Making eye contact with a bear during an encounter indicates that you are aggressive and preparing for an attack. The saying "Stare Down a Bear" refers to confronting a daunting challenge head on and without fear or hesitation. On Saturday, the Gophers proved that they can keep a game competitive with top tier teams when they stared down the California Golden Bears.
California entered the game ranked number eight in the country, and despite a 13.5 point spread were expected by many to defeat the Gophers handily. After accumulating 14 points in the first quarter, it would have been easy for Minnesota to lay down and let the Golden Bears eat away at them. Instead, the Gophers turned a major corner in the development of their program when they decided to stand their ground, fight back, and defend their new stadium with an aggressive and relentless attack.
California was by far a more talented team. Just take a look at their last few years of recruiting and you'll see that their lineup was full of highly touted talent. And yes, they were confident. For those who sat on the home field side of the stadium, you probably witnessed defensive back Syd'Quan Thompson (jersey # 5) confidently taunting the crowd by prancing around and gesturing like Mary Poppins when she sang A Spoonful of Sugar (Seriously, check out the hand gestures and leg step about 30 seconds into the linked video. It's a ringer for Thompson's performance).
Last year, the regular season finished with a demoralizing 55-0 loss to an Iowa team that was very good, but probably not a whole lot better than the 2009 California Golden Bears. After falling behind to Iowa in 2008, Minnesota lost hope of keeping the game competitive and allowed the Hawkeyes to run away with the game. This year, when trailing 14-0 in the first quarter and faced with a similar situation on their home field, something was different. The Gophers stepped up their play, made wise offensive and defensive adjustments, and found themselves tied up with one of the top ten teams in the country by the fourth quarter of the game. While they still lost the game, they proved that they now have the talent and know-how to hang with just about any team they face the rest of this season.
I entered TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday expecting Minnesota to lose by at least 20 points. If in Las Vegas, I would have placed a few dollars on California with a 13.5 point spread. I, along with many like-minded individuals who follow Gopher football, was wrong about how competitive this Gopher team can be. I predicted a 5-7 record for the Gophers heading into the season opener. Now, I've changed my perspective and I fully expect the Gophers to keep most of their Big Ten games competitive.
If Minnesota can play with California, they can play with just about anybody. The Gophers may have lost the game to the Golden Bears, but this game could be a win for the season if the new-found, stand-your-ground approach to adversity becomes part of the team's collective mentality.