It's hard to start slower in a football game than the Gophers started Saturday's matchup against Nebraska.
Nebraska had a 28-0 lead with 1:58 left to play in the second quarter. Minnesota allowed high-yardage plays on defense and didn't capitalize on offense, giving Nebraska its first win of the season, a 53-28 rout at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
"You get down 28-nothing and ... with seven starters freshmen on offense, we're not designed to come back from that type of deficit without going outside of our comfort zone," said head coach P.J. Fleck.
In Nebraska's first offensive drive, the Gophers defense allowed Nebraska to march 75 yards down the field in under two minutes, capped off with a 40-yard rushing touchdown by Cornhuskers running back Devine Ozigbo.
The Gophers got the ball and got to the Nebraska 37-yard line. Quarterback Zack Annexstad hit a wide-open Rashod Bateman with a pass, and he ran in for what would be a touchdown. But a flag on the play caused by a holding from center Jared Weyler made for a big headache and a loss of 10 yards.
"We had a holding call on the first touchdown ... that got called back," Fleck said. "I think its a completely different game if that's not a holding penalty."
Two plays later, Gophers kicker Emmit Carpenter came out for a 54-yard field goal. He put the ball through the uprights, but a delay of game brought it back, and the Gophers settled for a punt. The 54-yard field goal would have been Carpenter's longest.
The Gophers' defense allowed six plays of 20 yards or more in the first half, including a 59-yard and 40-yard rushing touchdown by Ozigbo. The score was 28-8 at halftime
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska's quarterback, looked like a true dual-threat play caller as he had 22-yard, 53-yard, and 37-yard rushes in the game. Martinez finished with 15 carries for 125 yards and a rushing touchdown. He finished 25-29 passing for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
"[Martinez] could obviously extend plays, and he could throw, so he was a dual threat," Gophers linebacker Kamal Martin said.
Minnesota was at Nebraska's 37-yard line in the second quarter after recovering a botched handoff fumble from Nebraska. Gophers wildcat quarterback Seth Green had two plays to get the Gophers 2 yards for a first down, but he slipped on the first run, and couldn't get enough on the second, and the Gophers turned the ball back over to the Cornhuskers.
The Cornhuskers would take the ball from there and run it back for a touchdown and make the score 28-0 late in the second half.
"Making little mental mistakes, that just can't happen, so we'll go ahead and fix that," Martin said.
The game was over after an ugly pass to start the fourth quarter, on fourth and goal from the Nebraska 3-yard line. The Gophers needed points to bring the score within reason, but Tanner Morgan's pass was incomplete and they couldn't recover from there.
Nebraska finished with 659 yards of total offense, scoring seven touchdowns in their first victory.
Morgan brings Gophers life in second half
Usual-starting quarterback Annexstad played the first half before going to the hospital due to an "internal injury" to his midsection that occurred right before halftime, Fleck said. He is expected to be released from the hospital and return home with the team, he said.
In his place, Tanner Morgan, the second-string quarterback who previously only played in cleanup duty this year, ran the offense for all of the second half.
Morgan talked about his mindset coming into the game:
"[I] really just [want] to come and help my teammates any way I can," he said. "And to win the game really. But what I felt when I went out, I just wanted to do everything I can to help my team."
Morgan helped lead the Gophers to a 22-point unanswered rally. Seth Green scored a 4-yard rushing touchdown and brought the score to 28-22 with 7:22 on the clock in the third. Annexstad had one touchdown reception at the end of the second quarter — a 13-yard pass to Demetrius Douglas.
Morgan finished 11-16 passing with 214 yards and an interception. The interception was at 7:39 left in the fourth quarter when the score was 39-22 in favor of Nebraska.
"We're hoping and praying that [Annexstad's] ok, whatever it may be," Morgan said. "He's our brother and we want him to be as healthy as possible, and so our thoughts and prayers are with him.