On the surface Saturday’s football game between the 6-2 University of Minnesota Gophers and the 3-4 Indiana University Hoosiers didn’t look like a game that would be interesting to anybody outside of the fan bases of the two schools or anybody not associated with either school. Sometimes, however, there is more than meets the eye in such a matchup.
The football programs at Minnesota and Indiana have left a lot to be strived for since the 1967 season, when they shared the Big Ten title. Indiana went to the Rose Bowl after that season and since then neither school has so much as whiffed a Big Ten championship. The fact of the matter is that most seasons since 1967 the football programs at both schools have been models of mediocrity. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any interesting history between the schools on the gridiron, however.
On October 22, 1977 the Gophers took a 4-2 record into a home game against #1 rated and undefeated Michigan. That afternoon in Minneapolis, the Gophers shutout the Wolverines 16-0, handing Michigan their only loss of the regular season. Michigan would go on to win out the remainder of their season, win the Big Ten title and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl on January 2, 1978 where they would fall to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon and the Washington Huskies by a score of 27-20.
On October 14, 2000 the 4-2 Gophers travelled to Columbus, Ohio to take on the 5-0 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Gophers had not won in Columbus since 1949 and most of the games between the schools, whether played in Columbus or Minneapolis had resulted in lopsided wins for the Buckeyes. That afternoon, however, the Gophers systematically took the Buckeyes apart and won 29-17.
Both upsets could have been the beginning of a monumental turnaround for the Gophers program. Neither ended up being that signature win that carried the program to new heights however and the reason for that was that the Gophers would fall down the following Saturday both times; against the same opponent in the same stadium; the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN.
On October 29, 1977 the 5-2 Gophers fell to the 2-4-1 Hoosiers in Bloomington, Indiana by the score of 34-22. The Gophers lost their next game too, falling to Michigan State 29-10. On October 21, 2000 the 2-4 Hoosiers, fresh off a 58-0 loss to Michigan outscored the Gophers 51-43 in Bloomington. That day the Gophers had no answer for Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle-El who passed for 263 yards and ran for 210 yards in carrying the Hoosiers to their third and final victory of the 2000 season.
The Gophers lost their next two games to Northwestern and Wisconsin respectively following their loss to Randle-El. Two huge opportunities to propel the program forward, to reach the next level, had been lost in Bloomington to mediocre Indiana teams.
Fast forward to last weekend. The Gophers had not defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the gridiron since 1960. The sixteen games between the schools since 1960 had mostly resulted in lopsided victories for the Huskers, most notably the 1983 matchup in which the Huskers blew the doors off the Gophers and blew the roof off the Metrodome in beating the Gophers 84-13.
Last Saturday, October 26, 2013 the Gophers defeated Nebraska 34-23 and looked good doing so. The Gophers victory was considered a big upset by most people associated with college football and the type of victory that could propel the Gophers football program forward in the future.
But before that could happen, the Gophers would have to exorcise another demon. To follow the upset of Nebraska the Gophers would travel to Bloomington to, once again, face the Hoosiers after a monumental upset.
If Minnesota was not their usual mediocre selves bringing a 6-2 record into Saturday’s game, neither were the Hoosiers. Despite a 3-4 record, the Hoosiers boast an amazing offense, scoring an average of roughly 42 points per game. Why they have trouble winning lies in their defense, which is every bit as bad as their offense is good; giving up an average of roughly 37 points per game.
The Gophers came out of the gate fast on Saturday. Displaying a surprisingly effective passing attack the Gophers took the ball straight down the field on their opening drive which culminated in a touchdown pass from quarterback Phillip Nelson to wide receiver Derrick Engel. Indiana responded on its opening drive by also marching straight down the field but the Hoosiers stalled out in the red zone and settled for a field goal making the score 7-3 Gophers after each team’s opening drive.
The next Gophers possession ended abruptly when tailback Donnell Kirkwood fumbled the ball away at the Gophers 19 yard line after a nice eight yard run. After recovering Kirkwood’s fumble Indiana would need all of two plays to score a touchdown and take the lead 10-7.
The Gophers seemed to take over the game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, scoring 28 straight points on four touchdowns and held the lead 35-13 midway through the 3rd. Despite being down by 22 points the Hoosiers were far from finished. They reeled off four consecutive touchdowns of their own in what seemed like no time at all, the last of which came with 5:33 left in the 4th quarter and gave Indiana a 39-35 lead. The “Hoosier Curse” looked like it would once again deny the Gophers a chance to follow up a big upset with a win.
This time, however the Gophers answered. On 2nd down and 9 on the 50 yard line, Nelson hit tight end Maxx Williams with a pass. Williams hauled the pass all the way to the end zone, giving the Gophers the lead again, 42-39 with three minutes to play in the 4th.
Indiana was still not about to go away quietly. They marched to the Gophers 9-yard-line and looked like they would easily be able to take the game to overtime with a field goal if not win it outright with a touchdown. Inexplicably however the ghost of the “Hoosier Curse” would finally be lifted when from the 9-yard-line Indiana ran an ill-advised lateral pass which fell incomplete and was recovered by Gophers linebacker Aaron Hall.
The Gophers had the victory over the Hoosiers in Bloomington, 42-39, and had finally exorcised the “Hoosier Curse”. They were led by Nelson, who threw for a career best 298 yards and passing for four touchdowns, and by tailback David Cobb who rushed for a career best 188 yards.
The Gophers will return home to TCF Bank Stadium next Saturday, November 9, to take on the Penn St. Nittany Lions. Kickoff is scheduled for 11:10 AM CST and the game will be televised on ESPN2.