Gophers fall to Nebraska 24-17 on late interception

The Huskers outscored Minnesota 14-0 in the second half

Gophers running back Shannon Brooks fights through the Cornhuskers defense at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

Meagan Lynch

Gophers running back Shannon Brooks fights through the Cornhuskers defense at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

Jack White

Quarterback Mitch Leidner had the Gophers driving until the offense’s final play of the game.

Defensive back Kieron Williams intercepted a pass from Leidner over the middle to prevent the upset and help No. 21 Nebraska defeat Minnesota 24-17 in Lincoln, Neb.

“They had the guy covering the receiver on the last play and tipped the ball over the air and got a safety over the top,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “We moved the ball on the last drive of the game, their underneath coverage guy did a good job of breaking underneath.”

The Gophers (7-3, 4-3) got the ball back with 2:58 to go in the game, down 24-17 to Nebraska (8-2, 5-2).

Leidner kept the chains moving when he avoided a sack on the third play of the drive. He threw the ball to redshirt sophomore Rodney Smith for a 6-yard completion and a first down.

The second play that resulted in a first down came on a penalty. Leidner threw the ball over the middle and defensive back Joshua Kalu interfered with wide receiver Tyler Johnson for the 15-yard gain.

Leidner then threw to Johnson once again, this time on a 25-yard completion to bring Minnesota into the red zone with before the turnover.

Minnesota did not score a single point in the second half. The rushing offense had 85 yards, which was the lowest total of the season.

“You’ve got to block them,” Claeys said. “Obviously we didn’t do a good job of blocking them and staying on our blocks. Defensively we did not tackle very well, and offensively we did not block very well in the second [half].”

Smith had 53 rushing yards in the game and one rushing touchdown in the first quarter.

Leidner added a rushing score in the second quarter. He went in for the go-ahead score on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.

Running back Shannon Brooks had the lowest rushing total of his collegiate career. Brooks rushed for 17 yards for an average of 1.9 yards per carry.

Leidner had 180 yards and zero touchdowns through the air. This game marks the fifth consecutive game that Leidner has not thrown a touchdown pass.

“A lot of times it came down to third down and I thought I was able to make some decent throws,” Leidner said. “The O-line battled for me hard on third down for protection and really throughout the whole game with what those guys are playing through.”

Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky had 90 of the 180 receiving yards in the game.

Wolitarsky said the team was unfocused in the second half.

“Kind of lackadaisical, tackling, blocking,” Wolitarsky said. “I had a drop there. Just fundamental stuff so it’s tough but it’s a great lesson and one that if we don’t learn you know, we’re not gonna win those big games.”

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had to leave the game twice with injuries.

Even though he was dealing with injuries, Armstrong Jr. amassed 217 passing yards and 61 yards rushing yards. He was also responsible for all of Nebraska’s touchdowns with one on the ground and two through the air.

“[Armstrong Jr.] is a good player,” Claeys said. “He has won a lot of games here, and is a good player so he played well.”

Armstrong Jr.’s rushing touchdown proved to be the game-winner for the Cornhuskers. The play was a part of a 91-yard drive for the Gophers.

Linebacker Johnathan Celestin said the long drives did not take a toll on the defense.

“Sometimes we put ourselves in predicaments where it was third and inches,” Celestin said. “The spiral might not have been right but we should have played better on first and second down to not put us in the position to be at third and one.”

All of the Gophers three losses this season have been within one possession. Minnesota fell to second in the Big Ten West with the loss and Leidner said that while he isn’t aware what the loss means for their chances, he’s optimistic about finishing out strong.

“We don’t really know where we stand with everything, if teams have to lose for us to get to the Big Ten championship or what,” Leidner said. “We’re just going to stay focused on our process and moving on preparing for Northwestern now.”