Although a strong contingency of Nebraska supporters traveled to Minneapolis, it was fans in maroon and gold who left cheering on a frigid Saturday night.
Not snow, wind or the Cornhuskers' defense could stop the Gophers who claimed a 34-7 victory. Minnesota (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) outplayed Nebraska (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) from start to finish. With the victory, the Gophers became bowl-eligible for the second-consecutive year and secured their eighth-straight win overall, dating back to 2018.
"That's a tough football team in there," head coach P.J. Fleck said of his players. "That's a mature football team. I don't know what we're going to be, you never know the future. Today, they showed their toughness."
Nebraska's offense was hindered by injuries against the Gophers, missing several of its best players. Quarterback Adrian Martinez did not dress, giving sophomore Noah Vedral the start under center. Receiver Wan'Dale Robinson, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week, left the game in the first half with an apparent lower body injury. Still, Fleck was pleased with his defense's performance.
"Defensively, lights out," Fleck said. "We were all over the place. We only gave up one touchdown to a really high powered offense that's really explosive, no matter who's in the game."
Minnesota jumped out to the early lead on the team's opening drive when quarterback Tanner Morgan threw a tunnel screen to receiver Chris Autman-Bell who scampered into the end zone. Nebraska moved the ball into Minnesota territory on its first three possessions but the Gophers defense forced a turnover on downs and two punts on those drives.
In the second quarter, Minnesota moved the ball 80-yards on six plays, four of which were runs of 10 yards or more. Playing in his first game since Sept. 7 against Fresno State, redshirt sophomore Mohamed Ibrahim capped the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 14-0.
Following a 332-yard performance against Illinois last week, the Gophers once again moved the ball on the ground at will on Saturday. Redshirt senior Rodney Smith led the way with 18 carries for 139 yards while Shannon Brooks contributed 99 yards on 13 rushes. Ibrahim also had an effective evening with 84 yards on 15 attempts.
"The running back position is tough when you have to tackle three different guys," Smith said. "It was fun, we had fun tonight. It was exciting."
Not long after halftime, Minnesota added on to its lead. Morgan found senior Tyler Johnson for a 45-yard catch and run off of play action on the first play from scrimmage after the intermission. Four plays later, Ibrahim gave the Gophers a 21-0 lead as he carried defenders across the goal line for his second touchdown of the game.
Another methodical drive at the end of the third quarter ended with a one-yard Smith touchdown off a direct snap which gave Minnesota a 28-0 lead. After a Nebraska three-and-out, Morgan hit Johnson for 45 yards again and Ibrahim tacked on another touchdown to give the Gophers six more points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Nebraska scored a touchdown which was the first time the Gophers defense allowed an opponent to reach the end zone since the fourth quarter of their Big Ten opener against Purdue. Overall, Minnesota's defense turned in another dominant performance. The Gophers sacked Nebraska quarterbacks four times and senior Kamal Martin had a game-high 15 tackles.
"A lot of it is just the other 10 guys around me," Martin said. "They're in the right spot, I'm in the right spot and the play will fall out to somebody. Whoever is there has to make the play.
Next week, the Gophers have a favorable matchup as they travel to Piscataway, New Jersey to play 1-5 Rutgers. In Big Ten play this season, the Scarlet Knights have been outscored 165-7. That doesn't mean the undefeated Gophers are taking their upcoming opponents lightly.
"We'll prepare for those guys just like we do each and every team," Smith said. "We have the utmost respect because they have a lot of athletes as well and they're a good football team. They're struggling right now but in the Big Ten you can lose any week. You just have to prepare and respect your opponent."