Culture Over Skill as Minnesota Holds off Nebraska 30-23
October 16, 2021

The Minnesota Gophers thrived in the first half, stalled in the second half, and—with a goal-line stand and safety—held off the Nebraska Cornhuskers for a 30-23 win in Minneapolis.

“That was culture versus skill,” said Minnesota head coach P. J. Fleck, a possible response to comments earlier this week by Scott Frost, who derided slogans in what was perceived as a dig against Fleck. However, the Minnesota coach made clear he was unapologetic and used the term many times throughout his post-game press conference, describing the win as “just an awesome culture performance.”

Nebraska, with a record of 3-4 with all losses coming in single digits, was a four-point favorite. Questions for Minnesota revolved around their running game, with Mohamed Ibrahim and Treyson Potts lost to season-ending injuries, and inconsistent performances from quarterback Tanner Morgan. However, the first half belonged to the Gophers.

Firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, Minnesota built a 21-9 lead. Using a mix of running backs, the Gophers used a mix of running backs with Bryce Williams eventually taking charge in the ground game. It was Morgan who connected on 14 of 15 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns who made the difference in the opening quarters. He connected nine times for 100 yards with Chris Autman-Bell.

Morgan hit on his first three passes of the third quarter, giving him a school-record of 16 straight completions. But a pass into double coverage ended that streak as cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt picked off a pass in the end zone. On Minnesota’s next drive, Morgan made it two in a row with passes into the wrong hands as Deontai Williams picked him off at the Minnesota 45.

Nebraska’s offense had been sluggish in the first half with the Cornhusker points coming on a 50-yard field goal by Connor Culp and a 68-yard drive for a touchdown with Culp then missing the point-after. This time, with a short field, Nebraska made short work of getting into the end zone. Adrian Martinez hit tight-end Austin Allen—his favorite receiver of the day—for 30 yards, then pitched to Rahmir Johnson on an option for another 14. Johnson ran it in from the 1, and Culp line-drived an extra point to cut Minnesota’s lead to 21-16 with 9:29 left in the third quarter.

“They didn’t blink,” Fleck said of his team holding off repeated chances for additional Cornhusker scores. Nebraska got to inside the Minnesota 1-yard line, but the Gophers held off to attempts to complete the journey. Tyler Nubin stopped Jaquez Yant inches from the goal line on fourth down, ending Nebraska’s last best chance to take the lead.

The Cornhuskers got the ball back after a punt at their own 45 and made it to the 9. Facing fourth and four, Nebraska went for a field goal to cut the lead but were denied that when Culp was wide right with a 27-yard attempt.

Nebraska made another drive into Minnesota territory that was stopped on fourth down at the 34. The Cornhuskers forced another punt and got the ball back on their 11 with 4:53 in the game. Martinez dropped back and attempted to escape a sack by Esezi Otomewo in the end zone by heaving a pass toward an area with no receivers. A flag dropped for intentional grounding, and Minnesota was awarded a safety, giving the Gophers a seven-point lead.

Attempting to run time off the clock and force Nebraska to use its time outs, the Gophers did more than that when Williams broke through the line for a 56-yard touchdown run. Nebraska responded with a quick 75-yard touchdown drive with a minute left but was unable to come up with an onside kick, allowing Minnesota to run out the clock and improve its record to 4-2, 2-1 in the Big Ten.

Williams finished with 127 yards on 17 carries. Autman had 11 catches and 103 yards receiving while Morgan, even with second-half troubles, was 20 for 24 for 209 yards.

For Nebraska, Johnson led the rushers with 84 yards, and Allen caught 5 passes for 121 yards. Martinez completed 18 of 33 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown.

While the Cornhuskers had the more explosive plays in the game, it couldn’t get the inches it needed and came out on the short end, dropping its record to 3-5, 1-4 in the Big Ten with another single digit loss.

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