Upon Further Review: Against all odds, Gophers defeat Nebraska

Everything seemed to be conspiring against Minnesota in its game at Nebraska.

The Gophers hadn’t played since Nov. 20, had over 30 players out due to COVID-19 or injuries and for the first time this season were without top wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who opted out as he prepares for the NFL draft.

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Someone forgot to tell Minnesota, though.

With several offensive players, besides Bateman out, including two starting linemen, the defense stepped up with one its better efforts of the season and the offense did enough – and perhaps most importantly didn’t turn the ball over.

Nebraska, meanwhile, turned the ball over twice and it led to 14 Gophers points.

It was the Huskers making mistakes at key times while Minnesota played as well as it could under the circumstances, then relied on Mohamed Ibrahim to help ice the game after the Gophers got the ball back with 4:42 left following a Nebraska field goal.

The Huskers never got the ball again.

Minnesota finished taking a knee, moving the Gophers to 3-3 and potentially setting themselves up to be in a bowl game — a far cry from one month earlier, when they fell to 1-3 after a 35-7 shellacking at the hands of Iowa and questioning where the season was heading.

It took a few weeks, but things are looking up.

Game story

Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:

 

PLAYER OF THE GAME

For a while it seemed as though Minnesota would be without Mohamad Ibrahim, who had one carry to open the second half then didn’t get the ball again until the fourth quarter. But Ibrahim came through when needed, as usual. He rushed for two touchdowns – giving him 15 on the season (in just six games!) – and was the man the Gophers went to when they looked to ice the game late in the fourth quarter. Getting the ball back after Nebraska cut the lead to 24-17, Ibrahim had runs of 7, 5, 31, 2 and 12 yards, the last going to the ground instead of scoring, allowing Minnesota to get into victory formation. He finished with 108 yards on 20 carries.

 

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

Linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin was all over the field. The junior who had never had more than nine tackles in a game, recorded 18 (six solo). Since 2000, only Sori-Marin and Blake Cashman, who had 20 vs. Northwestern Nov. 17, 2018, have notched 18+ tackles in a game. Sori-Marin, though, is the only one to do it in a win. And he was a big part for the Gophers getting a victory.

 

THAT MOMENT

Boye Mafe only had four tackles in the game, but he had perhaps the biggest one. Mafe, who missed Minnesota’s last contest, hit Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez from behind late in the fourth quarter, one of his two sacks, knocking the ball loose with the Gophers recovering at the Huskers 39. Minnesota would score on an Ibrahim fourth-down 1-yard run to take a two-score lead.

 

THIS NUMBER

Nebraska came in with some confidence on offense, having scored 37 points the week before at Purdue. Plus, Minnesota was allowing an egregious 7.7 yards per play and 8.7 yards per completion. However, the defense turned the tables and held Nebraska mostly in check, giving up just 4.7 yards per play and 6.9 yards per completion – both season lows for the Gophers defense.

 

THEY SAID IT

“We had a lot of challenges on our football team this week. I do want to start by just thanking our medical team. We haven’t played in 22 days, everyone. I don’t think people truly realize how hard it is and the right timing, and the schedule, and the natural progression of what has to take place. You’ve all asked the questions about what it’s like and I can just rattle it off because I know what it’s like. The process sounds easy especially when you have multiple games canceled and this one being close. 22-day progression, you got to give them all the credit in the world. I’m really proud of them and our medical staff for making sure that we have a safe environment. It’s a very difficult thing to do in 2020 right now with the ghost in the room so I just wanted to say thanks to them and everything that they do.” — head coach P.J. Fleck

“I do believe unless you’re in a college football or college basketball locker room right now, I don’t think anybody has any idea how hard this is. Constantly changing roster, roster management, injuries on top of it, opt-outs, players testing positive for COVID two days before a game. We don’t have enough players to put a scout team out there (at practice). We had 22 days off. There’s a mental, physical and emotional toll this year has taken on athletes.” – Fleck

“It’s an unselfish move, but it’s a move he has to do. It’s called down time. It’s about situational football. It cost the Atlanta Falcons a game this season with Todd Gurley falling into the end zone. We takled in the huddle, it’s down time, so go bust it through. … He got down and that’s how we finished the game.” — quarterback Tanner Morgan on Ibrahim gonig down to the ground instead of scoring

“Going into this week we watched a lot of film on them and watched how they set and how they move as an O-line and a unit. I noticed that sometimes when their tackles have trouble they chip with their guards and they bring their guards to help. Earlier in the game I came on a bull rush he was feeling that most of the game and towards the end of the third quarter I let one rip and let one go and I felt that he wasn’t keeping up with me, I knew that he wasn’t on my hip so I turned the corner and had the other guys behind me pushing up in the pack so the quarterback couldn’t step up so that really helped me.” — Mafe on his third-quarter sack

 

WHAT’S NEXT

The Big Ten set up Dec. 19 as “championship week,” where each team from the East would play a team from the West with the corresponding standing position. For Minnesota, that would mean a rematch with Maryland. Two caveats: 1. The conference stated it likely would try to avoid rematches; 2. With the game against Wisconsin having been canceled, there’s a swelling of support for those teams to play. Details will be known later Sunday.