Lincoln, NE (SportsNetwork.com) - With there respective fates in the Big Ten West Division on the line, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the 21st-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers will meet up at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Both teams are 4-2 in conference action, looking up at Wisconsin (5-1) in the West with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Minnesota was cruising along at 5-1 overall until dropping two of its last three for its two league losses of the season. The Gophers had nationally- ranked Ohio State on the ropes in their home building last Saturday but ultimately fell, 31-24.
"I wish I had a crystal ball, but I know we control our own destiny," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said, referring to his team's final two games against Nebraska and Wisconsin. "We can't have a hangover and we've got to go back to work...If we do our job, we'll play (Ohio State) again."
Nebraska had a big opportunity to take control of the West last weekend facing Wisconsin in Madison but fell flat in a 59-24 blowout loss, snapping a three- game winning streak and dropping it to 8-2 overall in the process.
"What we came to do is win a conference championship and win a national championship," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "We're going to fight tooth and nail to keep trying to get that done...I believe the program's on a good track, the right track.
Minnesota holds a 30-22-2 lead over Nebraska in the all-time series, although most of those wins came early in the rivalry. The Cornhuskers had been winners of 16 straight meetings before the Gophers claimed a 34-23 decision last season for their first win in the series since 1960.
Although Minnesota's offense hasn't been the most proficient moving the ball up and down the field (358.4 ypg), it has taken advantage of its opportunities by scoring an impressive 30.0 ppg. The unit struggled a bit last week against a stout Ohio State defense, picking up just 303 yards.
The offense centers on one of the best running backs in the nation. David Cobb has been an absolute workhorse with the second-most carries in the nation (254), resulting in 1,350 yards (eighth in FBS) and 11 touchdowns. He did his part in last week's effort with 145 yards and three scores.
Cobb's presence certainly takes a lot of pressure off of Mitch Leidner under center, but he's still having a lackluster season, completing only 51.5 percent of his throws for 1,310 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's been saved slightly by solid rushing totals (297 yards, six TDs).
Maxx Williams has modest totals as the team's leading receiver (25 catches, 373 yards), but he's stepped up his play in the red zone with seven touchdowns.
Although the Gophers' defense had no answer for Ohio State's J.T. Barrett last week (389 total yards, four TDs), the unit has still impressed this season by yielding only 22.3 ppg and 350.7 ypg while ranking tied for 10th in the nation in takeaways with 25.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun is a difference-maker in the secondary with four interceptions and a forced fumble, and he's one of eight players to have his hand in multiple turnovers. Damien Wilson is one of the Big Ten's top tacklers with 96 stops to go with 8.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, a pick, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Cam Botticelli is solid up front with 7.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.
The Cornhuskers typically have a potent offense (38.8 ppg, 460.0 ypg), but the unit came up small on the biggest stage of the year by amassing only 180 yards against Wisconsin.
Ameer Abdullah is one of the nation's best running backs, but he did not have a strong showing last week, picking up only 69 yards on 18 carries. It was hardly enough to sour an outstanding campaign, however. Despite missing most of the Purdue game with an injury, Abdullah's still rushed for 1,319 yards (6.5 ypc) while scoring 19 touchdowns.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, as he throws for 188.9 ypg, rushes for 58.8 ypg, and has accounted for 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions. His performance against Wisconsin was also forgettable, tallying just 79 total yards.
Kenny Ball (36 receptions, 591 yards, three TDs) and Jordan Westerkamp (34 receptions, 606 yards, four TDs) have emerged as great pass-catching threats for Armstrong, Jr., although no one else has more than 195 receiving yards.
The usually stout Nebraska defense (24.0 ppg, 368.6 ypg) was gashed last weekend by Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who set an FBS single-game record with 408 rushing yards.
Zaire Anderson has posted team highs in both tackles (69) and TFL (9.0). Nate Gerry (59 tackles) has picked off four passes and forced two fumbles, while Randy Gregory has a 6.0 of the team's 22 sacks.