Minnesota vs. Nebraska, college football, 10.20.18

Nebraska cornerback Lamar Jackson (21) defends a pass heading toward Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman last season at Memorial Stadium. The Gophers have plenty of offensive weapons that can challenge NU"s defense, including Bateman.

The numbers on the surface don't jump off the page.

Minnesota is 73rd nationally in total offense. The Golden Gophers are outside the top 50 in the country in passing offense and outside the top 70 in rushing offense. They can score a little, averaging 36 points per game, but in the big picture nothing stands out.

But you don't have to dig too far to see just how dangerous Minnesota's individual weapons are. Expected to be a strength coming into the season, the Gophers' receiving and running back corps have for the most part lived up to the hype.

So as Nebraska tries to sort out its own issues offensively, the NU defense will have its hands full preparing for some of the Big Ten's top offensive threats.

"I think they’re big and physical up front. They've got some big tight ends that help them in the running game. Their quarterback has been really efficient. They have two really good wide receivers. They’re going to smash you and run some RPO’s (run-pass options). They’re going to take shots," Nebraska coach Scott Frost said Monday. "They’ve been putting up a lot of points. You can tell it’s Year 3 of (P.J. Fleck's) tenure up there. They’re starting to look like the team he wants them to look like. It’s going to be a good challenge for us and a great opportunity."

The Minnesota receiver duo of Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson match up favorably with any pass catchers in the conference, combining for 51 catches, 887 yards and nine touchdowns through five games. Throw in Chris Autman-Bell, who has 11 receptions for 220 yards and three scores of his own, and you've got a trio that together accounts for 79% of Minnesota's catches, 89% of the team's receiving yards and 12 of the Gophers' 13 touchdown grabs.

Nebraska defensive back Dicaprio Bootle called Johnson "tops" among the receivers he's faced in his time at NU.

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“They’re up there. Right with them (the best in the league). Those are great guys. That’s a really strong receiving group," Bootle said. "You’ve got to be really serious and really dialed in this week because if you’re not on point, they’ll make you pay for it.”

That trio has allowed sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan to complete 70% of his passes while throwing just three interceptions, and helped Minnesota squeak out four one-possession wins in its first five games.

"There’s a lot of guys you have to pay attention to. They do a good job of running those guys deep and completing some deep balls. They do a great job on RPOs that if your eyes aren’t right or you’re not in the right place could turn into big plays," Frost said. "So they definitely have some weapons on the perimeter and our DBs have to be on their game, but really everybody does because there’s a lot of things that go in to take away that run-pass option."

The members of Nebraska's defensive backfield said Monday they were ready for the test.

"We love that challenge, especially as a DB group. We love pressure," NU's Cam Taylor-Britt said. "They have some good receivers and we’re some good DBs so it’s going to be a great game."

Oh by the way, Gophers running back Rodney Smith has 536 of Minnesota's 795 rushing yards (67%).

"They’ve got some big tight ends, something different for us. It’s going to be a real challenge on our edge because their tight ends are big bodies. It’s like actually having two offensive linemen on the field at the same time," defensive tackle Darrion Daniels said. I think that’s something that I’ve noticed, and that we’re keying in on in practice, just making sure that we take care of those two and stop the run."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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