1. Who is the gopher’s ally?
It was Bill Murray who taught us that gophers can ruin your day and your landscaping if you aren’t careful. It's not easy for Nebraskans to perhaps accept this premise, given that all recent Husker games against the Gophers have been as interesting as a date between a hammer and nail. Consider, Nebraska has won each of the past 12 meetings by at least 24 points. Same broken record Saturday? If Nebraska stops Minnesota’s run game, probably. That aspect of the game will very likely determine whether it remains a game into the second half. The Gophers play ugly on offense, 119th in passing, but they're capable of grinding out games. Behind running back David Cobb (477 rushing yards), they are 28th in rushing offense. Expect Minnesota to go to that well often, hoping to control the clock, shorten the game, perhaps see if Nebraska’s front seven is as improved as the past couple of weeks suggest. Wisdom comes from "Caddyshack," which has the line “Who is the gopher’s ally? His friend?” It’s the run game, Carl Spackler. The run game. Stop it and you’ve got the critter licked.
2. How much rust builds in six weeks?
For the first time in six weeks, it appears Taylor Martinez will be back in the Husker huddle. So what should be expected from No. 3? You’d anticipate some rust, which is why it’s important for Martinez to get the chance to knock it off this week. Is he recovered enough from his turf toe injury to, as Bo Pelini says, “put his foot in the ground and go”? There is that storyline and then there's the storyline of what roles Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg have going forward. Does one of them play a series or two in the first half Saturday? Or is it all Martinez until the outcome is settled? And how long is the leash if Martinez struggles? It’ll be a severe test for No. 3, who will have to fight the urge to force the issue trying to make a triumphant return. Solid will do the job. But if Martinez finds a crease and rips through it once or twice with great aggression, Husker fans surely wouldn’t mind the sight.
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3. Life after Long
With cold weather forecast (high of 42 degrees), and potential wind problems, this is a day fit for big uglies. The Husker offensive line begins life without Spencer Long. And it faces a Minnesota defensive line that can be pretty stout, led by athletic Ra'shede Hageman. While the Gophers’ No. 62 national ranking in rushing defense might not suggest it, they are capable of making a team pound its head against a wall. But with Martinez working his way back, Nebraska’s front five needs to do some bulldozing. Junior Mike Moudy moves to the forefront, stepping in at right guard to replace Long. But watch to see if some new linemen work their way into the rotation, guys such as Ryne Reeves and Givens Price. And does Cole Pensick, still Nebraska’s main man at center, see a series or two at guard? Whoever plays, it’s time to get the plow out. Running back Ameer Abdullah should be fresh enough to take advantage of any space he finds, having averaged 19 carries a game in the first six games. There should be plenty left in that tank. Just think how pumped that O-line would be if it could spring Abdullah for 184 yards Saturday. That’s put him at 1,000 … in seven games.
4. Let the meat grinding commence
Welcome to "the meat grinder," as the quotable Jeremiah Sirles put it. Though there’s no team on the rest of the Husker schedule that looks like a juggernaut, Nebraska is attempting to win all of its conference regular-season games for the first time since 1997. But this team can't afford to look beyond the step right in front of it. That’s when you trip. The Huskers have owned the Gophers in recent history, winning 16 straight by wide margins. And it won’t be the most intimidating road environment, because half the stadium figures to be wearing red. But Minnesota is eager to put a big-name pelt on its wall to show it’s ready to be taken seriously. The Gophers will come with some fire. Nebraska needs to extinguish it early. The goal Saturday? Don’t create a mess with the appetizer before the main course arrives.