth writing home about. The winner keeps pace, while the loser falls a game back.
So who comes off the bus with motivation? The Gophers have been great at times, but inconsistent at others. The ‘Huskers are coming off two straight losses on the road and hope to get some respite and energy at home with or without their star quarterback Tommy Armstrong who may or may not go depending on the recovery from a head injury in Columbus last week.
This is, as they say, a rather important athletic competition.
1 Burning Question: Does Nebraska have anything left in the tank?
There aren’t too many labrynths worse than going on the road to Madison and Columbus in back-to-back weeks, and this Nebraska team is feeling it. They are brusised and battered both physically and emotionally and it showed in a 62-3 public flogging in the ‘Shoe last week.
So, how much can the ‘Huskers muster as they return home? The chase for the division is not out of the question yet, but to get there, Nebraska has to find something from within and push away the temptation to play out the rest of the season as a so-so bowl team. There’s still plenty to play for including building for the future.
2 Key Stats:
— 2. As in two-straight losses by Nebraska that has taken out it out of the conversation for the College Football Playoff. It’s been a great turn-around season for Mike Riley and company with plenty to build on, but it’ll all be for naught if Big Red limps to the finish line. The Cornhuskers need this win, and more to keep things moving in the right direction.
— 1.33. That’s the average turnover margin per game for the Golden Gophers — good for 3rd in the country. Since Jerry Kill got things cooking in the Twin Cities, the Gophers have been known to field a tough-nosed defense, but often lacked the opportunistic plays to swing momentum in the big ones. This year, head coach Tracy Claeys has a defense that has taken the ball away, and an offense stingy with turnovers. All things being equal, the team with less mistakes generally wins, and that’s right in the sweet spot for this Minnesota team. The same ball-hawking principles need to travel to Lincoln to pull the upset.
3 Key Players:
Rodney Smith, Minnesota RB: With Shannon Brooks in and out of the lineup this year because of injuries, it’s been Smith that has had to carry more load than what the coaching staff would like on the ground. It’s unlikely Smith cares. He’s been the most dangerous and consistent offensive weapon for the Gophers, and as he goes, so too does the ball-control gameplan Tracy Claeys likes to use. He’ll get plenty of opportunities to move the chains in this one.
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska QB: Will he or won’t he play? If he does, how limited will he be? Those are the questions on everyone’s minds as Nebraska prepares for it’s third big game in a row. Simply put; Armstrong is the ‘Huskers best chance to keep drives alive and put up enough points to win this game. Without him, the running game gets stuck in the mud and yards through the air are hard to come by as defenses pin their ears back. If Armstrong can’t go, it’ll likely be senior Ryker Fyfe, but he’s not nearly the dual-threat the ‘Huskers so desparately need to score enough points to win.
Mitch Leidner, Minnestoa QB: Yeah Nebraska is a bit depleted in the personnel department, and yeah it’s probably emotionally spent, but this one is at its place. Whenever you travel to a hositle environment, the guy slinging the ball around needs to come to play with bad intentions. By all accounts, Leidner has not heated up like we all thought, but he’s still got the tools to do so. It’s been four starts since he’s thrown a touchdown, and without that threat through the air, the running game is going to find elbow space hard to come by.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Minnesota 28-24
Dave: Minnesota 23-20
Phil H.: Nebraska 27-20
Philip R.: Nebraska 28-24