November 23, 2014

Gophers run over Huskers en route to second half comeback victory

Despite trailing 21-7 at halftime, 25th-ranked Minnesota didn’t waiver from what’s made them one of the better teams in the Big Ten–a strong running game and timely completions in the passing game. That formula worked once again as Minnesota knocked off Nebraska for the first time in Lincoln since 1960.

Mitch Leidner’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:25 to play in the fourth quarter put the Gophers ahead for good as they left Memorial Stadium victorious to the tune of a 28-24 triumph. Facing a 14-point halftime deficit, Minnesota outscored Nebraska 21-3 in the second half and kept their Big Ten West division title hopes in tact in the process, setting up a titanic match up against Wisconsin next week in Madison.

“Today our kids were mentally tough and just hung in there and played hard,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. “Nebraska is a great team, coming into here, it is difficult. We came a long way, but that is because of the players and their effort in what they have done all offseason.”

Nate Gerry runs down the sideline on his 85-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown PHOTO COURTESY HUSKERS.COM

Nate Gerry runs down the sideline on his 85-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown PHOTO COURTESY HUSKERS.COM

Meanwhile, Nebraska faltered in the final 30 minutes and lost on Senior Day for the second straight season. The only points the 23rd-ranked Huskers could muster in the second half were from a 30-yard field goal by Drew Brown at the 7:19 mark of the third quarter that extended their lead to 24-14. However, Minnesota answered with a heavy dose of Leidner on and the ground and in the air.

“Early on in the game we were making some drives but just not able to finish them. The second half was big for us,” Leidner said.

The sophomore led the Gophers with 22 carries for 110  yards and two touchdowns, while David Cobb carried 15 times for 80 yards and a touchdown. Cobb left the game in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury, but his replacement Rodrick Williams Jr. didn’t miss a beat, carrying three times for 22 yards, which included a 19-yard touchdown run to close the Nebraska lead to 24-21 with 1:47 left in the third quarter.

Nebraska had a chance as the fourth quarter clock ticked away before the 340th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. De’Mornay Pierson-El, who had earlier caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Armstrong, caught a pass from Armstrong inside the Minnesota 10, but Briean Boddy-Calhoun took the ball from Pierson-El and Minnesota took over on their own 4 yard line with just over a minute to play. A first down run by Donnell Kirkwood two plays later sealed the deal and sent the Minnesota players and fans in attendance into a boisterous mood as their team defeated Nebraska for a second straight year.

” We beat ourselves in a lot of instances. We lost some opportunities, obviously on offense,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said. “We put the ball on the ground. Didn’t take advantage of some opportunities. And all those things add up to losing against a good football team.”

The Huskers got out to a decent start, much like they had a week prior at Wisconsin. Nebraska forced a Minnesota punt on the Gophers’ first possession and took over on their own 16. Keyed by a 73-yard strike from Tommy Armstrong to Kenny Bell, the Huskers would eventually score on a 2-yard touchdown run by Ameer Abdullah. The opening drive for the Huskers was not without peril however, as both Bell and center Mark Pelini left the game with injuries and have not returned. Bell and Pelini were two of the 13 seniors honored on Senior Day before the game started.

Sophomore safety Nate Gerry with the media after Nebraska's 28-24 loss to Minnesota

Sophomore safety Nate Gerry with the media after Nebraska’s 28-24 loss to Minnesota

Minnesota answered Abdullah’s touchdown with a nine play, 71 yard drive that ended with Mitch Leidner’s 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7. Into the second quarter, Nebraska responded with an eight play, 49-yard scoring drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to De’Mornay Pierson-El. Minnesota would set themselves up for a 30-yard field goal attempt to draw within 14-10, but Gregory got a hand on Santoso’s kick and Gerry scooped up the ball and sauntered 85 yards for a touchdown.

However, the Gophers responded in a big way after halftime and flexed their muscle on both sides of the ball. After the Huskers went three-and-out to start the third quarter, Minnesota took over after a short punt at the Nebraska 35-yard line. Four plays later, Cobb went up the middle for a 17-yard touchdown run to half the deficit to 21-14. Nebraska would answer with Brown’s 30-yard field goal, but Minnesota countered once again behind their bruising running game and timely passing from Leidner.

Minnesota's Eric Murray attempts to stop Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah  PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Minnesota’s Eric Murray attempts to stop Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah
PHOTO COURTESY: HUSKERS.COM

Leidner’s biggest pass of the day came on a 3rd-and-6 from the Gophers’ 37 late in the fourth quarter. Leidner found KJ Maye for a spectacular 38-yard pitch and catch down to the Nebraska 25 despite good coverage from Nebraska cornerback Daniel Davie. Leidner would connect with tight end Maxx Williams for a 10-yard strike down to the Huskers’ 13, and the quarterback finished off the drive three plays later with the game-winning 2-yard touchdown run.

The loss means Nebraska is out of contention for the Big Ten Western division title completely. It needed both a win over the Gophers and a loss by Wisconsin at Iowa to remain alive for the regular season’s final week. It’s also Nebraska only loss at home in the 2014 season, where they finished with a 4-1 mark. Armstrong finished 12-of-19 on the day for 223  yards and a touchdown, in addition to 12 carries for 45 yards. Abdullah nearly cracked the 100 yard mark in his final game at Memorial Stadium, coming up just short with 20 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown.

“”I didn’t think we tackled very well. When we did tackle, we gave up a couple extra yards, leaky yards, and that’s one thing that kind of hurt us,” Gerry said. “Sometimes we couldn’t get off blocks to make tackles and that’s just something you have to get better at by the week.”

Overall, it was Minnesota’s ball control offense that kept pounding away at the Blackshirts that won the game. The Gophers controlled the ball to the tune of a 35:03 to 24:57 advantage in time of possession. The Gophers churned up 281 yards rushing to Nebraska’s 174, and converted on 5-of-12 third down conversions and a big fourth down conversion, which was Williams’ 19-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Leidner wasn’t at his best throwing the ball, but he did just enough with an 8-for-17 day and 135 yards to keep Minnesota’s offense moving at key points.

Senior linebacker Zaire Anderson led the Nebraska defense with 12 tackles, while Nate Gerry added 11 and David Santos pitched in nine tackles. Nebraska has lost two straight and dropped to 8-3 with the loss, 4-3 in the Big Ten. Minnesota upped their mark to 8-3 overall and 5-2 in conference play, and need a win at 16th-ranked Wisconsin next week to advance to their first ever Big Ten championship game appearance.

“I feel bad for the seniors. But like I told the team, we lost because we didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play well enough. We had too many busts,” according to Pelini.

“We haven’t regressed. I said it about three weeks ago. I said some of the things that are plaguing us haven’t hurt us up to this point. These last two weeks it hurt us. I mean it’s as simple as that. We’re not executing at a high enough of a level. Sometimes you can get away with it, sometimes you can’t.”

Nebraska closes the season next Friday at Iowa in the 4th annual Heroes Game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskers 38-17 last season to claim their first win in the Heroes Game since it was instituted in 2011. Iowa is also out of contention for the Big Ten West division title after the Hawkeyes fell to Wisconsin 26-24 on Saturday in Iowa City.

Blocked field goal return propels Huskers to halftime lead over Gophers

Nate Gerry’s 85-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown has helped the Huskers take a 21-7 lead into halftime against Minnesota in Lincoln.

Randy Gregory got the block on Ryan Santoso’s 30-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, Nebraska’s first blocked field goal since the 2011 season opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga. After the ball fell off Corey Cooper’s shoulder, it bounced straight up to Gerry who ran down the far sideline and weaved his way down the field for a touchdown that extended Nebraska’s lead to 21-7 with 5:18 left before halftime.

Nebraska forced a Minnesota punt on the Gophers’ first possession and took over on their own 16. Keyed by a 73-yard strike from Tommy Armstrong to Kenny Bell, the Huskers would eventually score on a 2-yard touchdown run by Ameer Abdullah. The opening drive for the Huskers was not without peril however, as both Bell and center Mark Pelini left the game with injuries and have not returned. Bell and Pelini were two of the 13 seniors honored on Senior Day before the game started.

Minnesota answered Abdullah’s touchdown with a nine play, 71 yard drive that ended with Mitch Leidner’s 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7. Into the second quarter, Nebraska responded with an eight play, 49-yard scoring drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to De’Mornay Pierson-El. Minnesota would set themselves up for a 30-yard field goal attempt to draw within 14-10, but Gregory got a hand on Santoso’s kick and Gerry scooped up the ball and sauntered 85 yards for a touchdown.

Nebraska wasn’t done yet in the first half however, as Armstrong led a drive down to the Minnesota 36. However, Armstrong’s pass to Pierson-El was ruled a completion at the Minnesota 15, but Pierson-El fumbled and Minnesota recovered. After a short drive, Gregory sacked Leidner near midfield to end the first half and keep Nebraska’s lead at two touchdowns.

Armstrong was 8-of-13 passing in the first half for 151 yards and a touchdown, in addition to six carries for 43 yards rushing. Abdullah has eight carries for 31 yards and a touchdown, while Jordan Westerkamp leads the Huskers in receiving with four receptions for 32 yards. Senior linebacker Zaire Anderson leads the defense with eight tackles, while Gerry has six, and David Santos and Corey Cooper each have five tackles.

Leidner has struggled throwing for the 25th ranked Gophers, completing 4-of-10 for 54 yards, but does have 12 carries for a team-high 60 yards through the first two quarters. David Cobb also has 12 carries for 52 yards as the Gophers have 138 yards rushing in the opening 30 minutes.

Nebraska will get the ball to start the second half.

To wear or not to wear (Blackshirts). That is the question (AUDIO)

NU receiver Kenny Bell (photo/Scott Bruhns, NU)

NU receiver Kenny Bell (photo/Scott Bruhns, NU)

Nebraska senior wide receiver Kenny Bell loves Husker nation, but as far as some of the negative talk, especially following the loss to Wisconsin, he’s shut it out.  He’s focusing in on his final game this Saturday at Memorial Stadium, when the Huskers host Minnesota.  Bell said he’s looking forward to playing this home game with his teammates, something he’ll always remember.

Plus, we’ll hear from Sean Callahan.  Some of the defense have left their Blackshirts hanging in their lockers.

Listen to the Big Red Report

Petteway, Shields help Huskers to easy win over Central Arkansas

NU logo

Nebraska

Despite a slow start, Terran Petteway and Nebraska turned up their defensive pressure and hit more shots after halftime against road-weary Central Arkansas en route to their second win of the young season.

The pre-season All-Big Ten selection Petteway scored 23 points while Shavon Shields added 16 points and 11 rebounds as Nebraska moved to 2-0 with an 82-56 win on Tuesday night at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. The Huskers led 43-34 at halftime after a foul-filled first half, but hit 64 percent of their shots in the second half to take control against the Bears, who fell to 0-3 with the loss.

“We were not all locked in at the same time tonight and had some real bone-head plays. But we locked in and had a great second half defensively,” head coach Tim Miles said. “I think that our six guys that we have from last year have improved. They have all gotten better.”

In addition to Petteway and Shields, Walter Pitchford, Tai Webster, Benny Parker, and David Rivers round out the six that Miles spoke of that once again rounded out most of Nebraska’s rotation and minutes against the Bears. Webster finished with 13 points and four steals, while Rivers was perfect from the floor and free throw line for a second straight game, making both of his field goal attempts and finishing 4-of-4 from the free throw line, good enough for eight points and five rebounds.

Miles had high praise for the reserve guard Parker once again, who finished with eight points and made his first three pointer in nearly two years of game play.

“It does seem like when Benny comes in, things pop in a hurry,” Miles said of the junior guard.

Nebraska was able to outrebound Central Arkansas 40-35 after being beaten on the glass by Northern Kentucky in their season opening 80-61 win on Sunday night.

“We’re awful on the glass and we need to get a lot better,” Miles said. “Saturday (against Rhode Island) is of great concern for me, but we’ll get better.

Shields, who led the Huskers with 11 rebounds, agreed with Miles’ assessment that the team’s rebounding needs to improve in a hurry.

“We were better than we were two nights ago, but we have a lot of tough competition coming up,” Shields said. “We have to get better at that.”

Petteway felt the team overcame another slow start and eventually settled into a groove on offense, after a choppy first half that saw the Huskers attempt 25 free throws in the opening 20 minutes after being put into the bonus situation with barely five minutes played.

“We were just trying to get to the rim as much as possible. Plus they were going on in on the screen, so that kind of opened up the lane for us. We were able to drive to the basket and get easy shots.”

The Bears were led by Jake Zuilhof, who finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds, while Albert Christensson scored 11 points and Jordan Howard pitched in 10 despite 2-of-11 shooting from the floor. Central Arkansas shot just 32.8% from the floor for the game and committed 18 turnovers in the loss.

Nebraska’s 82 point effort gives the Huskers back-to-back 80-point games for the first time in nearly a year, when they put up consecutive 80-point games against South Carolina State and Massachusetts last November.

The Huskers face a tougher test this Saturday when they play at Rhode Island. Tip off against the Rams is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday night in Kingston, RI.

First look at Minnesota…watch the Gophers tight end (AUDIO)

MLet’s take our first look at the Minnesota Golden Gophers and one of their big offensive weapons. It’s tight end Maxx Williams. He was named one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, presented annually to the nation’s top tight end. Williams, a redshirt sophomore, leads Minnesota in receptions (25), receiving yards (373), receiving touchdowns (seven) and receiving yards per game (41.4). He accounts for 27.7 percent of the Golden Gophers’ receiving yards, 63.6 percent of their receiving touchdowns and 17.9 percent of their overall touchdowns. Williams leads all Big Ten players listed as tight ends in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receiving yards per game.

In their 31-24 loss at home against Ohio State, Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner completed only seven passes in 20 attempts. Three of those went to Williams for 47 yards including a 36 yard completion. They’re a run heavy team, but Williams is Leidner’s “go to” guy.

Listen to the Big Red Report