Minnesota rebounded from last week's loss to surge back in its fifth win of the season Saturday.
The Gophers ran away with a victory against the Cornhuskers Saturday 54-21 in Minnesota’s second Big Ten win this year at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We needed to start fast," said head coach P.J. Fleck. "It's a big game for both [Minnesota and Nebraska]. Whoever strikes first can take the spirit out of somebody else, and we did that.”
Minnesota (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) dominated Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten) on the offensive side of the ball, and in the second half, the defense held the Cornhuskers’ offense to preserve Minnesota’s lead.
The Gophers offense scored 30 points in the first half, and 24 in the second half, more than the Gophers scored in their last three games combined.
When Minnesota’s offense has been successful, it has relied on the running game to facilitate much of the progress and points. That rang true once again against Nebraska.
The Gophers had seven touchdowns, and six of them were through the running game, three each from quarterback Demry Croft and running back Kobe McCrary.
Croft was 9-15 through the air, but his ability to use his feet helped the Gophers get points on the board. He broke a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game, with 183 yards on the ground.
“It's cool," Croft said. "I give credit to the offensive line, they were able to make openings, [and create] a lot of green space."
McCrary was third on the Gophers in rushing yards on Saturday, though he got through into the end zone three times. He got the last score of the game with a 43-yard rush, and his first two scores were an 11-yard and 9-yard rush.
The chilly opening kickoff ended with a bang for the Gophers. Running back Rodney Smith took the opening kickoff 100 yards for a score, just 13 seconds into the game.
“My credit goes to my teammates," Smith said. "All I had to do was run straight, they did an excellent job of blocking, and even Kobe went untouched."
Smith’s game didn’t end with that opening play touchdown, he went on to rush for 134 yards in the game, not counting the touchdown run. He had 279 all-purpose yards for the Gophers Saturday, and that was the most yards he had ever had in a game. His next best total was 257 against Rutgers last season.
In a game that saw co-starting running back Shannon Brooks out, McCrary, Brooks and Croft combined for 409 yards rushing, the eighth most in one game for Minnesota. The last time the Gophers ran for more yards was in 2005 in a loss to Wisconsin.
“That's a lot," McCrary said. "We knew we could put it up, we just [had] to go out and do it.”
The Gophers scored 54 points, their largest total since playing against Oregon State in the second game of the season, where they scored 48 in the nonconference matchup. The total is also the most points the Gophers have scored in a Big Ten game at TCF Bank Stadium.
Minnesota’s defense was also a force on the field. After allowing two touchdowns in the first two quarters, Nebraska only scored once in the second half, and turned over the ball on fourth down three times in the half and four times all game.
The Gophers finished with six sacks in the game, and linebacker Thomas Barber was a big contributor. He made a sack and 11 tackles.
“I'm proud of where we're at right now," Fleck said.