Gophers bring Big Ten hopes to Nebraska

The Huskers may be without their starting quarterback for Saturday's game.

Mike Hendrickson

 Minnesota is right where it wants to be: playing meaningful games in November.

The Gophers are tied for first in the Big Ten West with three games left in the season.

Their next game will be their first against a currently-ranked team, as the Gophers travel to No. 21 Nebraska.

“This could definitely have big implications,” said defensive lineman Hank Ekpe. “We’re facing a ranked opponent so it’s definitely [going to] be a big statement … heading towards the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.”

Nebraska is coming in as a very different team than it was two weeks ago.

The Huskers have had back-to-back losses, the most recent against No. 6 Ohio State in a 62-3 defeat.

Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys said the Huskers’ recent troubles do not impacthow the Gophers prepare.

“I don’t see it having a big effect,” Claeys said. “I am sure they’ll be ready to play and playing at home, and they still have a chance to win the West, also. So, I expect we’ll get their best.”

Nebraska’s performance against Ohio State won’t be a big factor for its game against the Gophers, Claeys said, but something else might.

The status of Nebraska’s starting quarterback is a big unknown for the game at Lincoln on Saturday night.

Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. left the game against the Buckeyes after he hit the turf head-first and was briefly knocked unconscious, forcing him to leave the game.

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said Armstrong Jr. is going through concussion protocol and expects a decision on his status on Thursday.

Ryker Fyfe is the only other quarterback who has played for the Huskers this season.

Claeys said the Gophers are preparing as if Armstrong Jr. will play Saturday.

“[Armstrong Jr.] really does make their offense go. You watch all of the game films — we went through them — he’s the one who makes things go and makes the plays,” Claeys said. “We’ve got some video of the back-ups in, and so we’ll prepare a little bit for them, but the whole thing will be to keep control of him.”

Ekpe said the preparation is unique, as the team can’t just prepare for one quarterback and has to also keep an eye on Fyfe.

“Preparation will be a little different,” Ekpe said. “Whichever quarterback is in that position, you just have to prepare for both.”

This will be the Gophers’ third Big Ten road game of the year. Minnesota is currently 2-1 in those games after going 2-3 last year.

Quarterback Mitch Leidner pointed to Minnesota’s success at Nebraska in 2014.

The Gophers defeated the Huskers 28-24, and gave them a chance at the Big Ten West in their final game of the season.

A similar result could happen if the Gophers pull off the win at Lincoln.

Leidner said he still just sees it as another matchup.

“I’m just going about it as another game, another great opportunity for us as a team,” Leidner said. “I’m just looking forward to continue what I’ve been as far as preparation and looking forward to this week.”

Notebook:

-Linebacker Cody Poock is out for the season with shoulder surgery, Claeys said. Poock has started in six games this season.

-Minnesota will not be among the Big Ten teams playing in a Friday night football game in 2017, the conference announced Tuesday. Claeys said earlier that he was not in support of the conference’s plans to schedule games on Friday night.