Lincoln – Anthony Grant rumbled for 115 yards on 21 carries, but the Nebraska football team could not maintain a 10-0 halftime lead in a 20-13 loss to visiting Minnesota on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska’s back-up quarterbacks Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers, along with a hard-hitting Husker defense, kept the Huskers within striking distance to the final possession, but they were unable to notch a victory. NU slipped to 3-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big Ten, while Minnesota improved to 6-3 and 3-3 in the conference.
While Nebraska’s defense continued to show impressive improvement, the offense put up better rushing totals than Minnesota, out-gaining the Gophers on the ground, 146-125. Minnesota entered the contest ranked 16th nationally allowing just 106 yards per game, while ranking 12th in the country with 222.8 rushing yards per game.
Nebraska’s young quarterbacks added 121 passing yards on 11-for-26 efficiency, including 80 yards on 5-of-10 passing from Smothers late in the game in an attempt to rally the Huskers from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Purdy finished 6-for-16 with 41 yards.
Minnesota managed 175 passing yards, including a spark from back-up quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis in the second half, who went 6-for-12 for 137 yards after halftime in relief of starter Tanner Morgan.
Marcus Washington led Nebraska with 63 receiving yards, all of which came on two long receptions on NU’s final two drives of the game. Trey Palmer added five catches for 37 yards.
Daniel Jackson provided the receiving highlights for the Gophers with five receptions for 88 yards, while Dylan Wright added 54 receiving yards on a pair of catches.
On the defensive side, Myles Farmer led Nebraska with a game- and career-high 14 tackles, while linebacker Luke Reimer added nine stops. Caleb Tannor contributed six stops, including 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Nebraska jumped to a quick 10-0 first-quarter lead behind Purdy and the hard running of Grant. Purdy led the Huskers on a nine-play, 75-yard game-opening drive capped by his two-yard touchdown run with just 4:14 into the game to give the Big Red a 7-0 lead.
The Husker defense then forced a quick three-and-out on Minnesota’s opening possession. The Gophers punted on 4th-and-19 from their own 11, and Nebraska started its second drive with excellent field position at the NU 44. Eleven plays and 50 yards later, the Huskers extended their lead to 10-0 on Timmy Bleekrode’s 24-yard field goal to put Nebraska up 10-0 with 4:18 left in the first quarter.
At the end of the first quarter, Nebraska had amassed 106 yards rushing on 13 carries against a Golden Gopher defense that entered the game allowing just 106 yards per game. The Huskers finished the quarter with 125 total yards, compared to just 22 for Minnesota. Grant ended the first quarter with 80 rushing yards on 10 carries, while Purdy added 26 rushing yards on three totes, while going 3-for-6 for 19 yards through the air.
The Gopher defense slowed the Huskers in the second quarter, limiting Nebraska to just 26 total yards in the quarter. However, Nebraska’s defense was even better, holding the Gophers to just nine total yards on 13 plays in a scoreless second quarter.
Nebraska went to halftime with a 10-0 lead and a 151-31 advantage in total yards. The Huskers held Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim to just 18 yards on eight carries, while sending quarterback Tanner Morgan to minus-28 rushing yards. On Minnesota’s final offensive play of the half, Morgan was overwhelmed, sacked and shaken up.
Morgan, who completed 6-of-8 passes for 38 yards in the first half, did not return in the second half, giving way to Kaliakmanis.
The Gopher backup sparked the Gopher offense by completing several long passes in the third quarter. More importantly, Kaliakmanis did not take a sack, rushing three times for 27 yards in the game. His ability to keep Minnesota on schedule allowed Ibrahim to get untracked. After a 47-yard field goal got Minnesota on the board 4:30 into the third quarter, Ibrahim tied the game with a three-yard touchdown run with 3:20 left in the period.
Another field goal by Trickett in the opening minute of the fourth quarter gave Minnesota its first lead at 13-10, before Purdy threw an interception on third down on Nebraska’s half of the field. Seven plays later, Ibrahim scored his second touchdown from three yards out on his 20th carry of the half. Ibrahim crossed the century mark on the drive, going for 128 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries for the game.
After falling behind 20-10 with more than nine minutes left, the Huskers sent Smothers in at quarterback for his second series of the game. He led Nebraska on a 12-play, 67-yard drive that resulted in a 26-yard Bleekrode field goal with 4:49 left to cut the Minnesota margin to one score at 20-13. The key play of the drive was a 32-yard pass from Smothers to Washington, who pulled in a spectacular catch at the Minnesota 13 on 4th-and-10. The play was initially ruled incomplete with Washington out of bounds, but instant replay clearly showed Washington in control of the ball with a foot inbounds.
The Nebraska defense held on its next possession, forcing a Minnesota punt with more than two minutes left, setting up Smothers and the offense 88 yards from a game-tying or game-winning score.
On third-and-long, Smothers connected with Washington again, this time for 31 yards. On 4th-and-5 from the NU 47, Smothers attempted to connect with Palmer down the middle, but the pass was broken up, ending the Husker hopes with 1:13 left.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten road action next week, taking on No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 12.