Caleb Tannor’s frank talk underlines another close Nebraska loss

Sam McKewon, Tom Shatel and Dirk Chatelain pour some water on the smoke around the Huskers’ coaching search. Tom and Dirk say this hire is too important in the history of Nebraska football and the Huskers must hire someone with power five head coaching experience.  The crew then takes a deep dive into Nebraska basketball ahead of the season opener on Monday. They ponder if the new “ugly win Fred” can make immediate changes or if it’s too little too late.  They predict the number of wins for the Huskers and if that will lead to Hoiberg retaining his job. They close the show by looking a potential mess with the Big Ten’s expansion plans and if the UCLA situation could lead to more teams joining the conference.

LINCOLN – Caleb Tannor entered the chat on Saturday with the choice words about Nebraska football’s latest defeat, a 20-13 downer to Minnesota full of punches, plunges, punts, grunts, wind gusts and passing offenses that make you fear for the future of crisp routes and accurate throws.

An edge rusher who hasn’t missed a single game in his career — 53 appearances in a row — Tannor is a captain but infrequent guest at the press conference lectern. But he had 1½ sacks, 2½ tackles for loss and a pointed opinion about why NU coughed up a 10-0 halftime lead for its fourth straight loss to the Gophers.

“They came out in the second half harder,” Tannor said. “They wanted it more than us.”

Tannor said the Huskers lacked energy and “got too comfortable.” Offered the chance to praise his teammates for competing hard in yet another lost season — the head coach has already been fired, and the offensive coordinator insists on playing a quarterback who looks like a deer in headlights — Tannor balked.

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“I’m proud, but that’s what we’re supposed to do,” Tannor said. “We supposed to do those things. I can’t be ‘oh, great job.’ We’re supposed to do that. We’re supposed to go out there and pick our offense up, offense picking the defense up. We’re supposed to go out there first half, like we did.”

It was a cold splash reminder that there’s a scoreboard and Nebraska spends millions of dollars to be on the correct side of ledger. For a half Saturday, the 16-point underdogs did this, and for a half they didn’t, and that’s one of the older stories in this decade of decline.

The Huskers’ potential and flaws are in an Election Day dead heat with each other, and the flaws keep winning.

To whit: Backup quarterbacks Chubba Purdy and Logan Smothers combined to complete 11-of-26 passes for 121 yards. Purdy produced 10 quick first quarter points, followed by six fruitless drives; Smothers got three drives — including the last two of the game — and produced three points after interim head coach Mickey Joseph pulled Purdy for throwing an interception.

“He’s not seeing the coverages,” Joseph said of Purdy, a recruit of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple who completed 3 of 8 passes last week in relief of injured starter Casey Thompson. “He’s not seeing the progression he needs to get to… we got kids running open, he’s got to find them.”

Purdy gets nervous when he gets sped up, Joseph said, and that happened Saturday. Smothers himself made a few costly overthrows and poor decisions, including one play, on the final drive, where it appeared he could have run for a first down but instead airmailed a Husker receiver.

Neither QB navigated the pocket the way Thompson would, by stepping up and away from an outside pass rush. Purdy and Smothers often faded backward, making them more vulnerable to defenders. Thompson, nursing a hand injury, remains a day-to-day option.

So Nebraska did not build on a sparkling first quarter that featured as many Husker rushing yards (106) as Minnesota normally allows in a game. NU wasn’t able, Joseph said, to grab that “three-score lead” that shifts the Gophers away from their ground-and-pound attack to a drop-back passing game ill-suited to their strengths. NU led 10-0 at half — holding Minnesota to 31 total yards. But the game was tight, too.

“We started out hot and just fluttered out,” right guard Broc Bando said.

Ironically, it was three long passes and a gasp-worthy naked bootleg — by backup Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis — that helped break Nebraska’s defense.

Spelling an injured Tanner Morgan — knocked out by Husker defensive tackle Ty Robinson late in the second quarter — Kaliakmanis hit Minnesota receiver Daniel Jackson for a 16-yard reception that set up the Gophers’ first score, a 47-yard field goal. Two drives later, Kaliakmanis found Jackson for 45 yards when NU had a coverage bust. He executed a naked option keep for 16 yards right after that.

A Husker defense that had focused intently on slowing down UM running back Mohamed Ibrahim suddenly had a little more to worry about.

“Maybe they found a way to exploit us in a way that we didn’t see,” Robinson said.

That’s when Ibrahim started bowling over NU defenders like they were pins. He had eight carries in the first half. He finished with 32 for 128 yards, the 17th straight time he’s gone over the century mark. On Minnesota’s final touchdown drive, he carried seven straight times, without mystery or magic, for 37 yards and the score. Nebraska just couldn’t stop him.

“Just like an old wishbone offense,” Joseph said.

Tannor didn’t see anything in his teammates’ eyes that communicated they’d let down their guard. He just saw the game. He played in it and felt the tide shift. Having lost 35 games since arriving, it’d be an area where Tannor, one of the steadier performers in the program, has experience.

“Second half, they just came out harder,” Tannor said. “They came out ready to play.”

Complementary football. Minnesota, under coach P.J. Fleck, has played it.

“That was a gutsy win by a really good football team, ours,” Fleck said, without irony. “It was tough. It was gritty. It tested our character and I thought they passed the test.”

The Gophers qualified for their fourth bowl in five years under Fleck. Nebraska would need to win its final three to make its first bowl since 2016.

NU’s next foe has the College Football Playoff in its sites and one of the biggest stadiums in college football.

For a moment, Bando, who’s been in the program since 2017, couldn’t remember who, exactly that team was.

“We’ve got to learn what we did wrong, see what we did right and then, move on, and flush it out and prepare for…” Bando paused. He cursed.

“Michigan,” Bando remembered. “Jesus. Twenty-four hour rule.”

He’s forgiven. Feels like 24 years of 24-hour rules.

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