Late turnovers plague Huskers, Minnesota downs Nebraska on walk-off field goal
MINNEAPOLIS (WOWT) - Nebraska dropped a 13-10 heartbreaker to Minnesota in its 2023 season opener Thursday.
It was the first game under head coach Matt Rhule, and after leading for nearly the entire second half, two late turnovers gave Minnesota a chance to win.
With just three seconds left, kicker Dragan Kesich nailed a 46-yard field goal to give Minnesota the victory.
Aside from a 26-yard run from Nebraska QB Jeff Sims, the first frame of the contest was largely uneventful, with the teams trading punts.
Minnesota broke the ice early in the second quarter.
Behind the accurate arm of QB Athan Kaliakmanis, the Golden Gophers drove the ball 67 yards in 5:12 before Kesich put his team on the board, making it 3-0 with 12:31 left in the first half.
On the next possession, was on the move until Sims unleashed a deep pass down the seam for WR Billy Kemp. The ball sailed past Kemp’s fingertips and into the waiting arms of Minnesota DB Tyler Nubin for the interception.
The Gophers sustained another drive, but the Husker defense came up big again, stopping the series at the Nebraska 37-yard-line.
Minnesota trotted out Kesich for his second field goal attempt of the evening, but the senior kicker sent the ball wide left from 54 yards out, keeping the score at 3-0 with 3:39 remaining.
Nebraska put together its first good drive of the season as the clock wound down in the first half, but came away empty again.
With just 11 seconds left, the Huskers opted to take one more shot at the endzone from the Minnesota 6-yard-line when Sims threw another pick, this time to Minnesota’s Tre’Von Jones.
Sims ran for 81 yards in the first half but had just 39 passing yards and two interceptions.
Nebraska’s Rahmir Johnson returned the second-half kickoff 51 yards to the Minnesota 35 yard-line.
Two plays later, RB Anthony Grant took a direct snap and tossed a backward pass to Sims on the other side of the field.
The throw was out of the reach of Sims, who collected the ball and sailed it to the endzone, hitting Creighton Prep product Alex Bullock for a 34-yard touchdown pass. The play marked Nebraska’s first points of the season and gave the Huskers a 7-3 lead less than a minute into the third quarter.
The Gophers were driving down the field and on their way to answering, but on 1st & 10 from the Nebraska 11, Omar Brown picked off an errant throw from Kaliakmanis.
Nebraska took advantage of its stellar defense on the ensuing possession. Largely using the legs of Sims, Ervin, and Grant, the Huskers drove 80 yards in 13 plays and capped off the series with a 27-yard field goal by kicker Tristan Alvano, extending their lead to 10-3 with 12:42 remaining.
With just over five minutes left on the clock, Nebraska drove to midfield holding onto a touchdown lead until RB Anthony Grant fumbled and Minnesota recovered. The Gophers capitalized, going 53 yards in 10 plays to tie the game on a spectacular touchdown catch by WR Daniel Jackson in the back corner of the endzone with 2:32 left.
Another late turnover put the nail in Nebraska’s coffin.
As the Huskers were driving for a potential game-winning score, Sims threw his third interception of the night in Gopher territory, again to Nubin.
With just 58 seconds left, Minnesota took over at its own 49 and ran five plays to get to the Husker 29.
After an icing timeout from Nebraska, Kesich nailed the game-winning field goal to win the game for Minnesota, 13-10.
Husker fans everywhere have that deja vu feeling: New season. New coach. New hopes.
Head Coach Matt Rhule is welcomed to the Big Ten right out of the gate, with his first appearance as Husker frontman being on the road in a conference battle against Minnesota.
- When: 7 p.m.
- Where: Huntington Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
- Watch: FOX
- Listen: Huskers Radio Network
Following a 3-9 season in 2021, Nebraska won just four games in 2022 before firing Scott Frost and bringing Rhule aboard to lead the program.
Rhule is 47-43 in his college coaching career with stints at both Temple and Baylor. He’s 4-3 in openers across seven seasons.
”I will do my utmost best to respect the tradition, to respect the honor, and I hope you guys will trust me to take us to another place, take us into the future,” Rhule said in his introductory press conference in November 2022. “Because it can happen.”
Minnesota enjoyed a 9-4 campaign in 2022, finishing fourth in the Big Ten West and capping off the season with a bowl win over Syracuse.
Last year, Minnesota beat Nebraska in Lincoln 20-13.
COLLIER’S THREE KEYS
6 News Sports Director Clayton Collier says three things will determine how the Huskers do Thursday night.
1. The running game. We know Matt Rhule wants his Huskers team to run more, and this will be an early challenge against a bulky, thick Minnesota interior. This will be a test not only for Gabe Ervin Jr. but for Jeff Sims and his abilities as a dual-threat quarterback will be put to the test against a Golden Gophers team that was a Top 5 rushing defense last season.
2. Third downs. No one in the Big Ten was better on third down than Minnesota. They converted more than half of their third downs offensively and held opponents to just 27%. Rhule said Friday that he believes third down execution will decide their first game — got to get it done when the pressure’s on.
3. Finish strong. Coach Rhule has talked about how winning the fourth quarter is far more important to him than a fast start. After all, Nebraska had a 10-0 lead against Minnesota for last year’s loss in Lincoln. We saw late-game collapses burn the Huskers last year, but Rhule says this is a new entity and a new era.
The Golden Gophers enter as 7.5-point favorites. Let’s see if Nebraska can beat the odds.
Copyright 2023 WOWT. All rights reserved.