There is no doubt that Minnesota was a team that people were watching at one point or another during the season. Why? Well, let's look at...
How They Did
|9/7||@ New Mexico State||W 44-21|
|9/14||Western Illinois||W 29-12|
|9/21||San Jose State||W 43-244|
|10/5||@ Michigan||L 42-13|
|10/19||@ Northwestern||W 20-17|
|11/2||@ Indiana||W 42-39|
|11/9||Penn State||W 24-10|
|11/30||@ Michigan State||L 14-3|
|12/27||Syracuse (Texas Bowl)||L 21-17|
So the Gophers had a good run to start the season, and then a pretty good group of games in the middle. The four losses in the regular season weren't necessarily unexpected, but they definitely came as a disappointment given the positive momentum the team had built. The loss to Syracuse was a punch in the nuts for a team that still had their best season in a very long time.
Versus Michigan: Minnesota had a fantastic first quarter. Mitch Leidner and the Gophers ran the ball twelve times on a drive that took up a total of 16 plays and an incredible 9:44 off the clock, scoring on a 7 yard catch by Maxx Williams. Leidner threw for 145 yards, the one TD to Williams, and an interception. He was also the team's leading rusher: 66 yards on 18 carries. It was kicker Chris Hawthorne's two field goals that were the only scores for the remainder of the game. More importantly, this was the game when my daughter first experienced a Michigan game and the Little Brown Jug.
When Michigan had the ball: Devin Gardner didn't turn it over. Not once. He had entered the game with 10 turnovers, but he controlled it well and put on a clinic: 13/17, 245 yards, 1 TD. Yeah, that's all great, but Michigan's hero this day was Devin Funchess. Funch had 151 receiving yards on only 7 receptions and gave us the first real glimpse of the greatness he could achieve. Fitz Toussaint also had a solid performance with 78 yards and two TDs.
Best Win: Nebraska. After being down 10-0 Minnesota really turned up the heat and went on a 17-3 run to finish the first half. They then came out of the locker room and scored another 17, while Nebraska could muster only 10. In yet another flip-flop at the QB position, Philip Nelson played this time around and did enough to manage the situtation: 7/15, 152, 1 TD. It was the ground game that did the work, so Nelson didn't need stellar stats. David Cobb (a surprising positive during the season) put up 138 rushing yards on 31 carries, but no TDs because Philip Nelson rushed for two on his own. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah had yet another strong outing, with 165 yards on an 8.7 ypc average. However, the lost fumble and INT by Martinez are what did in the Huskers, giving Minnesota their biggest win in recent memory.
Worst Loss: I'm going to cheat and say all of them only because of the good feelings that started to surround the team. Iowa was rough because of having to give up Floyd of Rosedale after building some serious momentum, but then getting trucked by the Iowa offensive line. Michigan can't really count, though, because history. Wisconsin sucked because of the shared border and the Axe. MSU was actually a good loss due to what the Gophers were able to do and hold the Spartans to only 14 points. But, perhaps the real winner would be Syracuse in the bowl game. The Gophers had this game at 17-14 in the fourth quarter, then lost it 21-17 as the 'Cuse rallied off a huge kick return that set up Terrel Hunt's 12 yard TD run. It's not the first time Minnesota gave up a fourth quarter lead in a bowl game, either.
Outlook for 2014
There has been some important attrition for the Gophers coming out of the 2013 season. Philip Nelson left the program and transferred to Rutgers, and Ra'Shede Hageman is leaving for the NFL. Key returners for Minnesota will be QB Mitch Leidner, running back David Cobb, TE Maxx Williams, and WR Drew Wolitarsky. It will be a tough row to hoe, though, with road trips to Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. They did show an incredible resilience without Jerry Kill on the sidelines, but hopefully the dynamic head coach can return for a full and healthy season.
Do they play Michigan in 2014?
Yep, I just said it's one of their road trips; don't you listen? The Gophs go to Ann Arbor on 9/27 for the second consecutive season. Will they pose a real challenge for The Jug? Not bloody likely.