Nebraska traveled to Minnesota for what could be considered the closest thing to a must-win game that a 3-4 team could have in terms of keeping its bowl hopes alive.
As has been the case all too often in recent years, the Huskers squandered the opportunity in frustrating fashion.
Despite picking off two passes and forcing four punts in the second half, NU’s offense couldn’t make the winning plays down the stretch in a 30-23 loss that had every opportunity to be a victory.
Nebraska fell to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play, and its chances of a winning record for the first time since 2016 took their biggest hit yet.
The game couldn’t have started much worse for Nebraska, as the offense quickly went three-and-out on the opening drive, and then Minnesota marched 61 yards on 14 plays over 7:42 and scored on a five-yard touchdown pass from Cole Kramer to Brevyn Spann-Ford.
The Huskers finally showed some life on the ensuing series with a 22-yard pass to Austin Allen and a 25-yard option pitch to Rahmir Johnson on the first two plays. But NU quickly faced a fourth-and-14, and Connor Culp salvaged the drive with a 50-yard field goal into the wind.
But the Gophers wasted no time firing right back, going 79 yards over seven plays – never facing a third down – and scoring on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to Mike Brown-Stephens to make it 14-3 to start the second quarter.
Minnesota was well on its way to adding to that lead on its next series, but a 12-yard sack by Cam Taylor-Britt on a busted double-reverse flea-flicker and a missed 50-yard field goal by Matthew Trickett ended the threat.
Nebraska kept that momentum rolling with a reverse of its own, this one going for a 27-yard run by Zavier Betts into UM territory. Martinez connected with Allen for a 20-yard pass on third-and-10, and then Johnson ran it for a six-yard touchdown. However, Culp shanked the extra point to leave the deficit at 14-9 with 5:47 left in the half.
Once again, the Gophers immediately answered with another touchdown drive. This time, Morgan hit Chris Autman-Bell for a 36-yard gain on the drive’s first play and then finished with a seven-yard scoring toss to Autman-Bell to go into halftime up 21-9.
Morgan, who came into the game as a 52-percent passer on the year, completed 14-of-15 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Autman-Bell set a career-high with nine catches for 100 yards and a score in the opening half alone.
Minnesota was well on its way to adding to its lead to open the third quarter, but Morgan – who had just completed a school-record 16 straight passes – was intercepted by Cam Taylor-Britt in the end zone.
The offense couldn’t do anything with the opportunity, but Morgan was picked off again by Deontai Williams (who was injured on the play) at the Gopher 45-yard line. Martinez hit Allen for a 30-yard pass, and then Johnson finished the job with his second rushing touchdown from a yard out.
The Blackshirts then forced their first punt of the day with eight minutes left in the third to give NU the ball at the Minnesota 47. A 29-yard run by Johnson set Nebraska up with a first-and-goal, but the Gophers stuffed four straight runs for a turnover on downs at the one-yard line.
But Nebraska’s defense came through again, forcing a quick punt. Martinez found Allen again on a 40-yard pass to the UM 15. The drive would stall out from there, though, and then Culp went wide right on a 27-yard field goal try.
Again the defense got the stop, and Martinez completed a 27-yard pass to Betts to move the ball to midfield. After getting down to the Gopher 29, though, the Huskers again came up empty with another turnover on downs.
Minnesota punted again, and things went even worse for the offense. On the drive’s first play, Martinez was pressured into the end zone and threw the ball away without any Husker in the area. The play resulted in a safety and pushed Minnesota’s lead to 23-16 with 4:45 left to play.
The Gophers put the nail in the coffin from there when Bryce Williams broke free for a 56-yard touchdown run to make it 30-16 with 2:12 remaining.
Nebraska kept it interesting with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Allen to make it a one-score game with 1:12 left, but Minnesota recovered the onside kick to seal the win for good.
The Huskers will get a week off to try and regroup before returning to action at home against Purdue on Oct. 30.