Martinez back, No. 25 Nebraska loses to Minnesota

Taylor Martinez missed three straight games because of an

injury. Returning Saturday against Minnesota, he showed the rust to

prove it.

Martinez was outdueled by Gophers sophomore Philip Nelson, who

rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another, in a 34-23 upset

of No. 25 Nebraska, the Cornhuskers’ first loss to Minnesota since

1960.

The Huskers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) went 3-0 in Martinez’s absence,

but the victories came over FCS foe South Dakota State and Big Ten

also-rans Illinois and Purdue.

He returned Saturday from what he described as an injury to the

second and third toes on his left foot that he initially suffered

in the season opener against Wyoming and has sidelined him since

the Huskers’ game against UCLA on Sept. 14.

But the Gophers (6-2, 2-2) held him to only 16 yards rushing on

eight attempts and 139 yards on 16-for-30 passing, with one

touchdown and one interception.

”Right now I just have to feel good enough to tolerate it, and

I felt good enough to tolerate it,” Martinez said. ”I felt good

out there running – we just didn’t execute very well on both sides

of the ball.”

The Huskers’ offense was hampered by Martinez’ erratic throwing

and the absence of senior right guard Spencer Long, lost for the

season with a knee injury in their last game. But coach Bo Pelini

pointed out that there was plenty of blame to go around

Saturday.

”Taylor was the least of our problems,” Pelini said. ”The

inconsistency we had up front, we didn’t get into a rhythm. We

weren’t very good on early downs, which hurt us. And the amount of

dropped passes we had was inexcusable. Those kill drives.”

The most damaging of those missed opportunities came late in the

final seconds of the first half, when Martinez’s pass to a

wide-open Kenny Bell in the back of the end zone sailed high and

slipped through Bell’s fingers. Instead of a game-tying 25-yard

touchdown, Nebraska had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Pat

Smith that cut its halftime deficit to 17-13.

Although Ameer Abdullah rushed for 165 yards on 19 carries for

Nebraska, the Gophers outgained the Huskers 271-189 on the ground.

David Cobb gained 138 yards on 31 rushes for Minnesota, including

12 carries in the fourth quarter as the Gophers wore down both the

Cornhuskers and the game clock.

Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover used Wisconsin’s

70-31 win over Nebraska last December as a blueprint for how his

team could move the ball against the Huskers using sweeps and

misdirection plays.

”I hate to pick open old wounds, but we watched the Big Ten

championship game a lot. I’ll just be honest with you,” Limegrover

said, adding: ”We knew we just couldn’t pound it, so we wanted to

get some things going sideways.”

Nelson, who had eight carries for 55 yards, spun across the goal

line from the 1 with 48 seconds left to seal the victory for the

Gophers, who became bowl eligible and stopped a 16-game losing

streak to the Huskers.

Nebraska grabbed the momentum on the opening drive when Martinez

hit Bell in stride for a 42-yard completion and Imani Cross

finished the six-play drive with a short touchdown run. The Gophers

went three-and-out, and the Huskers followed with a 45-yard field

goal by Smith to make it 10-0.

But the Gophers withstood Nebraska’s uppercut, and midway

through the second quarter, on fourth-and-10 from the 33, Nelson

flicked a perfect pass over the top of the defense to an

outstretched Derrick Engel. He tumbled into the end zone for a

14-10 lead, the Gophers’ first over the Huskers in this series

since 1969.

Yes, 1969.

The Gophers had gone 11 straight matchups with the Huskers,

including each of the last two years as Big Ten games, without

holding a lead, let alone getting a win.

The Huskers settled into a bit of a rhythm at the end of the

third quarter, fueled by a 35-yard, twisting-and-spinning run by

Martinez to set up a short touchdown pass to Sam Cotton that cut

Minnesota’s lead to 27-20. The thousands of red-clad Nebraska fans,

who filled at least one-third of the 50,000 seats, snapped to life

in celebration.

But the Gophers relied on Cobb and a resurgent offensive line

the rest of the way to grind out the clock and bury the

Huskers.

”We just got pushed and we didn’t tackle well,” Pelini said.

”On defense, we had way too many breakdowns. . I’m talking basic

football that we couldn’t execute and didn’t execute. This game

comes down to blocking and tackling and we didn’t do that very

well.”