Gophers, missing 33 players, stun Huskers 24-17 after layoff
Mohamed Ibrahim ran for two touchdowns following Nebraska turnovers, and a Minnesota team missing nearly three dozen players to COVID-19 protocols or injuries left Memorial Stadium with a stunning 24-17 win on Saturday after being idle three weeks.
Ibrahim scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to give Minnesota a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter after Adrian Martinez fumbled at the Nebraska 39.
Connor Culp’s 30-yard field goal cut it to 24-17 with 4:42 left. The Gophers then called on Ibrahim to finish off the game, having him carry six straight times for 59 yards before they went into victory formation at the Nebraska 6.
The Gophers (3-3, 3-3 Big Ten) had their last two games canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, and most of their missing 33 players were in the conference’s 21-day return to play protocol.
It also was Minnesota’s first game without star wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who opted out Nov. 25.
Nebraska (2-5, 2-5), which beat Purdue on the road last week, hasn’t won back-to-back Big Ten games since 2018.
Ibrahim finished with 108 yards on 20 carries and Tanner Morgan was 17 of 30 for 181 yards.
The Gophers, who came to Lincoln as 10-point underdogs, took a 17-14 lead into the final quarter. They had gone ahead late in the first half after a targeting penalty on cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt kept alive a 75-yard scoring drive that started with Cam Wiley sprinting 61 yards down the sideline.
Taylor-Britt went helmet-to-helmet with Morgan while stopping him short on a third-down run. That set up Minnesota inside the 10, and Morgan threw to tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown.
The Gophers opened the scoring after Tyler Nubin intercepted a tipped pass at the Huskers’ 35 in the middle of the first quarter. On fourth-and-1, Seth Green replaced Morgan and lined up in wildcat formation. He stepped to the side as a direct snap went to Ibrahim, who broke through the middle for a 26-yard touchdown.
Luke McCaffrey threw the interception two plays after replacing starter Adrian Martinez, who appeared to get his left (non-throwing) hand dinged. Martinez returned for the next series.
Nebraska managed only 1.9 yards per play on its first three possessions against the statistically worst defense in the Big Ten.
The Huskers broke through early in the second quarter, with Wan’Dale Robinson getting loose 47 yards before Martinez passed 8 yards to Austin Allen for their first touchdown.
Minnesota failed to convert a fourt-and-8 on its next series, and Martinez led the Huskers on a 13-play, 73-yard drive he finished with a run from the 7 for a 14-10 lead.
Minnesota: This ranks as one of the guttiest wins in recent memory for a team ravaged by the virus. Ibrahim has been the bell cow for the Gophers, but they discovered young running back talent in Wiley and a receiver in Chris Autman-Bell to fill the void created by Bateman.
Nebraska: Whatever can go wrong for the Huskers does. The two turnovers were costly, and the defense lost Taylor-Britt to a targeting call for the second time this season and playmaking linebacker Luke Reimer to injury in the first quarter.
Both teams are to play Dec. 19 against opponents to be announced by the Big Ten on Sunday.