MINNEAPOLS, Minn. - In the Minnesota locker room following last week's 20-17 win at Northwestern, the Gophers' coaches talked about how much this year's team could accomplish if it just believes in itself.
One of the things mentioned in that victorious celebration was that the Gophers had what it takes to beat Nebraska. That was a bold statement, given that the Huskers entered today's game without a loss in the series in more than 50 years.
Well, it looks like Minnesota's players took that message to heart.
On Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to defeat the No. 21/25 Huskers, 34-23.
Led by sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson, junior running back David Cobb, and an inspired defense, the Golden Gophers scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-13 lead at the half. Minnesota then scored the first 10 points of the second half to build a 27-13 lead and hold on for the win.
After the game, fans stormed the field and a mass celebration took place around the 50 yard line.
Here are some of the things the Gophers accomplished with the milestone victory:
--Minnesota defeated Nebraska for the first time since a 26-14 win on Sept. 24, 1960, snapping a 16-game losing streak versus NU
--Minnesota scored its most points against the Huskers since a 39-20 win in Minneapolis on Oct. 20, 1951
--The Gophers improved to 6-2 this season, qualifying for a bowl berth for the second consecutive year
--Minnesota recorded its first win versus a nationally-ranked opponent since defeating No. 24 Iowa, 27-24, to end the 2010 season
The win created such a buzz on Twitter that the person updating Minnesota's Game Day Blog could hardly keep up with the traffic.
Nelson entered the game with 8:41 remaining in the second quarter and the Gophers trailing, 10-7. He immediately led Minnesota on a seven-play, 88-yard drive, completing two passes for 53 yards in the process.
The key play on the drive was a 33-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Engel on 4th and 10. Engel beat two Nebraska defenders on a post route and made a leaping grab of Nelson's pass, giving Minnesota a 14-10 lead with 6:21 left in the half.
"When the play call came in, I knew I was the go-to on that play," Engel said. "Philip put a good ball up there, and at first I thought it was going to be overthrown, but it hung in the air. So I stuck a foot and put my hands up and the next thing I knew it was a touchdown."
Here's another milestone - when Engel scored that touchdown, it gave Minnesota its first lead versus the Huskers since 1969. Yes, you read that correctly.
Cobb also played a huge role for the Gophers, as he recorded his second-straight 100-yard rushing game by carrying 31 times for 138 yards, both career-highs. Cobb's performance helped the Gophers rush for 271 yards on 54 attempts, an average of 5.0 yards per carry.
"From the first quarter on, throughout the game, the offensive line had a great push and as a running back if there's no penetration you can see you gaps, holes and cuts and it makes it easy," Cobb said. "So they did a great job of play action pass and it opened up the lines for me. Really, it was more the O-line and just the whole play-calling scheme more so than me."
Defensively, the Gophers allowed 88 yards and 10 points on Nebraska's first two drives of the game, but then settled down to surrender just 81 yards and three points the remainder of the half.
The strong defensive play for Minnesota continued into the third quarter, as the Gophers forced Nebraska into three-and-outs on its first two possessions, while Minnesota's offense took the opportunity to score 10 points and build a 27-13 advantage with 2:33 left in the third.
At that point, the Gophers had outscored the Huskers, 27-3, since the 7:06 mark of the first quarter. Those in the crowd of 49,995 dressed in Maroon and Gold were ecstatic, while those wearing red were in shock.
"I think we all just have this confidence right now," Nelson said after the game. "We know that we can compete with anyone and that's the main thing as a football player. You just have to believe in yourself and that you are going to go out there and compete. That's where we are at right now."
Nebraska fought back, scoring the next 10 points to cut Minnesota's lead to 27-23 with 9:26 remaining. But the Gophers' defense once again did its part to allow Minnesota to retain the lead by forcing a 37-yard field goal by Pat Smith instead of allowing a tying touchdown.
After Nebraska forced a punt to regain possession with 5:50 left in the game, Minnesota's defense did its job once again. The Gophers dropped the Huskers for minus-2 yards and forced a punt, which Sam Foltz shanked out of bounds at the Huskers' 34.
On the ensuing drive, Cobb carried six times for 16 yards and Nelson completed a key 20-yard pass to freshman tight end Maxx Williams, before Nelson sealed the monumental victory with a one-yard touchdown run with 0:48 seconds left.
And, in the end, Minnesota's defense came up big once again, as senior defensive back Jeremy Baltazar intercepted Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez with 0:16 left.
"We are starting to believe and that's all that really needs to be said right now," Nelson said. "We have the confidence rolling from week to week and we are finally starting to realize how good we really can be."
Believing in themselves, the Gophers accomplished what few outside the program thought they could do. Now it's on to Indiana, a team Minnesota last faced during 2008.
Belief. It can create a confidence and a swagger that can help a team accomplish great things.
Saturday's performance versus the Huskers was a perfect example.