Gophers begin tough second half with Nebraska

Nebraska will travel to Minnesota as a member of the Big Ten for the first time.

Samuel Gordon

After a demoralizing first half of the season and a challenging schedule on the horizon, the Gophers will continue to focus on getting better.

âÄúAll I can do is worry about the kids and we just try to get better,âÄù head coach Jerry Kill said. âÄúThe schedule is lined out the way it is and weâÄôve had an opportunity to get a couple wins that we didnâÄôt get.

âÄúWeâÄôre at where weâÄôre at, and we just have to worry about improving the program and keep working within it.âÄù

Minnesota (1-5) will begin the second half of its season by hosting No. 13 Nebraska (5-1) for homecoming Saturday.

The Gophers were idle last week âÄî sophomore cornerback Brock Vereen said the bye came at a great time.

âÄú[It gave us time] just to go back, take your mind off of some things, relax and mainly just realize why you love the game,âÄù Vereen said. âÄúGuys got to get healthy. Fresh legs, thatâÄôs always important. It was a good time.âÄù

Vereen said that the poor start has served as a learning experience for the younger players, and that the teamâÄôs hunger and drive hasnâÄôt been affected by its performance.

However, freshman linebacker Lamonte Edwards said the losses have been mentally tiresome.

âÄúIt has [been hard mentally]. WeâÄôve just got to be able to bounce back, forget about the losses, and play as hard as we can,âÄù Edwards said.

In store for Minnesota this week is one of the most potent running games in the nation.

NebraskaâÄôs ground attack, spearheaded by quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, averages 246.8 yards rushing per game âÄî 11th best in the country.

Kill said he isnâÄôt surprised by the effectiveness of NebraskaâÄôs running game.

âÄú[Martinez] will run the football and heâÄôll get the flow of the defense going and heâÄôll plant that foot and go vertical. You do not want him to get to the edge, because he can really run,âÄù Kill said âÄú[Burkhead] is a good football player. He makes a lot of plays.

Martinez and Burkhead have combined for 1,215 yards and 18 touchdowns thus far. Vereen said stopping the Huskers offense will be no small task.

âÄúThey have a great quarterback, and theyâÄôve got athletes all over the field,âÄù Vereen said. âÄúEverybody has to focus on their job, and if everybody takes care of their individual responsibility, thatâÄôll give us the best chance to win.âÄù

While its offense is as potent as ever, the Nebraska defense has been mediocre at best. The Huskers have allowed 27.2 points a game this season. They had the nationâÄôs top-ranked scoring defense in 2009 and the ninth-best unit in 2010.

The Huskers will also be without All-American defensive tackle Jared Crick for the remainder of the season. Crick, who was voted preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, suffered a torn pectoral last week.

Nebraska makes up for its defensive deficiencies with special teams play. Freshman running back Ameer Abdullah serves as the teamâÄôs primary kick returner and averages 31.9 yards per kickoff return, fifth best in the nation.

Nebraska fans travel well and an estimated 60 percent of TCF Bank Stadium will be sporting scarlet and cream, according to the Star Tribune. However, Kill said heâÄôs not worried about crowd noise from opposing fans.

âÄúThatâÄôs something I canâÄôt control. I donâÄôt worry about it. Only thing I can control is if we know who to block, what to do and those kinds of things,âÄù he said.

âÄúIf youâÄôre a focused football player and youâÄôre a really good football player, good coach, you never hear anything anyway.âÄù