Armstrong, Nebraska breeze by Minnesota
Minneapolis — Nebraska was reeling from four losses already this fall on the opponent’s final offensive play, stirring up angst among the proud program’s ardent fans just halfway into coach Mike Riley’s first season.
This was quite the recovery — and the sigh of relief.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. bounced back from a pair of bad performances to start Big Ten play, passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns to start the salvaging of Nebraska’s season and steer a 48-25 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
“Hey, let’s just have fun. Let’s make a statement. Everybody’s counting us out,” Armstrong said, describing the team’s mentality.
Terrell Newby rushed for 116 yards and two first-half scores on just 13 carries for the Cornhuskers (3-4, 1-2), who pummeled the Golden Gophers (4-3, 1-2) on the line of scrimmage after the opposite occurred the last two matchups.
“It was one of those things,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “We weren’t moving them.”
Nebraska predictably had plenty of fans on hand, with the two campuses a six-hour drive apart. Red hats, jackets and jerseys were packing the corners of the upper deck, interspersed throughout the lower bowl and spotted all over the Twin Cities this weekend. They had most of the stadium to themselves to chant “Go Big Red!” to their heart’s content by the end, with the frustrated home crowd largely emptied out.
“I’m really happy for everybody involved here, the coaches, the players and our fans,” Riley said. “I’ve said all along: They’re the greatest in the world. All they want to do is win, and we all certainly understand that.”
Mitch Leidner did his best to keep Minnesota competitive against Nebraska’s FBS-worst pass defense with career bests in completions (26) and yards (301). He threw two late interceptions, one that was returned by Joshua Kalu for a 41-yard touchdown, after passing for one touchdown and running for another.
K.J. Maye had 94 yards receiving and a 7-yard touchdown run, but the Huskers were ready for just about everybody else.
“With what we’ve been through this year, it feels good to get a win,” Newby said.
The troubling trend for the Gophers was that Leidner was as sharp as he’s ever been, completing 16 of 17 passes for 156 yards in the first half, but they still got blown out. After scoring on the opening drive, their first touchdown in the first quarter this season, they let the Huskers tie the game in three plays when Newby galloped through a gaping hole in the middle and bounced outside for a 69-yard scoring scamper.
After rushing for 271 yards in a victory over Nebraska here two years ago and 281 yards in a win in Lincoln last season, Minnesota was stymied for 65 yards on 26 attempts with defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine doing plenty of damage inside.
“It was just us a physical mentality we brought to the game,” said Collins, who mentioned the 281 yards from last year as motivation.
Alonzo Moore, Cethan Carter and De’Mornay Pierson-El were the touchdown targets by Armstrong, who completed only 36 percent of his passes for a total of 234 yards in losses to Illinois and Wisconsin the last two weeks.