September 27, 2023

Turnovers plague Nebraska as Minnesota spoils Matt Rhule’s debut

Nebraska Cornhuskers Football

Nebraska Coach Matt Rhule discusses a previous play with an official during a timeout in the second quarter against Minnesota Thursday August 31, 2023 at Huntington Bank Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

MINNEAPOLIS — Thursday night’s Big Ten clash at Huntington Bank Stadium was all too familiar for Nebraska fans.

The Huskers surrendered a fourth quarter lead, and they lost another one-score game. Nebraska’s 13-10 loss at Minnesota was not the way Coach Matt Rhule envisioned it going. After all, it was the third consecutive time that a first-year Husker coach had lost his season-opener.

Now P.J. Fleck has a five-game winning streak against Nebraska, and he has never lost to Big Red at home. There’s no denying the game lived up to the hype though. The Gophers welcomed Rhule with a sold out crowd of 53,629, and they were all in gold.

Rhule had his Huskers ready, and they weren’t intimidated by the crowd. The game started out as a defensive slugfest, and quarterback Jeff Sims struggled to throw the ball. He was picked off twice in the second quarter. However, there was a controversial play that could’ve gave Nebraska the lead right at halftime.

Nebraska drove the ball all the way down to Minnesota’s one-yard line, quickly snapped the ball and appeared to score a touchdown. A flag was thrown though, and that caused confusion to everyone in attendance. The play was reviewed, and the ruling on the field stood, which put the Huskers back five yards for a false start, and Rhule wasn’t happy about it.

“It was unfortunate that we had the penalty, the ball was at the one-foot line, we had two timeouts, you can’t ask for it any better than that,” Rhule said.

Rhule couldn’t afford to get caught up in the moment because Sims needed a boost of confidence heading into the locker room. Although neither team could establish the run because of stifling defense, Sims had some rhythm when he carried the ball. The Huskers went into halftime down 3-0. The missed opportunities Nebraska had in the first half is what encouraged Rhule.

The Huskers got tricky on their first possession of the second half, and Sims threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Allen Bullock to give Nebraska the lead. The momentum had clearly shifted to the Huskers’ side. Sims even ran the ball more effectively in the second half. Which is why he ended up with a game-high, 91 yards on the ground. Rhule’s squad even built a touchdown cushion after Tristan Alvano nailed a 27-yard field goal.

The Blackshirts did their part, and kept Minnesota scoreless the entire third quarter. Omar Brown and DeShon Singleton tied for a team-high, with seven total tackles. Brown also hauled in an interception.

Husker fans had their fingers crossed heading into the fourth quarter with a touchdown lead. Ater forcing a Golden Gopher three-and-out, the Huskers’ first possession of the fourth quarter was when everything started to crumble for the offense. It was a head-scratcher that Nebraska threw the ball three times, which resulted in two incompletions and a catch for no gain.

On Nebraska’s next possession running back Anthony Grant fumbled at Minnesota’s 47-yard line. All of the momentum had shifted to the Golden Gophers’ side. That’s when Fleck’s squad took 10 plays to march down the field and tied the game with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Athan Kaliakmanis.

Still, the Huskers had another opportunity to put the game away, with one last possession. Sims had the ball with 2:32 seconds left on the clock, but he was picked off for the third time. And that set up Minnesota in great field position. Rhule was disappointed that Sims made that decision over the middle, but knew he was trying to win the game. Rhule wanted to take the game into overtime though.

“Obviously as a quarterback you can’t have those turnovers,” he said. “I thought he (Sims) had some really good moments, he had some key throws, he ran for 100 yards, but you have to protect the football.”

The Golden Gophers’ offense were able to do enough for Dragain Kesich to nail a 47-yard field goal. It was dagger in the heart to Big Red Nation yet again, and too reminiscent of the Scott Frost era. Nebraska led in total offense, and averaged more yards per play, but still lost the game. That’s because the Huskers shot themselves in the foot with four turnovers and seven costly penalties. Minnesota even won the battle in time of possession.

Which is why Rhule is focusing on picking up all of the pieces.

“I’m thinking about what’s next, getting back and watching this tape tomorrow,” the 48-year old coach said. “I’m thinking about next week, we got to generate some yards, points on offense and be more efficient.”

Rhule won’t tolerate moral victories, and expects the same out of his players. Most importantly, Rhule refuses to let them hang their heads. With a rivalry clash at Colorado in week two, Nebraska has to regroup. There’s obviously going to be some growing pains with Sims and the offense. Regardless, Rhule’s No. 1 priority is making sure the Huskers are improving every game, despite adversity.

“No one is going to feel sorry for themselves, it was a learning experience that we have to overcome.”

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