It had been thought that the Minnesota Gophers football team was better this season that it had been in a few years. With head coach Jerry Kill in his third season and very few graduating players from last season's team the 2013 Gophers were looking to take a step forward in terms of competitiveness in the Big Ten Conference.
After the Gophers sprinted out to a 4-0 record in non-conference play, albeit against a decidedly soft schedule the Gophers entered conference play with a fair level of optimism. Then came losses against Iowa at home and Michigan in Ann Arbor and Coach Kill taking indefinite leave from the team to deal with his epilepsy. At 4-2 with their coach on leave and tough games at Northwestern and at home against Nebraska coming up it started looking like the 2013 season could easily get away from the Gophers, just as several other seasons in recent years had.
The old saying goes that it is darkest before the dawn and the Gophers have good reason to believe in that saying. With defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys serving as interim head coach during Coach Kill's leave the Gophers gutted out a good win at Northwestern last weekend, downing the Wildcats 20-17.
On Saturday the Nebraska Cornhuskers came to town along with several thousand of their rabid fans. The Gophers have had a dubious history against Nebraska since they last defeated the Huskers in 1960. The low point came in 1983 when Nebraska obliterated the Gophers 84-13 at the Metrodome.
Saturday's game looked like it might turn out to be another one-sided Huskers win when Nebraska sprinted out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. But the Gophers decided that this game wasn't going to be like the other games against the Huskers. This one was going to be different. Freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner's touchdown run closed the score to 10-7. Then sophomore quarterback Phillip Nelson entered the game and hit wide receiver Derrick Engel on a 33-yard touchdown pass to give the Gophers a 14-10 lead. The Gophers would not trail again in the game.
Tailback David Cobb, a name Gophers fans should remember as he is quickly becoming their go-to running back, rushed 31 times and gained 138 yards. Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman played the role of wrecking ball for the Gophers when Nebraska was on offense. Nelson scored two touchdowns on one-yard runs in the 2nd half and tight end Drew Goodger made three key receptions for the Gophers that kept drives alive. Minnesota recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass from Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez on defense and did not turn the ball over on offense.
The Gophers played rock-solid, Big Ten football and earned the win against Nebraska on Saturday. Next week the Gophers will travel to Bloomington, IN to take on the Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana is very capable on offense. They can score points against anybody. As good as their offense is their defense is just the opposite so the Gophers have a great chance to run their winning streak the three games next week but, like they did on Saturday in defeating Nebraska for the first time in more than 50 years, the Gophers are going to have to beat some history next weekend against Indiana.
In 1977 the Michigan Wolverines came into old Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis undefeated, ranked #1 and with strong and legitimate national championship aspirations. The unranked Gophers dropped Michigan 16-0.
In 2000 the Gophers traveled to Columbus, OH for what looked to be the usual lopsided loss against the Ohio State Buckeyes. To everyone's surprise the Gophers won in Columbus for the first time since the 1950s, systematically dropping the Buckeyes 29-17.
After each of these terrific upsets the Gophers next faced Indiana. And both times they lost to the Hoosiers. In 1977 the score was 34-22 in favor of Indiana. In 2000, Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle-El rushed for 210 yards and passed for 263 yards against the Gophers carrying the Hoosiers to a 51-43 win.
Saturday's win against Nebraska could be exactly the kind of win the Gophers and their long-suffering fans have been waiting for to help the program finally start running downhill. But, they will have to exorcise another demon next week against Indiana to make it so.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 PM CT next Saturday in Bloomington, IN and the game will be televised on Big Ten Network.