Missed tackles and blocking spell loss for Gophers

Minnesota only had 85 rushing yards, its lowest mark of the season

Gophers running back Rodney Smith runs the ball against the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

Meagan Lynch

Gophers running back Rodney Smith runs the ball against the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

by Mike Hendrickson

Minnesota was shut out 14-0 in the second half of Saturday’s game against Nebraska, resulting in a 24-17 defeat. Head coach Tracy Claeys attributed the loss to two parts of the Gophers’ game — missed tackles and blocking.

“We felt like we were doing some of the things that we needed to do, but we come out in the second half and we don’t block and tackle very well,” Claeys said.

The missed tackles helped spark a Huskers comeback Saturday.

The Gophers were up 17-10 early in the third quarter when Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. was blitzed by a group of Minnesota linebackers.

Armstrong Jr. dumped a screen pass to running back Terrell Newby, who had a crowded field ahead of him.

That didn’t affect him.

Newby caused two crucial missed tackles by the Minnesota defense and ran 31 yards into the end zone to tie the game.

In the fourth quarter, the missed tackles continued.

A Minnesota punt pinned Nebraska at its own 9-yard line.

The Huskers’ second play was a 29-yard pass from Armstrong Jr. to wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El.

He swerved through Minnesota defenders, making them fall to the ground without being touched.

The drive was punctuated by a 13-yard touchdown run by Armstrong Jr. — who wasn’t touched on the play — that set the final score at 24-17.

“[Armstrong’s] run game was coming in, coming out,” said Minnesota linebacker Jonathan Celestin. “[He] literally kept trying to get the ball to the outside. We weren’t tackling well enough on the outside.”

Meanwhile, the Gophers’ inability to block neutralized any potential comeback.

Minnesota came into the matchup averaging 210.3 yards a game on the ground.

Running backs Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and quarterback Mitch Leidner combined for just 85 rushing yards Saturday.

The mark was the Gophers’ lowest of the season by 17 yards.

“They did a really good job of stopping … Rodney and Shannon up front,” Leidner said. “I’m not entirely sure what they did there.”

One of Minnesota’s most successful plays was a 31-yard run by Smith.

Take out that play, and the Gophers had 54 yards on 33 carries for an average of 1.6 yards per attempt.

“Obviously we didn’t do a very good job of blocking them and staying on blocks,” Claeys said.

Leidner said his team’s conversion rate on third down was a positive trend during the game

Minnesota went 8-16 on third downs, which is better than its season average of 40 percent.

This came even with multiple third-and-long situations due to the unsuccessful running game.

“When we weren’t getting those big runs on first and second down like we normally do, I felt really good about where we were at on third down and being able to convert,” Leidner said.

The Gophers only had 18 rushing yards in the second half, as Nebraska stifled Minnesota’s offense.

Leidner and Smith both got a touchdown on the ground in the first half, but the Huskers’ rushing defense did not allow consistent success.

“[The Huskers] are a good football team. I think we’re a good football team,” Claeys said. “They played better in the second half than we did and they won.