To be completely honest I was not able to watch all of yesterday's game. I did listen to parts on the radio and went back to watch a handful of drives on the DVR; but the holiday weekend and family time prevented me from sitting down for 3+ hours on Saturday.
This game, much like the Wisconsin game, is not terribly disappointing. The Gophers were significant underdogs to one of the tier 1 teams of the Big Ten and we came up short while showing that the gap between us and them is not nearly as great as it has been in recent memory.
Once again the Gopher defense did a very nice job of keeping this game within reach and slowing down a physical offense. The Spartan offense is not one of the more explosive Big Ten offenses but they did average about 385 yards and just under 31 points per game. The Gopher D held them to under 325 yards, only 14 points and forced the Spartans to 0/8 on third downs. Michigan State managed to score touchdowns on their first possession of the game and first possession of the second half, but could not put up points on their other 9 (10 if you count their kneel-down possession) possessions. Not a bad effort by the defense, yet again.
Offensively the story was a familiar one as the O struggled to find the end zone and put points on the board. Thrice the offense drove down to the 11-yard line (or better) and all three times they were prevented from crossing the goalline. A 2nd quarter drive went 60 yards and had a 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line. But a 2-yard rushing loss on 2nd down and a batted pass on 3rd down resulted in a field goal. Then the Gopher's opening 3rd quarter drive went 61 yards and had 1st and 10 from the Spartan 11. But they went backwards from there with another negative rush, a sack and then a missed field goal. Finally a 4th quarter drive went 77 yards, at up over 9 minutes of clock and got down to the Spartan 11 before going backwards yet again and ended with a sack/fumble on 3rd and 10 from the 11.
Three golden opportunities to score and 3 total points scored. This offense has been pretty good about scoring in the red zone this year, but up against one of the best defenses in the nation they struggled to convert yards into points. One bright spot continued to be David Cobb who managed his sixth 100-yard rushing game, this one against the nations #1 rushing defense. Cobb finished the 12-game regular season with 1,111 yards rushing and has a bowl game to add to that total and has a chance to get himself into the recordbooks as one of the top 10 rushing seasons in Gopher history (needs 119 by my math).
Now I suspect there will be more talk about "moral victories," if there is such a thing, if we are pleased to have earned one, etc. But for me the fact remains that this program is improving and is at the point where we can compete with anybody in the Big Ten right now. Are we good enough to beat the tier 1 teams? Not consistently and likely not as many times as they would beat us, but we can compete with them. We saw baby steps of progress in 2012, we saw bigger steps taken in 2013. A year ago we were dominated statistically and on the scoreboard by MSU and Wisconsin. This year we battled with them, showed we belong on the same field as them and we were not far from actually beating them. Yes they are losses and yes actual wins are all that matters. But the gap is narrowing, we'll start "demanding" more than 8 wins when it is appropriate.
After a fascinating day of college football, we wait to see what the new polls show and then we wait to see what bowl we end up attending. The Minnesota story this year has been a good one, the 8-win season is rather exciting but the bowl destination might not be as sexy as we had been hoping. Time will tell and then we'll have some fun playing in our 2nd consecutive bowl.
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