Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers at Minnesota
If the Nebraska Cornhuskers have designs on winning the Big Ten West in 2019, they've got to take care of business against two main teams - Minnesota and Wisconsin. Coming into week four of conference play, the Gophers (2-0) and Badgers (2-0) are unbeaten with the Huskers right on their heels (2-1).
Nebraska's first chance to take down one of the leaders comes Saturday (October 12) night in Minneapolis.
The Gophers are perfect five games into the season but it hasn't been easy. The last four victories have been one-possession games and three of the wins required fourth-quarter comebacks.
The 'Voice of the Cornhuskers', Greg Sharpe, told me it's amazing the ways Minnesota has found ways to win games in 2019:
The Minnesota offense is led by junior quarterback Tanner Morgan who came on in relief of the injured Zack Annexstad last season in the Gophers' loss at Lincoln and has gone 9-2 as a starter since completing better than 70 percent of his passes this season for 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
He's got NFL caliber receivers in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. Johnson had 11 catches for 184 yards against the Husker defense last season.
There's plenty of talent at running back with Rodney Smith, Mohamed Ibrahim, and Shannon Brooks combining for nearly 800 yards this season, but only Smith has played in all five Minnesota games while injuries have limited his running mates.
Greg says there's plenty for the Nebraska defense to key on:
Defensively, the Gophers have one of the Big Ten's best linebacking duos in Carter Coughlin and Kamal Martin. Injuries have limited Martin to just three games this season but he's had 26 tackles this season and had ten stops against the Huskers in 2018.
The secondary is equally as talented with Antoine Winfield Jr. leading Minnesota in tackles and interceptions.
Greg says this is a better group than the one that gave up 53 points and 383 yards rushing to Nebraska last year:
Kickoff is 6:30 PM, Saturday in Minneapolis. You can listen to the game live on ESPN 99.1.
The weather in the Twin Cities may be a factor with temperatures in the upper 30s at kickoff and a chance of snow later in the game.
Last Saturday (October 5), the Cornhuskers played the latest in what's been a series of nail biters with Northwestern, emerging with a 13-10 win at home.
The Nebraska defense set the tone in this one, limiting the Wildcats to just a single touchdown and less than 300 yards of total offense.
The Huskers were responsible for the game's lone turnover - a Lamar Jackson fourth-quarter interception that set-up a game-winning field goal.
Greg says this unit continues to get better:
Offensively, Nebraska got a big 42-yard touchdown run to grab an early lead but couldn't much else with it until backup Noah Vedral, on for the injured Adrian Martinez put the Huskers in position to win the game at the end.
Greg says Vedral deserves a lot of credit for his play late in that game:
It all led to magical moment for Nebraska native Lane McCallum, who has struggled at times kicking for the injured Barret Pickering. But when it mattered most, McCallum was good from 25 yards and he was carried off the field by his teammates.
Greg says it was the perfect ending:
Personnel wise, Nebraska will welcome back defensive lineman Khalil Davis, who was suspended for the Northwestern game, but there is still no word on the status of two injured players on offense - Martinez and wide receiver JD Spielman.
Running back Maurice Washington will be back in the starting lineup after being suspended for the first half last week.
Greg says he could be the key to this game: