If it's been a rough season for Minnesota Gopher players and coaches, then it's been REALLY rough for the fans. We, after all, willingly subject ourselves to this week after week. 1-4, with
five close games and four close two close losses, and two games that were over by the 4th quarter. At this point I'm not sure what's worse- losing by getting blown out (say 55-0 to Iowa?) or losing in excrusiating fashion in the final seconds (like last week vs Northwestern?)? The fact Gopher fans like myself have to ask this question is yet another example that things aren't going quite the way we planned in Tim Brewster's Gopher Nation.
Up next is a trip to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to play our arch rivals, the Wisconsin Badgers. Sconnie is ranked 20th in the country, are just about unbeatable at home, winners of six straight (and 13 of the last 15) in the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe and are 21 point favorites on Saturday. Recipe for a Gopher bloodbath right? Should we Minnesota fans get ready for a 55-0 beatdown at the hands of one of our hated rivals?
Not if history has anything to say about it. In fact, if we look at the three times Brewster's Gophers have played Bucky Badger, there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Minnesota's chances. Don't believe me? Well what if I told you that in all three previous meetings Wisconsin was favored to win and scored first, yet the Gophs played much better than expected, had a lead at halftime, scored at least 28 points, and had a chance to win the game on their final drive?
Good news for the Gophs, right? It is, and there's no reason not to be excited for Saturday's game. Then again, if you're at all familiar with Coach Brew's history, you'll know there's some bad news too. That and much more after the jump.
Before we get to how those potential game-winning drives ended, let's dig deeper into how Minnesota did in the previous three meetings vs Wisconsin:
2007: L 41-34 at Metrodome
Scored 1st: Wisc FG
At the half: Minnesota led 13-10
Final records: Minnesota 1-11 (0-8 Big Ten) Wisconsin: 9-4 (5-3)
2008: L 35-32 at Madison
Scored first: Wisc TD
At the half: Minn led 21-7
Final records: Minn: 7-6 (3-5) Wisc: 7-6 (3-5)
2009: L 31-28 at TCF Bank
Scored first: Wisc TD
At the Half: Minn led 13-10
Final Records: Minn: 6-7 (3-5) Wisc: 10-3 (5-3)
2008 is the only year you could say these teams were even close to evenly matched, and yet all three times Minnesota had a halftime lead and a chance to win the game. A closer look at some key stats:
The Gophs piled up the yards in 2007, but have been outgained considerably the last two seasons, and have been outrushed by Wisconsin all three times. If you're wondering how we managed to stop the Badgers' power run game in 2008 but not the other two years I have two words for you: Ted Roof. Otherwise, Sconnie has run over, around, and through the Gopher defense. Minnesota has had no such success running themselves, as they haven't cracked 100 yards or averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry in the last two games. New OC Jeff Horton will try to get the ground game established early and often, and expect Wisconsin to test the Gophers terrible run D with John Clay and emerging freshman sensation James White. Oh and 240 pounder Monte Ball is their third stringer. So yeah, expect the Badgers to run. A lot.
You can't say both teams aren't consistent in this department. Looking at this we can fully expect Wisconsin to only commit 5 penalties on Saturday and for the Gophers to have twice that many, and at least twice as much yardage taken away. Gopher fans who have watched Brewter's teams the past three years are not surprised by this stat.
THIRD DOWN %
Here's another area where Minnesota has really struggled under Brewster on both sides of the ball, and it's no different here. Offensively they struggle just as much keeping a drive going on third down against Wisconsin as they have against everyone else. And actually, defensively they were really good in 07 and 08 at keeping the Badgers off the field on third down. Call me pessimistic, but I'd expect this year's to defense to be a wee bit closer to the 2009 D than the other two.
The two teams have been dead even in turnovers each of the past two seasons. While it's promising that Minnesota has been able to consistently force turnovers against Wisconsin, it's equally concerning that the Badgers have been even better at doing the same.
Which brings us finally to the final Gopher possession of the last three games against Wisconsin. Despite all the previous stats, where Minnesota doesn't hold any discernable advantage, the Gophers have still gotten the ball with 2:35 on the clock or less with at least one timeout and a chance to tie or win the game. In all three of those games the Gophers started those drives with just two turnovers. In all three games, the Gophers, and more specifically QB Adam Weber, produced the third and final Minnesota turnover of the game, and gave the victory to Wisconsin.
(Courtesy of E!SPN.com play-by-play charts)
|Minnesota at 1:25||WIS||MINN|
|1st and 10 at MINN 8||Adam Weber pass complete to Ralph Spry for 4 yards to the Minn 12.||41||34|
|2nd and 6 at MINN 12||Adam Weber pass intercepted by Ben Strickland at the Minn 34, returned for 21 yards to the Minn 13.|
|DRIVE TOTALS: Minn drive: 2 plays 4 yards, 00:29 Minn INT|
|Minnesota at 2:35||MINN||WIS|
|1st and 10 at MINN 22||Adam Weber pass complete to Jack Simmons for 6 yards to the Minn 28.||32||35|
|2nd and 4 at MINN 28||Adam Weber pass incomplete.|
|3rd and 4 at MINN 28||Adam Weber pass incomplete to Ben Kuznia.|
|4th and 4 at MINN 28||Adam Weber pass intercepted by Niles Brinkley at the Minn 31, returned for 2 yards to the Minn 28, Minnesota penalty 15 yard personal foul on Brodrick Smith accepted.|
|DRIVE TOTALS: Minn drive: 4 plays 6 yards, 00:41 Minn INT|
|Minnesota at 1:43||WIS||MINN|
|1st and 10 at MINN 5||Adam Weber pass incomplete to Eric Decker, broken up by Niles Brinkley.||31||28|
|2nd and 10 at MINN 5||Adam Weber pass incomplete to - Stoudemirre.|
|3rd and 10 at MINN 5||Adam Weber pass complete to - Stoudemirre for 17 yards to the Minn 22 for a 1ST down.|
|1st and 10 at MINN 22||Adam Weber sacked by Louis Nzegwu for a loss of zero to the Minn 22.|
|2nd and 10 at MINN 22||Adam Weber pass incomplete, MINNESOTA penalty 6 yard Intentional Grounding on Adam Weber accepted.|
|3rd and 16 at MINN 16||Adam Weber pass incomplete.|
|4th and 16 at MINN 16||Adam Weber pass complete to Eric Decker for 18 yards to the Minn 34 for a 1ST down.|
|1st and 10 at MINN 34||Adam Weber sacked by Blake Sorensen for a loss of 8 yards, fumbled, forced by Blake Sorensen, recovered by Wisc Chris Borland at the Minn 24.|
|DRIVE TOTALS: MINNESOTA drive: 8 plays 19 yards, 01:13 MINNESOTA FUMB|
So there you have it, Gopher fans. If the first three games against Wisconsin in the Tim Brewster Era is any indication, no matter how badly we've played thus far we're not going to get blown out on Saturday. In fact, the Maroon and Gold are going to play fairly well (although according to just about every meaningful statistic, not as well as Wisconsin will) and have a chance to win the game on the final drive. Honestly, with the way this season has gone, if I told you Minnesota would get the ball with at least 2:35 left and one timeout with a chance to win the game, wouldn't you take that in a heartbeat?
I would too- even if I have a pretty good idea how it's going to end.