MINNEAPOLIS — Taylor Martinez pitched to Rex Burkhead, who flipped to Kenny Bell, who reversed course and had the starring role in one of the prettiest Nebraska trick plays in recent memory.
A wide expanse of green. Left tackle Yoshi Hardrick as an escort. And a sideline-hugging, 82-yard sprint to the end zone — the longest touchdown run by a freshman in school history.
“That was kinda cool,” said Bell, wearing a wide grin and gigantic headphones under a mushroom of hair after the game.
Said Martinez: “He’s the fastest player in the NCAA, honestly.”
Yes, a lovely day and place to watch an NU football romp.
With roughly 20,000 of their own sun-splashed fans packing into Minnesota’s recently built TCF Bank Stadium, the Huskers led 34-0 at halftime, inserted reserves late in the third quarter and went home with a 41-14 win, a 515-254 edge in yards and a 79-57 advantage in plays.
Zero turnovers. Two touchdown drives of at least 14 plays. A 15th straight win over Minnesota. It played out like an old Big Eight day at Manhattan or Lawrence or Ames or Columbia — only in swankier digs with fireworks, a bold Big Ten marching band and a sprawling sports bar across the street.
NU plays here every other year? Hello, getaway game.
“You get off the bus and see more red than the other colors,” offensive line coach Barney Cotton said.
“I knew it’d be like that,” fullback Tyler Legate said.
Such things could be pondered afterward, in part thanks to a fortunate, first-quarter bounce of the ball.
Leading 3-0, NU faced a fourth-and-1 at Minnesota’s 13-yard line. A Martinez option pitch to freshman running back Aaron Green went awry, but the ball rolled out of the bounds at the 11.
Because Green never possessed the ball, Martinez’s pitch was ruled a backward pass; by rule, Nebraska was given the yards — and the first down. Minnesota’s sideline exploded with disbelief and rage. The Huskers, dawdling on the field, seemed a little confused.
“I actually didn’t understand the rule myself,” coach Bo Pelini said.
Referee Todd Geerlings did.
“It was fourth down, and I’m sure everybody thought it was a fourth-down fumble ruling,” Geerlings said in a statement. “But for a fumble, you need to have possession of the ball.”
Burkhead called it a “weird play” — but one that gave NU momentum. The kind of break a team doesn’t exactly need in a perfectly cozy road environment — but happily takes. Martinez promptly threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Legate for a 10-0 lead.
“I caught the ball and turned around looking for someone to hit me,” Legate said. “But there was nobody there. It always works.”
Cue the floodgates opening. Three Minnesota punts. One botched Gopher zone read. Four NU scores:
» Bell’s touchdown bolt.
» A Brett Maher field goal set up by senior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie’s 61-yard jailbreak screen catch-and-run.
» Senior safety Austin Cassidy’s 11-yard touchdown return of UM quarterback MarQueis Gray’s fumble.
“We kicked ourselves in the tail end,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said.
» A 14-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to finish the half.
In that 17:54 of game clock, NU outgained the Gophers 223-46 and outscored them 24-0 — a sharp reversal of its poor second-quarter play vs. Wyoming, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
“That’s what we wanted to improve upon early,” Burkhead said.
And Bell: “We knew we needed to come out and kill their fire.”
Did Nebraska (6-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten) drive in the second-half nail? Not exactly.
“I’d like to have seen our guys finish up a little better than we did,” Cotton said.
Minnesota’s defense packed the run box and shoved its corners right in the Huskers’ grill; Martinez failed to connect on any deep second-half passes, although receivers dropped two throws.
Their combined inefficiency delayed backup quarterback Brion Carnes’ entrance into the game.
“We’ll catch those later on,” Martinez said.
NU missed blocks and tackles. Pelini called it “sloppy.” The Gophers closed the game on a 16-play, 89-yard touchdown drive, converting three third downs and a fourth down.
It didn’t significantly alter Pelini’s postgame mood.
Pelini lauded his team’s focus and approach, already seemingly geared toward next weekend’s game with Michigan State. Cotton said NU will begin work “early” Sunday morning on the Spartans.
“Michigan State next weekend!” defensive end Cameron Meredith tweeted just an hour after the game.
It hadn’t been a stressful afternoon; even Pelini talked to the media for only eight minutes, saying afterward, “you guys are easy on me.”
You know what was tough? Many Huskers got caught in a hotel elevator Friday night.
“It was!” Hardrick said, when asked if it was the most stressful part of the trip. “Thirteen people on there? Dropped like three times and didn’t come back up. We had to walk, like six flights of stairs. Nobody wanted to get back on that elevator.”
It was the only hitch in a 48-hour, 20,000-fan trip to the Twin Cities.
|Yards per carry||3.4||6.2|
Nebraska is 25-33 all-time against Minnesota.
|Fresno State||Sept. 10|
|Ohio State||Oct. 8|
|Michigan State||Oct. 29|
|Penn State||Nov. 12|
|South Carolina||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 22. See them all »
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