When: Sat.; Oct. 17 (3:30p.m. ET)
Where: Minneapolis, MN; TCF Bank Stadium (50,805)
Line: Minnesota -2
1 Burning Question: Who’s Going to Come Back from the Dead?
Both these teams were thought to be potential contenders in the West division, but instead, both jammed their fingers opening the door to Big Ten play. For Minnesota, it’s had a hard time mining for offense, and for Nebraska, it can’t figure out a way to play enough defense to seal the deal in close games. The result has been unfulfilled expectations on both campuses.
Somebody’s going home with more heart-break, while the other team still has a shot at climbing out of the abyss to become a contender in the wide-open West. It’s time to try and wet the palate and wash the bad taste out of everyone’s mouth in and around each program.
2 Key Stats
— 11: That’s the combined points of the four losses the ‘Huskers have endured. It’s a broken record of sorts over the last few years, but the offense hasn’t been the issue this year. More often than not, it’s moved the ball and scored enough points to put the team in position to win, only to have defensive break-downs at the most inopportune time — the end of the game. That can’t happen on Saturday because Minnesota has shown a stingy defense at times, meaning the blackshirts may have to match wits to pull out the victory on the road.
— 19.7: Points per game for the Golden Gophers. That’s good enough (or lack thereof) to rank 117th out of 128 teams in all of FBS, and that’s after scoring 31 points last week against Purdue. It’s been the exact opposite side of the ball carrying the Gophers than what we’ve seen in Lincoln, and Minnesota will likely need to score above this average to beat Nebraska.
3 Key Players
Shannon Brooks, RB, Minnesota: If you didn’t know who this Purdue freshman kid from Pickens High School in Georgia was before last week, you shoud now. The Gophers believe they’ve found something in the 6-foot, 206-lb Brooks. He didn’t really get a chance to show what he could do until two weeks ago against Ohio, but then he blew up last week at Purdue, going for 176 yards on just 17 carries. He’s not super fast, but fleet-footed enough, and is a strong and savvy runner that will get his number called plenty on Saturday.
Jalen Myrick, DB, Minnesota: The Minnesota secondary is a veteran and physical bunch, and Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong, Jr. promises to test them through the air. When he does, Myrick is a ball-hawking presence that already has 3-picks on the year, one of which he returned for a pick-six against Purdue last week. It only takes one costly turnover to turn the tide in what should be a close battle.
Terrell Newby, RB, Nebraska: I know, I know, you expected Tommy Armstrong to be here, and he will be key, but with how strong the secondary is for Minnesota, finding open windows to throw may be at a premium. With that in mind, the ‘Huskers best chance to move the ball may come on the ground. Newby hasn’t been a break-out performer this year, but he should get more touches to try and make something happen in this matchup.
4 Bold Prognostications
— Tommy Armstrong will rush for over 75 yards. The Minnesota secondary will blanket the Nebraska receivers at times and force Armstrong to tuck it and run. The coaching staff might also be forced to throw some designed runs into the game-plan. Armstrong will get more opportunities to make plays and will get enough positive yardage to have a productive day on the ground.
— The Nebraska defense will have a stand to save the game. It can’t happen again right? The ‘Huskers just can’t finish games, but a lot of it has been an outright bad bounce of the ball. This time, against a Minnesota offense that has a hard time acquiring real-estate, the defense will come up big and be the hero late instead of the goat for once.
— Terrell Newby will go for over 100 yards on the ground. Armstrong will get his yards on the ground mostly from improvising, but Newby will go over the century mark as a part of the game plan. Mike Riley has undoubtedly seen that the strength of the Minnesota defense on film is its pass-coverage, and will look to move the ball more on the ground. that means Newby is on the clock.
— There will be more gambling and aggressive play-calling than you would expect. Neither head-coaches are known as river-boat gamblers. Jerry Kill likes to play sound in all phases and win by not making many mistakes. Mike Riley has had some curious moments with judgement calls on plays late this season, but his background also suggests he plays it closer to the vest than your average guy stalking the sidelines these days. However, both teams’ backs are up against the proverbial wall and need this one big time. Look for some things to come out of the closet for an element or two of surprise that might make all the difference in the world.
5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Nebraska 28-21 (56-13 overall; 30-38 ATS)
Dave: Minnesota 27-24 (58-11 overall; 38-29 ATS)
Greg: Nebraska 24-10 (51-18 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Matt: (56-13 overall; 41-26 ATS)
Phil: Nebraska 23-20 (10-4 overall; 4-9 ATS) *joined in Week 5