In each of the past two years, the Huskers have been pushed around, run on and beaten up by P.J. Fleck’s Minnesota team.
The trip to Minneapolis in 2019 was ugly all around. On a snowy, sleeting day, NU played with backup quarterback Noah Vedral but didn’t look like it had a particular interest in hanging with the Gophers. UM ran for 322 yards and four touchdowns. That performance caused coach Scott Frost to question his team’s toughness and desire to handle the elements.
“I don’t want guys that go out in Minnesota with hoodies on and everything for warmups; that just says to me that ‘Just OK’ is enough. ‘I’m a little cold,’” Frost said a couple of weeks after that game.
Two years later, it still sticks in Frost’s mind.
“I think we were 4-2 when we went up there two years ago, and we played really uninspired football,” he said Monday. “I had the feeling as head coach that we had some kids that didn't really want to be there. It was a little cold, it was spittin' rain. We didn't play tough that night. I give them credit, they had a really, really good team two years ago, good team last year.
"But we haven’t played our best against them, either."
In 2020, the Gophers came to Lincoln on another snowy day and possessed the ball for nearly 36 minutes — including more than 20 in the second half — rushed for 206 yards and left town with a 24-17 victory despite playing without 33 players due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
“They’ve had our number the last couple years,” junior tight end and captain Austin Allen said. “I think it just comes down to they were the more physical team that day. They’re a disciplined football team, too. That’s really all football games come down to is, who is the more physical team? Who is the more disciplined team? I think on those two particular games, they were the more physical and disciplined team.”
All the same, players and coaches expressed confidence this week that, despite the recent history in the series and the fact that the Huskers are playing for an eighth straight week and Minnesota will be fresh and rested coming off of a bye week, the visitors will be ready this time around.
Why? Frost’s answer is simple.
“I think that we’re just more of a grown-up team,” he said. “We've got more kids that love each other and love the team and love football.”