Big Ten football returns this week, 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 8, 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 8 games from the 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
Week 7: ‘00 vs Ohio State
And here are our nominees for Week 8.
Nominee #1: ‘01 vs Michigan State
Minnesota was 1-4 heading into their 2001 matchup with Michigan State, having lost to Toledo, Purdue, Illinois, and Northwestern. The Spartans were 3-1, with a victory over No. 23-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend. Their only loss was a one-point defeat at the hands of No. 16-ranked Northwestern. Prior to their road trip to the Metrodome, Michigan State had defeated Iowa, 31-28.
It would not be a season to remember for the Gophers, but they showed up against the Spartans. Michigan State build 10-7 first quarter lead before Minnesota pulled ahead in the second quarter on a four-yard touchdown pass from Asad Abdul-Khaliq to Ron Johnson. The Gophers took that 14-10 lead into the locker room at halftime, only for the Spartans to erase it in the third quarter with an 18-yeard touchdown pass from Jeff Smoker to Charles Rogers.
Minnesota running backs Tellis Redmon and Marion Barber III took over in the fourth quarter, each scoring a touchdown to give the Gophers a 28-17 advantage over Michigan State. The Minnesota defense also took care of business, forcing a turnover on downs and an interception on two of the Spartans’ final three possessions. The Gophers took a safety on fourth down on their final possession, deep in their own territory and with less than a minute left to play.
Nominee #2: ‘13 vs Northwestern
Head coach Jerry Kill, on indefinite leave following a series of epileptic seizures, watched from the press box as the Gophers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 20-17 win over Northwestern after looking overmatched in the previous week’s 42-13 loss to Michigan.
Minnesota’s offense looked lifeless in the first quarter, failing to sustain drives as the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead. The Gophers finally broke through in the second quarter, driving 82 yards in eight plays to tie the game on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Philip Nelson to Derrick Engel. Chris Hawthorne missed a 44-yard field goal attempt as time expired in the first half, leaving the game tied at halftime. The offensive struggles continued for both teams to start the second half, before Gopher linebacker James Manuel took matters into his own hands with a 24-yard pick six.
On the first play of the next drive, Michael Amaefula stripped Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian and defensive end Theiren Cockran recovered the fumble, which Minnesota promptly converted into a field goal and a 17-7 lead. The two teams proceeded to trade field goals before Northwestern scored a touchdown with two minutes left to cut the deficit to 20-17. But their onside kick attempt failed and the Gophers were able to run out the clock.
Nominee #3: ‘14 vs Purdue
The Gophers’ first 3-0 Big Ten conference record since 1990 seemed in doubt in the first half against Purdue, when Boilermakers quarterback Austin Appleby shredded the Gophers’ defense for three touchdowns en route to a 31-20 halftime lead. Prior to this game, Minnesota had not won a game under head coach Jerry Kill after trailing at the break.
The Gophers went to work in the second half, using a Mitch Leidner touchdown run and a Ryan Santoso field goal to close the gap to 31-29. But the Minnesota defense got torched for 69 yards by Raheem Mostert on the first play of the next drive, and Appleby scored on a one-yard plunge to extend Purdue’s lead to 38-29. Minnesota responded by closing out the third quarter with a touchdown drive of their own, capped by KJ Maye leaping into the end zone for a 37-yard score.
With five minutes left in the game, Ryan Santoso nailed a 52-yard field goal for the go-ahead score, giving the Gophers a 39-38 lead. The Boilermakers tried to retake the lead on their final drive, but Cedric Thompson snagged his second interception of the game to close it out.
Those are your nominees, whether you like them or not. Make your pick below and we’ll declare a Week 8 winner next week when we announce the nominees for Week 9!
Which Week 8 game is your pick for the 2020 Perfect Season?
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‘01 vs Michigan State
‘13 vs Northwestern
‘14 vs Purdue