Maxx Williams stretched his 6'4", 250 lbs. frame to glide over the TCF Bank Stadium turf and haul in another impossible reception, his latest masterpiece leaving Iowa defenders in a wake of rubber pellets and awe. Four plays later, he put Minnesota up for good.
There's an inflection point during a particularly enjoyable sporting event where the emotions switch from the temporary sugar high of instantly gratified bliss over to the more profound state of unadulterated satisfaction. The former whisks you away for a brief moment and allows one to forget previous wounds if only for a short while. The latter is what heals the soul of a fan.
51-14 was intensely, overwhelmingly satisfying.
Minnesota has just finished its most complete and dominating victory of consequence in ages. There were signs earlier in the year that something like this was possible, such as a thorough first half emasculation of Middle Tennessee or tossing the grease-soiled empty pizza box that is the current era of Michigan football into the garbage. And yet, nothing was as complete or definitive as the wanton destruction of the Hawkeyes last Saturday.
Is this what the Kill program is capable of? Not just victories, but thrashings in two of the three most important games this team will play each and every year? Manifestly so, and it is glorious.
In just Year 4, Jerry Kill has elevated the Gophers beyond a team that was routinely bullied by the upper crust of this conference, and on the rare occasion they would compete, meekly scrape by to notch victories. It's one thing to push around Illinois or Purdue. It's a completely different animal to physically dominate Nebraska, Michigan or Iowa, as they have managed over the last 2 seasons. Forcing our will upon an Iowa squad roughly of similar overall talent and out-executing, out-playing, out-toughing and out-coaching them to arguably their worst loss in the Ferentz era? These are uncharted territories.
Gopher observers have engaged in the same thought exercise for years. What would it be like to reach that level Iowa and/or Wisconsin have attained in the last two decades? To play games in November where the outcome is not just for pride but post-season position jockeying. To dominate rivals at home rather than squeak by unexpectedly... or worse.
To actually play up to your full potential as a team for a full 60 minutes. Saturday was the type of win that atones for 55-0 and goalpost thievery, a game that flips the script on previous tormenters and uses their weaponry against them.
Iowa and Minnesota are sister programs in the Big Ten, as the banter leading up to the game decreed. Two remarkably similar overarching philosophies: play tough defense, win special teams and field position, run the ball, be smart in the passing game and avoid turnovers like the plague. Beat teams by out-executing and out-toughing them in the trenches.
It's one thing to declare that as your mission statement, ala Tim Brewster, but committing to such core principles requires discipline and perseverance that far too many coaches lack. Part of that is the immense pressure to win right away, weakening the resolve of even experienced coaches to take shortcuts either in scheme and/or recruiting to speed up the process and secure that all important extension, or boost your resume just enough to lure the attention of a decision-maker at a bigger and better opportunity. Rare are the instances in which a coach convinces an institution to behave patiently as the program builds towards a goal state, and yet, that's exactly what Iowa and - now - Minnesota have done.
Kirk Ferentz and Jerry Kill must view each other as spirit animals. Iowa's leader built the Hawkeyes to where they are by taking lightly recruited, undervalued preps and turning them into a precise group that beat teams on physical and mental toughness, all while remaining fiercely loyal (almost to a fault) to his long tenured staff. Minnesota under Kill is not a team lacking an identity, as it did under Brewster, nor is the program so lopsidedly dedicated to playing a niche style of rushing offense at the expense of everything else as it did under Mason. Jerry is exacting in his laser-like focus about what he wants and needs to achieve his vision, each season inching towards the moment where his no-nonsense, physical brand of football could do what Ferentz's teams have routinely achieved over the last decade.
Irony is as much a part of this sport as MANBALL, both of which converged on the improbable outcome of last Saturday.
51-14 was not an arrival, per se; beating Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan by double digits were more declarative statements that the Gophers under Jerry Kill was no longer a program to be overlooked. 51-14 is an affirmation, evidence that not only can this coaching philosophy work with the right ingredients but that it can also crush the spirit of hated rivals. Giving Iowa a lingering memory they'll rue for a decade is an emphatic confirmation that what Kill and his staff are cooking up in Dinkytown is something tasty, and worth savoring.
Nothing about this was a shortcut.
51-14 was not about overtaking a rival. If I'm being intellectually honest here, that Minnesota could defeat Iowa at its own game and provide a lasting pour of misery whiskey is an indication of programs truly on equal footing. We're even, in more ways than one; I don't suspect we'll just be able to waltz into Iowa City next year and come away with a relatively easy win.
51-14 was about taking whatever visage that remained of the old Minnesota and casting it aside. The program that would follow upstart victories with not just one but a series of brutal losses on the path to 3-5, a fringe bowl appearance and a season of regrets. Staring down the barrel of another chance to disappoint and collapse a promising season, these Gophers left the old guard to chew on a wake full of rubber.
Saturday's beatdown was the one thing I've never seen this Gophers program do in all my years as a fan. Previous conditioning led me to fully expect a Minnesota choke and a November to forget. I'm a dog, and Pavlov is my owner. But instead of dread leading to emptiness, I was fulfilled in a manner unique among nearly all my collective sports memories. This was an opening salvo for Quadrangle of Hate. It's not a promise that the rest of the year will be filled with equal levels of dominance and magic. Instead, this game shows the promise that a Kill led program has to be something more than what we've come to expect. A game that created a wake made not of rubber pellets, but of hope.