A week ago at this time I was filled with dread about Minnesota's football team. I was despondent, apathetic, and had pretty much given up on the 2011 season. Not the program or the coaches or the players, but just the season. I was chalking it up to a tough first season that many good coaches have had in their first year at a new school before turning it around. For the second straight year I was glad not to be going to the Iowa game, missing not the fans and the blowout loss. Sure I was wrong last year, but barring a miracle I wouldn't be upset to miss a sure beating this year.
And then the miracle happened, and Minnesota beat Iowa. Again. I couldn't be happier to be wrong (again), and now I'm worried I may never be able to attend another Minnesota/Iowa game for fear of jinxing the Gophers. But if that's what it takes to keep Floyd in Minnesota where he belongs, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. Of course, this has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with two VERY motivated Gopher teams wanting badly to beat the Hawkeyes. Last year, coming off a surprising win over Illinois, a victory over was improbable. This year it looked impossible, and yet it happened.
Sure, the Gophers didn't outplay the Hawks the entire game, but they did when they had to with a magnificent fourth quarter comeback. In the first half, the Gophs FINALLY caught some breaks, something that hasn't happened much (if at all) this season. Yes, Minnesota has been bad, undisciplined at time, and with so many young kids playing, short on experienced Big Ten caliber talent. But they haven't gotten any help from the football gods either. Two weeks ago against Nebraska the Gophers had Taylor Martinez sacked on a third down play, only to have it negated by a questionable penalty. The next drive the Minnesota defense had RB Rex Burkhead stopped on fourth down if he just catches the pitch from T-Magic, yet a fortuitous bounce off his hands give him a first down. The Huskers score on both of those drives and never looked back. Not saying Minnesota wins if they makes stops on those first two drives, but it certainly becomes much more interesting.
The game before that against Purdue, their first quarter drives consisted of a shanked punt, fumble, and INT pick six. It was 24-0 at the end of 1 and the game was over. A better punt and no fumble and Minnesota is still in the game. Instead it was over almost before it started.
The win over Iowa (again) could have gone much the same way. The Hawks seemingly lived inside Minnesota territory the entire first half, yet managed just 7 points. On their five drives Iowa scored one TD, and turned the ball over on downs, had one punt, and missed two chip shot field goals. Instead of being 13-7 at the half or worse, the game was tied. The Gophers played well enough to stay in the game, and after going down 11 in the fourth made their valiant comeback to win.
The fourth quarter especially was the kind of effort we'd been waiting for from a Jerry Kill-coached team. The offense marched methodically down the field while the defense mixed it up enough to keep Iowa off-balance and get the ball back. And the onside kick was executed perfectly. We saw the Gophers play good football in all three facets, executing well, and not making many dumb mistakes. Well not many- I thought for sure the false start penalty on 3rd and goal would kill the game winning drive. But it didn't. Q completed a pass before his fourth down run to glory. The penalty, by the way, was only Minnesota's fourth of the game. That's a big improvement and showed how much they cut down on mistakes in this game.
Minnesota didn't dominate Iowa, and they certainly didn't outplay them from start to finish. But they FINALLY caught some breaks, hung around, and outplayed them when it mattered. That's what I expected to see from a Jerry Kill team, and we finally saw it. We knew Minnesota wouldn't be the most talented team on most days, but the hope was Kill and his staff would have the guys playing hard, playing smart, and that would keep them in position to steal a game or two. They did that against Iowa, and I hope what we saw Saturday carries into the last four games. As GN said in his recap Sunday, it's too bad the Gophers have to follow up the Iowa win with Michigan State and Wisconsin, but it is what it is. I'm not expecting victories over either of those teams, but I am hoping to see a much more competitive effort. I hope the days of despair and apathy are over, and that we see the same kind of effort in their last four games that we saw in the victory over Iowa. I'm not expecting any more miracles this year, but if they can play the kind of football they did last Saturday, they'll be in position to steal another win or two, which would be a great building block towards next season.