Sometimes it can be a little too cliché to say a team let a game slip through their fingers, but no other phrase may explain how No. 23 Nebraska (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) lost to No. 25 Minnesota (8-3, 5-2 Big Ten) better than such a phrase. Nebraska fumbled away two balls around the Minnesota end zone and the Gophers managed to escape Lincoln with a 28-24 victory to remain in the running for the Big Ten West Division.
With Nebraska leading 21-7, De’Mornay Pierson-El caught a pass for a 25-yard gain inside the red zone before fumbling away the football in the second quarter. Minnesota recovered the loose football and returned it 24 yards. Minnesota was unable to do anything with it late in the first half, but it prevented Nebraska for tacking on a few more points. Pierson-El again lost control of the football in the fourth quarter, this time at the two-yard line with Nebraska trailing 28-24. The fumble was again recovered by Minnesota, and one first down later the Gophers were able to run the clock out on Nebraska.
Those fumbles were the only two turnovers in the game, and it proved costly for the Huskers, who now once again are starting to stare right in the face of another nine-win season to keep some pressure on Bo Pelini as head coach. Nebraska was unable to keep wraps on Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner, who had a terrific afternoon. Leidner was not particularly accurate, but he passed for 135 yards and led the team running for 110 yards and two touchdowns. David Cobb added 80 rushing yards and a touchdown. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown. Abdullah and a handful of Huskers had to be treated for medical attention at various points during the game. It was a rough afternoon for Nebraska.
Now, Minnesota is in a winner-take-all situation next week against rival Wisconsin. Minnesota will hit the road once more to take on the Badgers for Paul Bunyan’s Ax and a share of the Big Ten West championship. Wisconsin still has a game to play, but the result of that game will not matter, at least in terms of the Big Ten West. No matter how next week plays out, Jerry Kill has to be gaining some consideration for coach of the year recognition.
Nebraska will play its final game of the regular season next Friday, after Thanksgiving, at Iowa. The Huskers cannot win the Big Ten West, but Iowa is still alive with a win over Wisconsin.