Four-Down Territory: Minnesota Week


Nov 10, 2012; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers safety Daimion Stafford (3) holds his hand to helmet after intercepting a pass against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Memorial Stadium in the second half. Nebraska won 32-23. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Well Husker fans, Nebraska just seems to love spotting teams that double-digit lead this year. I might need to start making trademarked Nebraska Cornhusker defibrillators. It seems like that Penn State game happened two years ago, but I have a bone to pick with all you referee conspiracy theorists out there.

First Down: Was the fix in?

The Big Ten referees have struggled overall the past two weeks. They said so themselves. They’re human. They make mistakes. They focus on some ticky-tack things. But upon closer inspection of Big Ten contests other than Nebraska games I’ve found that they aren’t as biased as Big 12 refs were.

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I have to bring attention back to a horrible call by the officials during that Penn State game. A call that took a touchdown off the board. You all know the play I’m referring to. Taylor Martinez threw a dart to Kyler Reed in the end zone, and while the ball was in the air a Penn State defender was riding Reed like a horse. The ball was not caught due to the early contact. No pass interference was called. That cost Nebraska a score.

Wait, there was another call that fits that description? A fumble by Penn State? I remember that call, too. I was pointing out that the officiating did not favor Nebraska. Penn State had 8 penalties, Nebraska had 7.

Nittany Lion quarterback Matt McGloin disagreed with the call and complained to the media after the game. McGloin insinuated that Penn State never gets close calls go their way because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He also claimed that he was targeting fullback Michael Zordich in the flat when he was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone. That was bad officiating, too, according to McGloin. He was the only Penn State player to speak out in this way after the game.

In my opinion, those were both close, bang-bang plays that could have gone either way. I thought that tight end Matt Lehman may have been bobbling the ball around the two-yard line and that may have factored into the officials’ decision on that call. Did he have complete control at the moment the ball broke the plane? Probably. It couldn’t have been much closer. And on the grounding call, I believe Zordich was running a corner route 15 yards down the field. Not exactly the flat. Was McGloin outside of the tackle box? Maybe a little, but I believe the call was in the spirit of what intentional grounding is.

It’s a shame that one player had to take away from the tremendous effort of his teammates with excuses. You had a back rushing for 6.7 yards per carry, why are you calling a tight end screen in the red zone? The officials didn’t make that call. The refs also didn’t make your team fumble. Or make you complete only 48% of your passes. There were more than two plays in this game.

Penn State got out-coached and out-efforted in the second half. You don’t hear me complaining about the 50 holding penalties that went uncalled that aided PSU. I’ll get off of my soapbox and move on.

Second Down: Big Ten Network.

Related to the First Down topic, THANK GOODNESS the game is on the BTN this week. I’m sure that I’m not alone in growing weary of ESPN’s bias against Nebraska in the booth and in the studio. I never thought I’d say this, but Lee Corso may be the only person at the four-letter who likes the Cornhuskers at all.

Third Down: Meet the Golden Gophers.

Minnesota may look a little different than last season. Senior quarterback MarQueis Gray suffered a dreaded high ankle sprain early in the season and the Gophers struggled to replace him or get him back out on the field.

Coach Jerry Kill finally settled on true freshman Philip Nelson, a 6’2″ 222 lb. QB from Mankato, Minn. Nelson has completed 55.6 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions so far. He isn’t afraid to run around a bit, too. Nelson has 49 rushing attempts over four games, but he hasn’t accumulated a ton of yards thus far. But we are all aware of how much Nebraska loves mobile QBs.

The Gophers are led on the ground by Donnell Kirkwood. The 5’10” 219 lb. redshirt sophomore needs 181 rushing yards to crack 1,000 yards this season. If the Huskers can contain him they will greatly slow the Minnesota offense.

Gray returned from his injury, but Kill has opted to plan for the future with Nelson. So Gray has converted to receiver. Gray is still a powerful weapon, and at 6’4″ 250 lbs. even more so as a red zone target.

Minnesota also brings a sure-tackling defense that has 9 interceptions for the year. The Golden Gophers rank No. 25 nationally in total defense, No. 7 in passing defense and No. 30 in scoring defense. The Achilles heel of this Minnesota squad is that they give up a lot on the ground, an area in which the Cornhuskers excel.

Fourth Down: Trophy talk.

I firmly believe that the Big Ten should push Nebraska to come up with more trophy games. Especially with Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Why with Minnesota? Because they have all the cool trophies. The Little Brown Jug, Paul Bunyan’s Axe and Floyd of Rosedale are pretty sweet.

I have no idea what that trophy would be. A little cow, hockey stick, a bowl full of snow. We can work it out. As long as it’s better than the Heroes Trophy.