As I wake up with a headache, booze-breath and a broken heart (awwww!!!), I'm having a bit of trouble deciding how to feel about the Gophers loss.
On the one hand, I was extremely happy with the Gopher game plan. In tweets on Thursday I was pointing out how Kansas kept their game with Texas Tech close by running the ball... a lot. 57 rush attempts to 15 pass attempts. The Gophers actually stuck pretty close to that formula last night, rushing 54 times and throwing just 19.
The game plan was to run, power run, and that game plan gave us a chance to win.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Gophers did what I predicted they would do (almost... I said they'd hold TT under 275 yards passing, but they actually gave up 286) and kept the Red Raider passing game, relatively, in check. But would they be able to do enough in stopping the run? The Gophers held TT to right around their season average (140 yard/game given up average, TT rushed for 145 yards in this game), but Tech got those yards with gouging runs up the middle all night.
So on one hand, I was pleased with what I saw.
On the other hand, this was a prototypical Minnesota Gopher football loss. Play well enough to win, have a fourth quarter lead, fail to put the nail in the coffin to put away the opponent.
Let's recall the fact that Tech was a 2 TD favorite in this game, and yet there we were in the 4th quarter, taking the lead on a Nelson to Goodger pass. And the defense (you know, the same defense that Tech fans said was going to get destroyed, the same defense that was going to give up 50 points to the Red Raiders) held the Tech offense scoreless, and to just 116 yards for the first 28 minutes and 50 seconds of the second half.
The defense, hell, you could say MICHAEL CARTER, all by himself, gave the Gophers a chance to win this game. But the offense, as we've seen so many other times in 2012, sputtered. Couldn't hold onto the ball, couldn't get first downs, couldn't keep the opposing offense off the field, couldn't sustain drives.
On the Nelson INT that essentially sealed the Gophers fate, I absolutely wish that run was called there, but I don't blame the coaching staff for calling a pass play there. It's 3rd & 7, Nelson had been making good throwing decisions all night, not forcing the ball, and if you get a first down there, the game is over.
But the true freshman made a freshman mistake, threw into good coverage, and likely cost the Gophers the chance to go to OT.
As a side note, let's talk for just a second about back-to-back plays in the 3rd quarter from Nelson that absolutely define what happens when you start a true freshman QB.
Early in the quarter, 2nd & 8 from the TTU 17 yard line, Nelson overthrows a painfully wide-open Derrick Engel in the end zone. On the next play, Nelson ducks a sack, rolls out, doesn't have anyone open, looks like he might run out of bounds. But then he stops, turns his body, sets his feet, and hits a wide open DCT on the sideline of the endzone for a TD.
The agony and the joy of watching an uber-talented true freshman QB played out in just two snaps.
But the biggest takeaway, for me, from last night's game, is this: damn, but that was fun!
GN urged us not to sweat the outcome of this game, and GoAUpher was "relaxed about potential outcomes. But damnit, I went ahead and pumped myself up with all of the potential reasons that we could win this game (the previously mentioned TT game against Kansas, the awful TT run defense, the fact that TT got their #2 pass offense ranking on the backs of some of the worst pass defenses in the country, Kill and staff having a month to prepare, the team having a month to heal) anyway. I was excited. I really thought we could win this game.
And despite the loss, I feel vindicated of my efforts to pump myself up and try to find reasons we could win. I do not feel bad about getting excited and I do not feel bad about working myself into a frenzy of belief that we could come out and beat Texas Tech.
The Gophers played a helluva game, Tracy Claeys made same great halftime adjustments, the offense blew their season average for rushing yards out of the water (222 against Tech vs an average of 152/game), and Matt Limegrover threw all kinds of formation wrinkles at the Red Raiders.
We had a chance to win, we were in the game until the end. Watching that game was the most fun I have had as a Gopher football fan in 3 years.
And that's where I'm at this morning: the Gophers played well, and I had fun.
For that, at least for this morning, I refuse to feel bad about last night's game.