Big Ten football returns Oct. 24, but we are forging ahead with our quest to build a perfect season of Minnesota Golden Gophers football over 13 weeks, inviting readers to choose from three nominees for each week of the season dating back to 2000. For example, with this being Week 7, I have selected the three “best” — and the specific criteria for “best” is going to vary week to week, depending on what I have to work with — Week 7 games from the Gophers’ last 20 seasons.
Our selections so far:
Week 1: ‘16 vs Oregon State
Week 2: ‘19 vs Fresno State
Week 3: ‘19 vs Georgia Southern
Week 4: ‘05 vs Purdue
Week 5: ‘14 vs Michigan
Week 6 (Bye Week): ‘05 vs Michigan
And here are our nominees for Week 7.
Nominee #1: ‘00 vs Ohio State
Ohio State was 5-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country entering their October date with Minnesota, having traveled to Camp Randall the previous week to defeat the No. 24-ranked Badgers, 23-7. The Gophers walked into the Horseshoe with a 4-2 record, having lost to Ohio in the non-conference season before splitting a pair of games against Top 25 Big Ten teams.
Minnesota had not beaten Ohio State in Columbus since 1949, either.
But the Glen Mason’s Gophers came to play, opening up a 10-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a Dan Nystrom 23-yard field goal and a two-yard touchdown pass from Travis Cole to tight end Scott Baugus. The Buckeyes countered with a field goal of their own, but Minnesota responded another first quarter scoring drive, capped by a three-yard touchdown pass from Cole to wide receiver Ron Johnson. Johnson torched the Ohio State secondary that afternoon, hauling in eight catches for 163 receiving yards and coming up with big catches on multiple scoring drives.
Ohio State cut the score down to 17-10 in the second quarter with a seven-yard Jonathan Wells touchdown run, but that would be the only touchdown the Buckeyes would score in the first three quarters. Minnesota tacked on two more field goals for a 23-10 halftime lead.
Mason went conservative in the second half, trying to grind the Gophers to victory. But early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari found tight end Darnell Sanders in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown, closing the gap to 23-17. The Minnesota offense went back to work, putting together a scoring drive that saw the Gophers convert four consecutive third downs. Tellis Redmon’s 20-yard scamper around the edge for the score with five minutes left in regulation effectively put the game out of reach, ending the Gophers’ 50-year drought in Columbus.
Nominee #2: ‘08 vs Illinois
The not-much-anticipated return of head coach Tim Brewster to his alma mater lived up to the nonexistent hype, as the Gophers were 5-1 and looking to beat a Ron Zook-coached Fighting Illini squad only one year removed from a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Illinois racked up 550 yards of total offense against Minnesota, but also coughed up four turnovers and allowed quarterback Juice Williams to get sacked five times. A fourth quarter sack of Williams actually led to a fumble that linebacker Simoni Lawrence scooped up and returned nine yards for a touchdown, extending the Gophers’ lead to 27-13. Running back DeLeon Eskridge was the workhorse for Minnesota, racking up 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Minnesota never trailed in the game, taking a 7-0 lead on their opening drive after Adam Weber connected with Eric Decker for a 25-yard touchdown pass. But Illinois kept clawing their way back into the game. After cutting the deficit down to 27-20 in the fourth quarter, the Fighting Illini forced wide receiver Ralph Spry to fumble and recovered at midfield. But the ensuing drive ended in an interception at the Minnesota 19. Illinois would have one last opportunity to try and at least tie the game, but failed to convert on 4th & 10 at the Minnesota 45 as time expired.
The 27-20 victory was seen as a signature win for Brewster at the time. It clinched a bowl game for Minnesota following their 1-11 season in 2007 and launched them into the AP Poll at No. 25.
Nominee #3: ‘14 vs Northwestern
Two weeks after re-claiming the Little Brown Jug at the Big House, Minnesota hosted Northwestern for a low-scoring affair at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers struck first, scoring on a one-yard touchdown plunge by Mitch Leidner. But the Wildcats wasted no time responding, converting three third downs and one fourth down on their next possession to even the score with a touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian to Justin Jackson.
The stalemate did not last long, as Leidner connected with Maxx Williams for a 52-yard reception on their next drive, setting up another one-yard touchdown run by the Gophers’ quarterback. Northwestern drove down to the Minnesota four-yard line on their final drive before halftime but could not close the deal, settling for a chip shot field goal to cut it to 14-10.
Neither team would score again until the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, when the Gophers extended their lead to 17-10 with a Ryan Santoso field goal. The Wildcats’ kickoff returner, Solomon Vault, fumbled the ensuing kickoff but recovered it, forcing Northwestern to start on their three-yard line. Unfortunately, the Wildcat offense was up to the challenge, marching 97 yards on 13 plays to tie the game at 17-17.
On the very next kickoff, Jalen Myrick sprinted the length of the field, returning the kickoff 100 yards for the go-ahead score. The Gopher defense took care of the rest from there.
Those are your nominees, whether you like them or not. Make your pick below and we’ll declare a Week 7 winner next week when we announce the nominees for Week 8! With the actual season starting on Oct. 24, we’ll be continuing on with our #PerfectSeason but switching to Wednesdays for these posts. Shoutout to everyone who has been participating!
Which Week 7 game is your pick for the 2020 Perfect Season?
This poll is closed
‘00 vs Ohio State
‘08 vs Illinois
‘14 vs Northwestern