The Minnesota Gophers went to Champaign, Ill. two weeks ago with an undefeated Big Ten record, it came out of its game against Illinois with a shocking loss. Naturally, the Gophers proved they couldn’t be Big Ten West contenders.
Season over, pack it in and head to a meaningless bowl game once again.
After a bye week to correct what went wrong, the Gophers proved the critics wrong with its best win of the season on Saturday. Minnesota took apart the rival Iowa Hawkeyes, winning back Floyd of Rosedale in dominating, 51-14, fashion.
With the win the Gophers remain one of three Big Ten West division team with one conference loss, clearly back in the mix for a division title with games against Nebraska and Wisconsin still to come.
Yet, such a dominating win begs the question, is Minnesota that good or Iowa just that bad? For me, the little details of this game showed it was more about how good the Gophers were than how bad the Hawkeyes were.
The biggest tell that it was about the Gophers? Minnesota not only took it to the Hawkeyes on the scoreboard, but it was clear by the middle of the 3rd quarter that Iowa had little fighting spirit left in them. The Gophers made the Hawkeyes want nothing to do with the rest of the game.
“Basically, they shoved it down our throat,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz following the loss. “I’m not sure we quit, but they just shoved it down our throats and we couldn’t respond.”
No crazy run to try to get back in the game by the Hawkeyes — just flat-out domination by the offense, defense and special teams for Minnesota. Winning big is huge, but crushing your opponents spirit says all anyone needs to know.
After Iowa took the ball to open the game, it went on a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that lasted 5:47. It felt like the classic Iowa offense was back, and Minnesota would be in trouble.
Instead, the Gophers ripped of 48 unanswered points to dominant the game. A lot of the credit for that 48-point outburst needs to go to quarterback Mitch Leidner, who looked like the lightbulb went on completely in this game.
He ended the day going 10-of-13 passing for 138 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 77 yards on 11 carries.
“You always do as much as your quarterback can do and today he [Leidner] had an outstanding game,” head coach Jerry Kill said after the game. “He was reading all that stuff. I’ll have to look at film, but I’ll bet he didn’t miss one or two reads. You’re doing all that stuff and throwing the football and taking hits—I can’t say enough about the job that kid did. The whole offense did what we asked them to do and they carried out the game plan.”
The Minnesota defense wasn’t too bad either, forcing two fumbles that it recovered and adding an interception in the mix too. Iowa was held to just 205 total yards and converted on 5 of 12 3rd down attempts.
Oh, and the special teams did their part with a blocked punt and winning the field position battle as well.
Ferentz pulled no punches after the loss, stating his team may have bought in to the hype of what they did in the dominating win over Northwestern last week.
“We didn’t handle last week so well apparently,” said Ferentz. “That’s what life’s about. You’ve got to learn you don’t walk on water when things are going good.”
As the Gophers paraded around TCF Bank Stadium with Floyd of Rosedale for the first time since 2011, they also made a statement to the likes of Nebraska and Wisconsin. Minnesota isn’t going anywhere without a true fight in the Big Ten West race.
Minnesota gets Big Ten off to bright start in bowl season
It’s the one time of the year where almost every fan of a team in the Big Ten can come together — bowl season. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats and no tide is higher than taking a strong narrative in to an offseason.
The Minnesota Gophers got things started on Wednesday and the “Row the Boat” crew started things off well with a 34-10 demolition of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Bowl season also seems to provide a glimpse forward from time to time, and in the case of the Gophers they continued to see progression in the run game.
Redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim set a career high with 224 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns in the win.
That led to no need to test the arm of freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan, who threw just 13 passes on the day. He connected on seven of them for 132 yards and a pair of scores as well.
Star receiver Tyler Johnson caught both of those touchdown passes, including the final score of the game with 6:19 to play in the final quarter.
Overall, this game hit all the marks for the plan to be “elite” at Minnesota.
The Gophers defense had been a sore spot for most of the 2018 season and just like they did in the regular season finale against Wisconsin, they showed up big time.
Minnesota allowed just 283 yards of total offense to Georgia Tech, including just 206 yards on 44 carries for an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets went just 4 of 14 on third down in the game as well.
It all added up to a very positive performance for the Gophers and a nice start to what could be a very difficult bowl season for the Big Ten.
The cautionary tale may be reading too much in to a big win on the scoreboard. After all, Georgia Tech is in the process of a major transition away from the triple-option offense as Paul Johnson was removed as head coach following the regular season.
Still, the details suggest this is a Gophers program heading in the right direction at the very least. Dare we say it was an “elite” win for a program needing momentum going in to this offseason?
It certainly was a nice way to start things off if you want the Big Ten to do well this bowl season.
Gophers finally grab the Axe, manage to make big statement in the process
It’s been 14 agonizingly long years, but the streak has finally come to an end and the Minnesota Gophers have taken possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
To make the win even sweeter, Minnesota became bowl eligible as they chopped down the goalposts at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 1994.
It is time to revel and celebrate for sure. As head coach P.J. Fleck stated after the game, “this is for the state of Minnesota.”
But, this win was more of a statement than just ending a streak. How Minnesota beat the Badgers told a tale of a team ready to compete at a very high level.
Much has been made of the growing pains of a young Gophers team. On Saturday, that team finally put it together for 60 minutes in all three phases of the game.
There was a punt return for a touchdown and three made field goals from the special teams. Minnesota’s defense held Jonathan Taylor out of the end zone, forced three interceptions and a fumble out of Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook and the offense took those four turnovers and capitalized on them to the tune of 24 points.
The Gophers defense played so well on Saturday and really throughout the final few weeks of the season that interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi had the interim tag removed after the game according to Fleck.
Minnesota didn’t win on a miracle or a fluke play. The Gophers were the better team on the day. That’s important to remember.
So is the fact that this young team will now have 15 more practices and chances to get better because of this win.. Given the youth of this team, those moments are invaluable.
The experience of getting back to a bowl game will also help. Every chance to be competitive matters.
But now the bigger questions will be asked. Can the Gophers use this win as a game-changer for this program in general? Is this the defining moment of the Fleck era or a fleeting moment of glory?
Only time will answer those questions, but it is hard not to be positive about this program after getting the biggest albatross removed from around the neck of the Gophers program.
Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut
Plenty of people were curious about the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback coming in to the season opener. After all, it’s not often that a true freshman walk-on gets the starting nod.
But, the attention and pressure of the first college game was not too much to handle for Gophers quarterback Zack Annextad. After a few shaky moments early on, Annexstad looked like he belonged on the field in the Gophers 48-10 victory over New Mexico State.
Annexstad wasn’t super accurate, completing just 48 percent of his passes. But, he more than made up for it with a blistering 220 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he kept the Aggies from picking him off all game long.
Perhaps the best bit of news is that it appears the Gophers may have more than one good target for Annexstad to work with. Veteran wide receiver Tyler Johnson was on point, catching five passes for 100 yards and both of the touchdown throws.
Rashod Bateman caught five passes and Chris Autman-Bell had four to his name as well.
Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Seth Green looked dangerous as an all-around player. He touched the ball in the backfield twice and scored on both of those touches, giving future opponents plenty to think about when it comes to game-planning for the Gophers.
Minnesota also showed off an impressive run game after a rocky start on the ground. Star running back Rodney Smith racked up 153 yards and the Gophers ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns as a team.
Add in a defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground and only 10 points and there is a recipe for success going forward.
Of course, one has to take in to consideration the caliber of opponent, but for a team with a lot of question marks on offense, there’s little doubt this was a confidence builder.
While there will be plenty of improvement needed in order for Minnesota to be competitive come Big Ten play, this offense looks and feels different than it did a year ago.
As far as debuts go, there certainly was promise shown from Annexstad and that’s really all you can ask for from a freshman making his first start.
Don Lucia steps down from Gophers hockey program
Long-time Gophers head man steps down just a few days after his team misses out on NCAA tournament.
One of the most decorated coaches in the last two decades of college hockey is stepping down, as the University of Minnesota announced the departure of men’s hockey head coach Don Lucia.
“I want to thank Mark Dienhart for giving me a tremendous opportunity 19 years ago,” Lucia said in a statement. “I came to Minnesota because of the tradition, and I hoped to add to the tradition when I left. I am proud of the 14 banners that have been added to the rafters of 3M Arena at Mariucci.
“I am forever grateful to all the coaches, staff and most importantly the players who have worked so hard to accomplish this over the years.
“Most importantly to me, we did it the right way. Our players all graduate and have always represented themselves to the high standards of Gopher Hockey on and off the ice. It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to be the head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota.”
Lucia put up 14 banners to the rafters in Mariucci Arena, including eight regular season conference titles, four tournament titles, five Frozen Four appearances and two NCAA national championships.
Minnesota won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004, just four and five years in to Lucia taking over the program.
However, in recent years the Gophers have had increasing struggles as a program.
This past season was perhaps the most disappointing, as Lucia’s Gophers were just 19-17-2 overall and finished fifth in the Big Ten conference. Minnesota was left out of the NCAA tournament thanks to that mediocre record and one of the craziest scenarios in college hockey history.
Minnesota needed just one or two of six conference finals to go their way and they were likely in. The Gophers wanted to see Air Force, Boston University, Michigan Tech, Princeton, Denver and Notre Dame win their respective conference crowns.
Instead, all six of the results went exactly the other way and Minnesota was left out of the tournament thanks to the needs for other at-large bids to be handed out.
Lucia’s team went from winning six conference titles in a row to finishing fifth in the Big Ten. That could have played a part in Coyle’s decision and discussion with Lucia following the end of the season.
Signs pointed to something happening as late as yesterday, with Lucia skirting around the issue when asked by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
“We’ve had a lot of talks, let’s put it that way — just over the last couple years,” Lucia said.
“I don’t plan on coaching when I’m 70, I can promise you that,” the 59-year-old Lucia continued. “We’ll talk. We’ll see what’s best for where he’s at and where I’m at. We’re on the same page right now, and I think we’ll continue to be that way.”
Change had to come for a very proud program, and Lucia stepping aside rather being flat-out relieved of duties was the right thing to do for all parties involved.
Thus ends a 19-year career at the helm of the Gophers and a 31-year career as a college hockey head coach.
While the ending was a slide down the national stage, Lucia brought plenty of glory and plenty to love about Gophers hockey. His legacy is a big one and his presence is going to be hard to fill on the bench and in the Gophers hockey community.
It will be interesting to see where the search by Coyle goes, because this hire has the potential to make or break the future of this program.