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5 thoughts ahead of Nebraska football vs. Minnesota

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Malcolm Hartzog (13) celebrates during the NCAA football game, Saturday, Oct, 15, 2022, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Malcolm Hartzog Celebrates A First Quarter Stop Against The Purdue Boilermakers Saturday Oct 15 2022 At Ross Ade Stadium In West Lafayette

The 2023 Nebraska football season will start on the road Thursday night in a Big Ten West matchup with Minnesota that will also be on national television.

Minnesota is viewed as one of the top contenders in the Big Ten West and has been consistently picked ahead of the Huskers, who have been projected fifth in the division by most pundits.

Nebraska football has lost four consecutive games to the Gophers and the Huskers are 5-7 overall since moving to the Big Ten against their rivals to the North.

Many people think about Iowa as the Huskers’ main rival, but there is no love lost with Minnesota either, and looking ahead to Week 1, here are five thoughts on Nebraska football vs. Minnesota.

Huskers have to play a clean game

Maybe the biggest difference between Minnesota and Nebraska football over the years is takeaways. Minnesota has excelled at winning the takeaway battle, while the Huskers haven’t.

Over the past four seasons, Minnesota has averaged just 1.05 turnovers per game. In the past three seasons, the Gophers have averaged just one per game.

Nebraska football, on the other hand, has averaged 1.77 turnovers per game in that same time period. That difference in turnovers is enormous that’s .72 more turnovers per game by the Huskers.

In every season of the Frost era, the Huskers averaged at least 1.5 giveaways per game, which isn’t a recipe for winning and if the Huskers lose the turnover battle on Thursday, they will lose the game.

Both quarterbacks have questions to answer

Athan Kaliakmanis is a big-time talent at quarterback for Minnesota. He’s 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, and he can run a little bit too, unlike Tanner Morgan.

Kaliakmanis came off the bench to beat Nebraska last season, but he also has a lot to prove. He averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt but completed just 54.1 percent to go along with three touchdowns compared to four interceptions.

The running game should be solid, but Minnesota has some real weapons, so the passing game could be much better this season, as long as Kaliakmanis can improve.

That’ll be a big question on Thursday. Jeff Sims has similar questions about accuracy and taking care of the ball. He’s got 23 career interceptions and is just a 57.5 percent passer for his career. He’s going to need to play well if the Huskers are going to pull the upset and we’ll see if he’s ready for the big stage.

This isn’t Georgia Tech.

A physical football game

This is going to be an NFL-style slugfest. Minnesota loves to control the tempo and the clock. That’s not going to change. The Gophers have their identity and it has led to three consecutive seasons with at least nine victories, outside of the COVID year.

Minnesota’s offensive line is big and all of the starters are upperclassmen. Nebraska isn’t quite as old, but it has guys like Ty Robinson and Nash Hutmacher on defense, plus Ben Scott and a bunch of experienced dudes coming back up front.

Fleck wants to pound the rock and so does Matt Rhule, at least from everything we have heard from the Nebraska head coach.

So I expect both teams to run the football…a lot. I don’t think it’s going to be a high-scoring affair, but it will be a physical, Big Ten battle.

The depth chart is fluid

Nebraska football released its depth chart last Friday and it caused a bunch of chatter among fans. But the truth is that it’s going to change.

Once guys get healthy and once the live bullets start flying, it’s going to be adjusted. Also, just because we don’t see Malachi Coleman’s name, doesn’t mean he won’t play or see some passes in the first game.

Rhule and the coaches have talked about how they want to play a bunch of players, especially on defense. Blaise Gunnerson and Cameron Lenhardt both have a lot to prove and so does a guy like Raquan Buckley.

Malcolm Hartzog wasn’t all that high on the depth chart in Week 1 last season, but in a few weeks, he became a starter. So a lot can and will change.

Tony White will impress

This is more of a prediction. Yet, I think Nebraska football fans are going to be happy with their new defensive coordinator after the game on Thursday.

Winning is going to be a tall order. But think White’s defense will keep Minnesota in check and that will be a good sign moving forward because the Gophers have the potential to be really explosive.

Minnesota is familiar with the 3-3-5 after seeing Syracuse in their bowl game, but White will keep the Gophers on their toes and the defense keeps the Huskers in it Thursday night.

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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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