Welcome back to HuskerExtra Rewind.
We had a ton of game information in Saturday's coverage from Minneapolis and then I took a look at Patrick O'Brien's half of play for Monday's paper, knocking out some of what I would typically cover here.
Here are some other observations and notes:
* Nebraska’s problems defending the zone-read against Minnesota – particularly when sophomore quarterback Demry Croft kept the ball – stemmed from having to rely on one player to bring the quarterback down in space.
On the replay, it appears that the Huskers typically have the end man on the line of scrimmage – Marcus Newby, Joshua Kalu once near the goal line, etc. – responsible for hitting the running back. If that is the player Croft is reading, he’s likely going to pull the ball. Keep in mind that, just watching the tape, it’s nearly impossible to tell exact responsibilities and also if either the defense or the quarterback is changing slightly throughout the game.
Generally speaking, though, safeties Marquel Dismuke or Antiono Reed were left as the fold-over player responsible for tackling Croft if he kept it. The Gophers used spacing and formations to put each in tough spots. The assignment isn’t easy, but it’s necessary in modern football. The safety in that spot simply has to get the quarterback on the ground.
Reed did the first time Croft kept, but the spohomoer easily picked up a third-and-1 and had 10 by the time Reed tripped him up. It appeared Dismuke crashed way too far inside when Croft pulled and walked in for a 3-yard touchdown. He was positioned better, but whiffed on the tackle attempt, when Croft rumbled for a 73-yard score in the second quarter.
This isn’t to pick on Dismuke – he’s been asked to play a lot more than expected – or Reed – he’s a warrior who’s playing through multiple injuries that other guys might not even attempt – but Minnesota found a matchup they liked and racked up yardage over and over and over.
It helped Croft more than double his season rushing total with 183 yards and three touchdowns. Smith finished with 134 and Kobe McCrary added 93 and three touchdowns. The 409 rushing yards were Minnesota's most in 12 years.
* Reed took his frustration out in a bad spot early in the third quarter, when he threw UM running back Rodney Smith to the ground late on a swing pass. It gave the Gophers the ball at the plus-43 and earned Reed a talking-to from cornerbacks coach Donte Williams.
Sophomore cornerback Lamar Jackson was flagged for holding on the next play.
So, Smith got 10 yards to his own 42 on his own and then two penalties moved Minnesota all the way to the NU 27. The Huskers had enough trouble stopping UM as it was and gave away 30 yards on top of it on that drive. It ended up not costing the visitors when Croft lost 14 on a third-down sack.
* On Smith’s 100-yard kick return, it looked like Huskers freshman linebacker Avery Roberts was displaced from his gap. Roberts was blocked by 6-foot-3, 265 sophomore tight end Colton Beebe, one of two lead blockers for Smith who came together to serve as protectors as the running back fielded the ball.
Reserve defensive backs Eli Sullivan and Keiron Williams both dove at Smith as he hit the alley behind Beebe’s crushing block, but neither had a good chance of actually tripping him up. Smith exploded into the open field untouched.
* The Huskers ran the ball on 11 of their first 17 snaps. Even though the numbers wound up looking equal for the game – 36 passes and 33 runs – NU didn’t actually have that kind of balance. Considering Patrick O’Brien’s six sacks and five scrambles, the numbers are actually more lopsided.
After the opening 17 snaps, Nebraska called 40 passes and 12 rushes.
Related: Junior running back Mikale Wilbon had five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown on NU’s first drive. The rest of the game: five for 8.
* Nebraska nearly scored two straight plays on its second drive. Senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El was just tripped up near the UM 30 on his 44-yard catch-and run. Then, Devine Ozigbo burst through the first level on first down and just was brought down by a shoestring tackle.
Who knows how much difference it would have made, but the Huskers eventually turned the ball over on downs and came away with nothing in its second trip to the red zone.
* Connor Young hurt on kick return at 11:30 of 2nd. On crutches with an air cast by the second half.
* Tanner Lee played well, but missed a potential touchdown to Tyjon Lindsey on the first play of NU’s third possession. The freshman was a full stride behind the Gophers defense, but Lee just overshot him.
* Random thought: The Huskers sure seem to run a lot of third-down routes short of the sticks.