MINNEAPOLIS — Sometimes, after a loss like the one Nebraska suffered Saturday, coaches will say they saw potential for a bad result based off the week's practices.
But after Minnesota’s 34-23 win, those in the Husker camp said they simply didn’t see it coming.
“If you’d have asked me that 24 hours ago, I felt pretty good about our preparation,” said defensive coordinator John Papuchis. “Obviously, after watching that (game), I don’t feel good about anything we did.”
Husker coach Bo Pelini said the Gophers threw a few different things at Nebraska.
“But it wasn’t a mind-boggling plan. … This game comes down to blocking and tackling. And we didn’t do that very well.”
Basic stuff got the best of the Huskers.
The young Husker linebackers were particularly susceptible to play-action pass plays, leaving the Minnesota tight ends and fullbacks uncovered.
“We did a poor job of being disciplined with our eyes,” Papuchis said. “When teams pound the ball on you, it’s hard, because with play-action you have to be very disciplined. We have to be more dominant up front. We’ve got to keep working on technique and fundamentals. Our linebackers have to be more downhill and physical.”
Papuchis knows it needs to be figured out fast.
“What we saw today is something we’re going to see the rest of the year,” he said. “That’s the nature of the Big Ten.”
* STUCK IN NEUTRAL: It was an uphill climb all day, but with 5:50 left in the game, the Huskers had the ball, trailing by four points, with a chance to save the day.
It would have required a 91-yard drive. Nebraska managed just 1 yard. A three-and-out.
On third-and-9, Nebraska tried to run a quarterback draw with Taylor Martinez. Coaches said that was a called QB run all the way because of the look the Minnesota defense was giving.
Pelini cited that drive in particular when listing the day's disappointments.
The offensive performance as a whole was puzzling.
“I knew that (Minnesota) was going to load the box and make us throw the football,” he said. “I thought we would have played better than we did today. I thought we were going to hurt this football team a lot more than we did throwing the football."
Nebraska finished with just 139 passing yards, and 71 of those came on the first series.
“I’m looking forward to looking at this film. I don’t know if we took advantage of some of the things that were there for us offensively the way we should have,” Pelini said.
* OUT OF THE GATE FAST: Were the Huskers flat against a team they dominated the past two years?
It’s hard to believe that, considering Nebraska came out fast, scoring a touchdown less than three minutes into the game, then getting a field goal.
It was 10-0 with 7:06 left in the first quarter and looked as if it might go like a lot of past Nebraska-Minnesota games.
“It’s not like we came out flat,” said NU offensive line coach John Garrison. “But we didn’t react very well to some things in some adverse situations. We were bad on our first downs and put ourselves into some bad situations.”
* ISSUES WITH RASHEDE: The Husker offensive line had its share of troubles, especially in the first half, blocking Minnesota standout defensive tackle RaShede Hageman, a potential NFL first-round draft pick.
Hageman had a sack and two tackles for loss, and would have had two more plays behind the line of scrimmage if not for facemask penalties.
“We got beat once and we had a missed assignment on the other,” Garrison said. “Protectionwise, we didn’t protect well at all today. We had a plan going into it and the plan held up. It’s really the execution of it.
“You gotta win. We told them that (Minnesota) was a tough team, and their coaching staff got them ready to play, and, obviously, I didn’t.”
* PERFECT KICKING: One of the few bright spots for the Huskers was senior kicker Pat Smith.
There had been worries about NU’s kicking game coming into Saturday. The Huskers had missed three extra points (two by Smith, one by Mauro Bondi), and had only four field-goal attempts.
They had made all four, but the longest one was 32 yards. Pundits wondered how Smith would respond when challenged. He had a big answer Saturday, hitting kicks from 45, 42 and 37 yards.
“It was nice to get some field goals today, but at the end of the day, it’s bittersweet,” Smith said. “Because, even if you have a good game and you still lose, the win-loss is what really matters.”
* FIRST FOR COTTON: Former Lincoln Southeast standout Sam Cotton, a redshirt freshman tight end, caught the first touchdown pass of his career near the end of the third quarter, a 3-yard score that cut Minnesota's lead to 27-20.
“It was just catching them off-guard and they couldn’t cover me, so I got my first touchdown,” Cotton said. “A win would have felt better, though.”
Cotton attributed the loss to a lack of execution and a Minnesota team that played well.
“I think it was just that they outplayed us,” he said. “I don’t think it was a lack of preparation. I think we were ready to go, we just didn’t get it done. It really is simple: They were more physical than we were. I think our team can be the most physical team in the Big Ten. It’s just a matter of executing. We didn’t execute. If we’re hitting on all cylinders, we can do some great things.”
* THIS AND THAT: When Minnesota scored to go ahead 14-10, it was the Gophers' first lead against Nebraska in 11 games since 1969. … The Huskers had won 16 straight games against Minnesota dating to 1960. … With three catches for 45 yards, Kenny Bell moved past Todd Peterson into fifth place on the Nebraska career receptions list with 109. … Quincy Enunwa caught three balls for 46 yards, and now has a streak of 21 straight games with a catch. … Nebraska failed to rush for 200 yards for just the fourth time since the start of the 2012 season and only the second time this season.