This season was brutal. It sucked for the players, it sucked for the coaches and it sucked for the fans. At one point it appeared as though it was going to be a total disaster. Just a few weeks ago this team was 1-9. In its future was a road game against a team that was at least offensively firing on all cylinders and then a home game against at ranked team that hasn't allowed us to score a point on them since 2007. 1-9 was bad, 1-11 was going to be much worse.
But Jeff Horton saved the season and while 3-9 is nothing to brag about it is significantly better than 1-11. 2-6 in the Big Ten is terrible but a winless Big Ten season is worse. And most importantly winning a rivalry trophy for the first time since 2006 is huge. This season was nearly a disaster, it was unpleasant to endure but at least it ended on a good note.
First, tonight's game...
The story was really how the Gophers controlled this game from start to finish, particularly on the ground. There was a brief moment when Iowa took the lead in the 4th quarter but that didn't last long. Overall this was a game where the Gopher offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and the Gopher defensive line played their best game of the season as a unit. The stats are telling...
Minnesota rushed 46 times for 216 yards, a 4.7 average. The Big Ten's second best rush defense had been allowing just 93.3 yards per game. Tonight, especially when it mattered, the Hawkeye defense couldn't stop them. Conversely the Gopher rush defense ranks dead last in the Big Ten allowing 200 yards per game (dang, was it really that bad?). But they allowed just 91 yards on the ground tonight.
Neither team's passing game was very impressive. Iowa scored both of their touchdowns through the air, including an 18 yard slant that was poorly defensed for a touchdown. Minnesota's big play through the air was a 40 yard strike to Da'Jon McKnight on the games winning drive. But other than that, at least for Minnesota, it was all about the ground game. Following Iowa's fumble with 4:14 remaining in the fourth the Gophers rushed six times for 23 yards and two first downs before taking the victory formation.
Then it was on to the celebration. Then Kirk Ferenz called a time out. Then it was on to the celebration.
This was a great win. Not necessarily for the program or for the record books. But it was so important to the players and to the fans. Not one player on that roster has participated in a rivalry game that resulted in a Gopher win. This was a painful season for them but they shook the monkey off their backs two weeks ago with a win over Illinois and they used that as a springboard to get a much needed rivalry.
For the fans it was just as huge. Our favorite team has become the laughing stock of the Big Ten. We all know far too many Iowa fans who not only have had much more satisfying seasons over the last several years but they also have dominated us in this border battle. They may have the excuse that their team have a half-hearted effort or that they are still going to a good bowl game. But that is their own fault for feeling sorry for themselves after losing to Ohio State. I feel better that we forced their final record to be 7-5, not 8-4. And if any team had a reason to quit it was our team, several weeks ago. And yes, they are still going to a bowl game, but we have Floyd. At least for now.
What does this all Mean?
Nothing really. This win will not carry over into next year. In just several days we will probably have a brand new coach who will bring in a brand new coaching staff. None of them will care about this win. This win was all about the players and giving themselves a positive memory from this season. Horton has been telling his team that you will always remember your last game. And I am so happy for the 16 seniors that they have this game to remember as their last game. This was also a nice win for the current coaching staff. I'd be shocked if any of them keep jobs here, but the way they kept this team focuses and improved the team shows a lot about their character and coaching ability. I hope at the very least it helps them to find jobs quickly after the fallout.
Jeff Horton did a really nice job keeping this team together and does anybody want to deny that they actually got better over the last month? In tomorrow's paper Sid will be calling for Maturi to hire Horton ASAP (it was all he could talk about after the game), but that is a bit premature. I am more impressed with Horton now and I'd be more OK with him getting the job than I would have been a month ago. But if he is hired it will only be because several others turned it down. He did a great job leading this team and in tonight's game he managed to do what Brewster couldn't do in 3.5 years He beat a rival, he beat a ranked team and he won a game in November. My hat goes off to you Coach Horton. Thank you for saving our season from total disaster.