Football: Gophers’ bid for upset intercepted
LINCOLN, Neb. — Every Gophers defensive player and coach gathered in an enormous huddle on the field during a timeout with seven minutes left Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska had driven 12 plays into Minnesota’s red zone, and the Gophers needed a breather. The game and Minnesota’s tenuous position in first place in the Big Ten West were coming down to their last gasp.
On the next play, Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong sucked the life out. He rushed 13 yards for the go-ahead score in a 24-17 win in front of an announced crowd of 90,456 Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
On the last drive, Gophers QB Mitch Leidner resuscitated the Gophers with six plays from their own 27-yard line and to Nebraska’s 17. He then threw an interception on a tipped pass with 1:29 left to seal the defeat.
“It’s rough how those things go, I guess, because you feel like you can do anything as you’re making your way down the field,” Leidner said. “Completing a few balls and guys making plays and then something like that happens where (nickel back Aaron Williams) makes a great play on the ball and tips it up, so it’s definitely a throw I want back.”
After leading 17-10 at the half, Minnesota (7-3, 4-3) had its four-game winning streak snapped. The Gophers were attempting to win five consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since 1962.
“We just didn’t play well enough in the second half to win the ball game, and Nebraska played better than we did,” Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said. “Still got a drive there at the end to have a chance to tie it up, but we just didn’t — like I say, block and tackle very well.”
All three Minnesota losses have been by seven points or less, including 29-26 overtime defeat to Penn State and 14-7 to Iowa to start the Big Ten season in October.
Nebraska (8-2, 5-2) has won 19 consecutive prime-time home games. The Cornhuskers kept pace with fellow West leader Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2), which beat Illinois 48-3 on Saturday.
Heading into game, the Huskers led the nation in outscoring opponents the fourth quarter. With Armstrong’s run, that margin is now plus-95.
“They are a good football team; I think we’re a good football team,” Claeys said. “They played better in the second half than we did.”
Armstrong’s ability to run and pass was a concern for Minnesota heading into the game. He had a scary hit and exited the 62-3 loss to Ohio State a week ago with a concussion, but was cleared in the mandated protocol before the game.
The Gophers prepared all week for Armstrong, a dual threat quarterback, who averages 204 passing yards and 48 rushing yards per game. In the air Saturday, he finished with 217 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, he had 61 yards rushing and the game-changing score.
The Cornhuskers tied the game, 17-17, on the first drive of the second half. Armstrong was 5 for 5 for 64 yards on that drive, and Nebraska converted on three third downs.
Armstrong connected on a pass to Terrell Newby, who broke tackles by Duke McGhee and Damarious Travis, to go 31 yards along the sideline and into the end zone.
The Gophers led 17-10 at the half, with a 42-yard field goal from Emmit Carpenter as time expired.
Minnesota took a 14-10 lead with a quarterback sneak from Leidner from the half-yard line with about five minutes left in half.
The drive was propelled by a 31-yard run by Rodney Smith to the Huskers’ 3-yard line. Outside for the 31-yard run, the Gophers rushed for 33 times for 54 yards (1.6 yard average).
Nebraska took a 10-7 lead with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to Tre Bryant on fourth and two. Bryant was lined up as a halfback and came out the backfield for the connection, and Minnesota was flat-footed.