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5 things we learned from Nebraska football loss to Minnesota

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Aug 31, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule looks on during the second quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska football lost a heartbreaker to Minnesota on Thursday night and here are five things we learned about the Huskers.

Being a Nebraska football fan isn’t easy. That’s one thing we were reminded of on Thursday night.

The Huskers should have won that game, which is something we said all too often during the Scott Frost era. We don’t want to say that anymore.

Nebraska football is too good for moral victories. You either win or lose and despite a lot of really good things, the Huskers are 0-1 under Matt Rhule.

With about five minutes to go, Nebraska had about a 95-percent chance to win. Then, Anthony Grant fumbled and the night turned into another Cornhusker-style twilight zone.

A facemask penalty, a missed false start, a fourth-and-10 touchdown, an interception, and a game-winning field goal. All in a matter of minutes.

My prediction of a three-point loss proved to be right, but it didn’t happen how I thought it would, and here are five things we learned from the Huskers’ 13-10 loss to Minnesota.

The style of play was different

Nebraska needs to win games. That’s the bottom line, but the way the Huskers played was impressive at times. They allowed just 55 rushing yards to Minnesota and controlled the second half until the late turnovers.

You can’t give games away and that’s exactly what Nebraska did. Two costly penalties inside the five-yard line kept Minnesota in the game.

However, the tackling was legit. The defense was physical and the Huskers were able to establish a running game with Jeff Sims. Gabe Ervin had seven attempts for 55 yards. Sims had 91 yards and the team had 181 rushing yards total.

You could definitely tell this team has been tackling in practice and it’s one thing I feel good about going into the Colorado game, as long as Nebraska can learn how to finish.

The Huskers didn’t do that on Thursday, but they did play the brand of football Rhule talked about since becoming the head coach.

The offensive line is still an issue

Let’s give credit to Minnesota because it was third in scoring defense last season nationally. But the Gophers defensive line got a lot of penetration.

There’s a reason Nebraska had to rely on so many quarterback runs. Minnesota was winning the battle up front and notched three sacks. The performance was better, but the tackles worry me.

The line deserves credit for the 181 yards. Nebraska’s tight ends did a nice job, but they ran a lot of counter-type stuff. You can’t blame the front five for the fumble, but the penalties were their fault and that just can’t happen. Sims was also pressured a lot in the fourth quarter, including on his final throw.

It’s one thing to get physically beaten. That happens. But to make mental mistakes near the goal-line is inexcusable and I for one am still very worried about the O-line moving forward. Getting Teddy Prochazka back would be huge.

Multiple reasons for concern with Jeff Sims

Jeff Sims had some great runs. He also made some big-time throws. However, all three of his interceptions could have been avoided and were more about bad decision-making than anything else.

The interception in the end zone just can’t happen. Points are like gold in a low-scoring game like that and Nebraska gave away three that proved to be costly.

Yes, the play before should have been called a touchdown. But you can’t force the ball into traffic there. You also can’t throw the ball across the middle of the field, off your back foot with a minute left.

Throw is out of bounds. Take a sack. Anything.

Sims has played 26 games in his career and has 26 career interceptions. He also completed just 57.9 percent of his passes Thursday and last season, Minnesota was 7-0 when quarterbacks completed less than 60 percent of their throws.

The transfer quarterback is probably Nebraska’s most talented player, but he has to learn to play mistake-free football or it won’t matter. I also don’t think he can carry the ball 19 times a game and make it through a Big Ten season.

The special teams were elite

Ed Foley deserves a lot of credit. Nebraska football was spectacular on special teams and won that third of the game without question.

First, the coverage units were exceptional. Minnesota averaged just 16.3 yards per kick return and had one punt return for 10 yards. Tristan Alvano made both of his kicks and Brian Buschini had a good night.

Rahmir Johnson’s 63-yard kickoff return led to Nebraska’s only touchdown drive and frankly, it was one of the best special teams showings I’ve seen in years from the Huskers.

They are going to be really solid in that area and that’s a positive change.

The defense could be damn good

Yes, the defense gave up 10 points in the last four minutes, including a touchdown on fourth-and-10. But man, if you allow just 13 points on the road in the Big Ten, you should win the game.

In this era of college football, holding any team under 20 points is a great job. That’s more than enough to win with and this defense is good enough to get this team to a bowl game.

The pass rush needs to improve. Cameron Lenhardt played 31 snaps last night and showed some promise. It also hurt that Ty Robinson got ejected. But Nash Hutmacher is going to have a big year. I thought the Huskers might actually win after his fourth-quarter sack.

Yet, at the point of attack, Nebraska was super solid. Minnesota got nothing on the ground and that’s a good sign moving forward. The secondary also played well.

Tony White mixed things up and played a bunch of dudes. He’s going to be a star and if there is one positive to take away from Thursday night’s loss, it’s that the Blackshirts look to be back.

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Chris has worked in sports journalism since 2005 writing for multiple newspapers and websites such as the Bleacher Report and Fansided before starting Husker Big Red, A fan site for hardcore followers of the #Huskers offering articles, podcasts, videos and more exclusive content on all things Nebraska

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