Minnesota reverted back to what it knows best Saturday against Nebraska – running the football. The Golden Gophers tallied 271 rushing yards in their 34-23 win over the Cornhuskers, their most in Big Ten play this season and most against a conference opponent since recording 327 yards against Michigan State in 2005.
Nebraska simply couldn’t stop what it knew was coming. The Golden Gophers entered running the ball on 69.2 percent of their plays this season, by far the highest rate in the Big Ten. Saturday was no different, as Minnesota rushed 54 times, making up 76 percent of its total plays.
Throughout the game, the Golden Gophers used different formations to keep Nebraska off balance. Of its 54 rushes, 49 were by design (excluding sacks and quarterback scrambles) for 253 yards.
|Minnesota rushing this season
||% of plays
|First 7 games
Shotgun (1 RB)
Minnesota was most successful running out of the shotgun with one running back. The Golden Gophers recorded 102 yards on just 10 carries, their highest yards per carry (10.2) of any formation they used Saturday.
However, it was the pre-snap motion in this formation that continuously gave Nebraska trouble. Of the 10 rushes, six were by wide receivers in motion who received the ball on a sweep. Those plays went for an average of 10.3 yards. Minnesota’s longest run of the game came on a fake to a wide receiver in motion, which was kept by quarterback Philip Nelson on his way to a 23-yard gain late in the second quarter.
The Golden Gophers also found success in the pistol formation, a variation of the shotgun, where the quarterback lines up closer to the line of scrimmage with a running back behind him. They rushed 17 times for 92 yards, with 77 coming with an extra blocker in the backfield. Without extra protection in this formation, Minnesota averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.
Minnesota went a perfect 4-for-4 scoring when reaching red zone Saturday, with three trips resulting in touchdowns. In their short yardage situations closer to the goal line, the Golden Gophers primarily ran out of the I formation, where they scored two of its three rushing touchdowns. Nelson’s 1-yard touchdown on 3rd and goal with 48 seconds remaining in this formation put the game away, giving the Golden Gophers a 34-23 lead.
Minnesota is 6-2 on the season, its best 8-game start since 2008 (7-1). Also, with their sixth win, the Golden Gophers are bowl eligible in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2008-09.
Yards on Designed Rushes by Formation vs Nebraska
- Shotgun: 102
- Pistol: 92
- I Formation: 40
- Single set back: 14
- Power I: 5
|About Ernest Tolden||Ernest Tolden is a Studio Researcher for Big Ten Network and a blogger who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com. Ernest is a native of Chicago, Illinois. Follow our BTN stats team on Twitter via @BTNStatsGuys.|