The circumstances? Quite different.
The venue? Also different.
The results? Different margins on the scoreboard, but the feeling — and, ultimately, the result — were just the same for Nebraska’s football team.
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.”
“Two years ago we went up there and definitely were not disciplined,” senior defensive lineman Ben Stille said. “That's been a thing for the last two years for sure. Penalties and being disciplined for sure have been an issue. … We know that they want to run the ball and they want to run downhill. We didn't stop that in the past two years, so you could say we’re lacking physicality if we can't stop that in the downhill run.”
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.”
The hue of the challenge is different for Nebraska this year, but the Minnesota team they’re facing will likely operate in a similar way. The Gophers run the ball 71.6% of the time and, if last year is any indication, won’t shy away from attempting to impose their will just because their top two running backs (Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts) are out for the season with injuries.
“They’re just big up front. We’re going to have to be able to hold our ground and be stout in our gaps so we don’t get pushed around, and I think we really can do that,” redshirt freshman defensive lineman Ty Robinson said. “We just stick to our fundamental technique and the way we’ve been playing this whole year. I just feel like we’re a whole different defensive line and we’re coming down with aggression and intensity every single game. I don’t think you guys have seen us slow down once. That’s our identity. That’s our standard that we play up to.”
The third-year player didn’t travel to Minneapolis for the game in 2019 — he appeared in a couple of games later in the season and preserved his redshirt — but he was out there in 2020 and knows all about the way this series has gone the past two years.
“I watched that 2019 and (NU) guys looked like they didn’t want to be out there in the cold,” he said. “Then they come here and to have them only have 40 guys on the roster and they come in here and beat us, it’s kind of a, ‘What the heck is going on?’ COVID year, it was a weird year, but that’s no excuse.
“But with that mindset and that kind of intensity we’re bringing, yeah, I think we owe them one.”