Sometimes football really isn't that hard.
Sure, Nebraska's made it plenty difficult on itself over the past year. Too hard. But to put it simply, the Huskers won Saturday when it mattered.
"Fourth down, it’s you against your guy and you’ve got to get after it," senior linebacker Luke Gifford said. "And we won those battles today."
Nebraska's defense will lose some battles, too. Gifford said as much. It's too hard to keep a modern college offense down for an entire game.
But the tide maybe started to turn for NU last week against Northwestern. Progress showed fully against Minnesota.
"These offenses are tough to stop from moving up and down the field, but it’s about the points, you know?" Gifford said. "And ultimately we had a couple big stops when we needed them, and it paid off."
Two of the Blackshirts' biggest stops came on fourth downs. First, in the second quarter after Minnesota recovered Adrian Martinez's fumble inside the Nebraska 40, 5-foot-11, 190-pound Aaron Williams stopped 6-foot-4, 240-pound Minnesota receiver Seth Green for a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-2.
The Huskers then went 72 yards in nine plays to go up 28-0.
In the fourth quarter, backed up against its own goal line, the Nebraska defense got another fourth-down stop when Dicaprio Bootle diagnosed a corner fade route.
"When you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, good things usually happen," Gifford said. "When you’re at where you’re supposed to be, then stuff like that happens."
After starting the game 3-for-3 on third downs, Minnesota finished 5-for-14. The Gophers were 1-for-3 on fourth downs. Even after Minnesota scored 22 straight points to end the second quarter and start the third, Nebraska didn't panic.
With the Gophers down to their last gasp after an 87-yard kickoff return by Demetrius Douglas, Nebraska senior linebacker Dedrick Young snatched a pass that had been tipped by Bootle and tumbled into the end zone. Three plays later, Stanley Morgan was going 67 yards to put the final nail in the coffin.
"Oh, man, I was hyped. I almost killed him I was so hyped," fellow linebacker Mo Barry said. "(Young) saw the play, read the play. Someone deflected the ball, and he put his entire body on it. And the funny thing is, we do a tip drill during the beginning of practice every day, and that was exactly the tip drill. He high-pointed it and put his whole body on it and got the interception."
Yes, Nebraska gave up some yards — 474, to be exact, including 349 through the air. The Blackshirts weren't perfect. But when it mattered, the job got done.
"It seemed like guys were where they were supposed to be and making the plays they were supposed to," Gifford said. "I think last week, as much as it sucked, was a big growing opportunity for us, just to be in that position and then to — we weren’t quite in that position this week but we knew that we had been there — and the overall mentality was different than it had been."