How bad was Gophers defense against Nebraska? Historically bad

MINNEAPOLIS -- Here's a frightening piece of Gophers football trivia: What do these four Minnesota games have in common? 1983: Nebraska scored the most points ever against the Gophers in a 84-13 victory. 1994: Penn State's one-two punch of Kerry ...

MINNEAPOLIS - Here’s a frightening piece of Gophers football trivia: What do these four Minnesota games have in common?

1983: Nebraska scored the most points ever against the Gophers in a 84-13 victory.

1994: Penn State’s one-two punch of Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter walloped the U in a 56-3 win.

1998: Purdue quarterback Drew Brees threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns in a 56-21 win.

Saturday: Nebraska boasted three 100-yard rushers and 10 plays of 20 or more yards in a 53-28 rout.


Answer: Those four opponents sit atop the revised Gophers record book for total yards Minnesota has ever allowed in a game.

Nebraska produced 790 yards offense in that blowout 35 years ago, while Penn State had 692, Purdue 689 and Nebraska 659 last week.

The three biggest yardage outbursts each came from programs, either at or approaching a pinnacle, and were produced by players who became household names.

In ’83, the Tom Osborne-coached Cornhuskers were led by Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mike Rozier and went 12-0 before a loss Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl.

In ’94, the Nittany Lions went 12-0 under coach Joe Paterno, beating Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Carter, a star running back, finishing second in Heisman voting, and quarterback Collins was fourth.

In ’98, the Boilermakers turned to Brees as a first-year starter and he broke out before leading them to the Rose Bowl two years later. Now with the New Orleans Saints, he continues to add to his Hall of Fame career in the NFL.

While the story is still being written on this year’s Cornhuskers team, they entered Saturday’s game winless in coach Scott Frost’s first six games rebuilding his alma mater.

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez received heaps of praise from Gophers coach P.J. Fleck. “I think he’s one of the better players in the country already,” Fleck said.


While Martinez is the only QB in the nation to average 225 yards passing and 50 yards rushing in his six games this season, the true freshman likely won’t garner Heisman buzz this year.

This leaves the Gophers defense searching for answers, and Fleck breaks up assessments of his football team into three categories: coaching, scheme and personnel.

The grades for the defense, especially after the Nebraska debacle, have been fail, fail and fail.

The Gophers have given up an average of 503 yards and 43.3 points per Big Ten game. Both rank 13th of out of 14 teams in the conference.

Since the Nebraska loss, Fleck said he has been a little more involved with operations on the defensive side of the ball.

“What we have to do to fix some of the things, not necessarily in terms of the play-calling on a down-to-down basis, but, ‘OK, here is what we are going to go back to and this is what we are going to be able to do,’ ” Fleck said.

Coaching Like Fleck did Saturday in Lincoln, Gophers defensive coordinator Robb Smith shouldered the blame for the coaching on Tuesday.

“I’m the guy that’s ultimately responsible for that and when it goes wrong like that, and you get a number like that, it’s 100 percent on me,” Smith said.


Fleck said he has not wavered in his support of Smith. “I have 100 percent faith in every single one of my coaches,” he said.

Schemes Fleck gave credit to Nebraska for finding a way to attack the Gophers, primarily at safety, where they are without injured Antoine Winfield Jr. and Antonio Shenault. Winfield is done for year with a foot injury, and Shenault exited early in Saturday’s game with a head injury.

The Gophers played true freshman walk-on Jordan Howden for the final three quarters Saturday.

“Did you see how their runs were designed to funnel it toward certain people?” Fleck asked Saturday. “That’s how you do it as a coach. That’s why I said I got out-coached.”

Gophers senior linebacker Blake Cashman said it is on the players to be in the right spots. “Issues with guys not having their eyes in the right place,” he said. “Came down to being disciplined with our roles and then missed tackles.”

After giving up 315 yards rushing to Maryland, the Gophers adjusted their defense to try to stop the run and keep pass plays in front of them. That worked to an extent against Iowa and Ohio State. With the Gophers playing loose coverage on receivers, Nebraska hit Minnesota on the ground and in the air.

Will the Gophers play more press coverage against Indiana on Friday? “We’ll see what happens,” Smith said.

Players The Gophers missed a season-high 18 tackles against the Cornhuskers, Fleck said. They could have to turn to Howden or fellow true freshman Benny Sapp III at safety with Shenault questionable to play.

“We’ve got to get (Howden) as many reps as we can this week,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be able to put him in a position to be successful with some different things that we do.”

The Gophers have been hurt by the departures of secondary members Kiante Hardin, Ray Buford and Dior Johnson, who left the U after their involvement in the sexual misconduct case in 2016. The U also had two secondary members in the 2017 recruiting class, Adam Beck and Kendarian Handy-Holly, transfer to other schools.

This has limited the number of players Fleck and Smith feel comfortable with in the secondary and how often they can go with more than the base set of four defensive backs.

Smith said a lot of factors have contributed to the breakdowns.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” Smith said. “And when a little bit of everything happens, a lot of bad happens. It’s how we do things. Whether we are in position, whether we have an opportunity to make a tackle or whether it’s the right call we are in from my part. All of us together have to do things better.”

What To Read Next
The league would launch in summer 2024 and is polling interest in possible host cities.
Featuring the prep honor roll, N.D. Class A and B prep basketball polls, N.D. East Region girls wrestling duals tournament schedule and much more!
The Tuesday, Jan. 31, game between Sioux Falls Lincoln and Watertown was forced to move after junior JT Rock broke the rim with a powerful two-handed dunk. Rock is committed to play at Iowa State.
Featuring prep basketball results from throughout the region, boys and girls hockey scores, area college basketball conference standings, and much more!