LINCOLN — A big sigh of relief passed through the crowd at Memorial Stadium in the third quarter Saturday afternoon as the Nebraska offense caught its second wind.
After an old-fashioned but welcomed start to the game, which saw the Huskers put up 398 yards of offense in the first half, Nebraska went into hibernation and allowed Minnesota to claw back into contention. A 28-0 lead became a 28-22 nailbiter, and it was up to the offense to deliver.
Adrian Martinez and company did just that responding with a 74-yard drive that ended with a 35-yard strike to Stanley Morgan. The problem for the Husker offense was its efficiency, as all of the scoring drives happened relatively quickly and left plenty of time for the Gopher offense to respond.
That changed as well, as the Blackshirts turned away Minnesota at the Nebraska three. And although the ensuing drive resulted in a 32-yard field goal rather than a touchdown, it gave Nebraska a three-score lead and took more than seven minutes off the clock.
Asked about Minnesota narrowing the game to six points, head coach Scott Frost admitted it looked a little too familiar.
“I thought to myself ‘I think I’ve seen this movie before,’” he said. “We made some mistakes on offense in the third quarter and things got pretty tight. I saw guys fight back today, and we made plays at the end.”
Nebraska’s offense dominated the game in the early going, with four drives going the distance. The Huskers were saddled with poor field position to start drives, but put up impressive rushing numbers against the Gopher defense, which was No. 28 nationally against the run and giving up only 122 yards per game.
Nebraska had 274 yards at half and finished with Devine Ozigbo, Maurice Washington and Martinez each going over the 100 yard mark. The Huskers finished with 383 yards rushing for the day, but that was only half the story.
Martinez finished with a dazzling 25-of-29 performance through the air, going for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Many of Martinez’s throws were short passes into the flat, but they were effective in forcing the Minnesota defense to react and set up downfield opportunities later in the game.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck praised Martinez for delivering under pressure.
“I saw from Martinez exactly what you saw from Martinez,” he said. “He’s a running back that’s an incredible quarterback. He’s so fast, he’s so quick, he’s bigger than you think and he can hurt you.
“(Nebraska) put a lot of strain in a lot of different areas. That’s why they have 550 yards of offense per game. We didn’t come close to stopping them.”
Frost said that Martinez showed himself able to deliver when it mattered.
“I had no idea he was 25 of 29 — those are senior numbers,” he said. “I just really like him as a person. Adrian and Mo (Washington) will be great players, and Devine has been awesome. I’m really proud of those guys.”
Easy to overlook with the playmakers doing their thing was the performance of the offensive line, which delivered arguably its best game of the year. Part of Martinez’s impressive performance throwing the ball was the fact that for much of the game he felt little pressure from the Gopher defense.
“The line played great today,” Martinez said. “They are under-appreciated. Today everything was working on the ground.”
Martinez said there was no panic on the part of the Huskers after Minnesota made it a one-score game.
“I told the guys in the huddle that we had to put together a good drive and score,” he said. “There were a couple of instances when Coach Frost seemed to call the perfect play.
“I feel really good about things, and I think I’m in a great situation. Anyone who doesn’t have fun playing football here shouldn’t be playing.”
Morgan, who finished with a career high 10 catches and 163 yards, said that the Huskers were not to be denied Saturday.
“It’s a relief, a weight off our shoulders,” he said. “We have worked so hard. We saw this all week. Monday’s practice was amazing, and the guys came ready to go today. Adrian is just so dangerous, and he’ll be something special before he’s done. Today we weren’t taking no for answer.”
A big part of Nebraska’s success was minimizing mistakes, as Nebraska lost one fumble and didn’t commit a penalty until the final two minutes of the first half. The Huskers averaged just over nine yards per snap, and the two fourth quarter touchdowns proved the icing on a long-awaited cake.
Ozigbo led the trio of rushers with 152 yards on 12 carries and scored twice on long runs that broke once he got to the corner. Martinez added 125, while Washington finished with 109 off the bench.
JD Spielman proved again to be a reliable target as he had eight catches for 77 yards and one of Martinez’s three scoring tosses.