Minnesota can defeat South Dakota State next weekend for a sixth win and bowl eligibility. Defeating Iowa for a seventh win, at Iowa, isn't likely. With a six win season, Minnesota will probably earn a trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. Personally, I prefer my pizza on a plate and not in a bowl. Had the Gophers won against Illinois instead of losing by three points, they probably could have gone to Tempe for the Insight Bowl. A season ending in a bowl game is good, but that three point loss may result in a thirty degree difference between Tempe and Detroit.
There are several factors that could have changed the outcome of Saturday's game. Here's three game-changing decisions that could have reversed the three point deficit and landed Gopher fans closer to Mexico than to Canada:
- Minnesota won the coin flip, but chose to kick the ball to Illinois. Minnesota scored 14 points last week against Michigan State before the Spartan offense ever took the field. Illinois was coming off of an offensive explosion versus Michigan. Perhaps receiving the ball could have set a different pace for the game.
- After an excellent performance versus Michigan State, Adam Weber was highly inaccurate with his passes. The deep balls didn't have enough loft for receivers to run underneath them, and the lateral passes were off the mark. Even most of the completions failed to hit receivers in stride. Weber did throw a strike to Terry Hawthorne for a touchdown in the first quarter, but he's on the wrong team. Despite success with the run and not with the pass, passing plays continued to be called.
- Minnesota's third quarter field goal started with a 1st and 1 on the goal line. That series should have resulted in a touchdown. Many questioned the call to pass on 2nd and 1 which resulted in a sack, but Adam Weber should have seen the unblocked defensive players set to blitz and either made an audible or called time out. Several of the busted passing plays throughout the game should have been audibled due to obvious pending blitzes.
Could've, would've, should've, didn't. It's always easy to be an armchair quarterback. The good news is that the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl falls on the day after Christmas, and it's a Saturday. A perfect opportunity to book a bargain package to Las Vegas and watch the game with friends on the big screen. Maybe a warm weather bowl trip is still a possibility after all.