Is Minnesota a Trap Game?
In successive weeks Nebraska will travel to Northwestern seeking to avenge a loss at home a year ago. Then seemingly the game of the season comes at home against Michigan. That's followed by an important and tough road game at Michigan State. Then it's back home to play what's likely to be a very physical Penn State team. The Minnesota game that follows (and precedes a short week before the season finale at Iowa) would seem like a bit of a breather. But that kind of thinking may make the Golden Gophers dangerous.
In each of the past three seasons, Nebraska has lost a game at home that really should have been won easily. In 2009 it was Iowa State (you could argue that the Texas Tech game from that year fits the bill too). In 2010, they lost to a Texas team that, despite the name on the the front of the jersey, was not very good. That year also featured a neutral-site loss in a rematch to a mediocre Washington team that the Huskers had trounced in Seattle. Last season, the dud was Northwestern at home after seemingly grabbing control of the division with a big win over Michigan state. The common element might be that NU took lightly teams that were just good enough to beat you on a bad day.
Minnesota has the one feature that has most consistently given Bo Pelini defenses fits - a mobile quarterback. Marqueis Gray's passing led a lot to be desired, but he rushed for over 900 yards a year ago. At 6'4" and 240 lbs., Gray can be tough for one man to bring down. They also feature a weapon in kick-return specialist Troy Stoudermire, who's the Big Ten's all-time leader in that category.
Defensively, the Gophers are interesting. Ra'shede Hageman was tried at tight end and defensive end before becoming a defensive tackle. Head coach Jerry Kill said of Hageman, "...at his best he can't be blocked". Those kinds of players on the interior defensive line can often be the kryptonite to NU's rushing attack. The rest of the defense is undergoing a bit of a speed upgrade, somewhat reminiscient of how the Huskers revamped their defense in the 1990's. They've moved an outside linebacker to the middle, a safety to linebacker, and two corners to safety to get more speed on the field. Laterally quick defenses can also take their toll on an option attack.
There are reasons that Minnesota is picked dead last in the Legends division. The offensive line lacks experience. They have only one receiver that's caught a touchdown. Their running backs don't appear special. Last year Gray completed barely 50% of his passes with as many interceptions as touchdowns. Their punting has been bad (despite all the practice). Outside of Stoudermire, you don't see any Golden Gopher appearing on preseason all-conference lists.
On paper, the game should be no contest. You could have said the same about their games against Iowa and Illinois a year ago (both Minnesota wins). The Huskers won't lose if they're playing their A game. But if they try to phone it in, this one could be trouble.