Coach Tim Brewster is having a tough time coming up with the best words to describe what's happened to his football team this season.
Frustrated Gophers fans would probably be happy to fill in a few of the blanks for the embattled coach. Minnesota lost its fourth consecutive game Saturday when Northwestern's Stefan Demos kicked a 27-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, handing the Gophers a 29-28 defeat in the Big Ten opener.
"It's hard to find words," Brewster said "It's just gut-wrenching to lose that football game. These kids did a lot of things well, obviously, but not enough to win. That's the disappointing thing. These kids are absolutely crushed."
Crushed may be the perfect way to sum up the season. The opening-season win at Middle Tennessee seems like it was ages ago. Minnesota has lost four straight, all at home, the first time the Gophers have lost their first four home games in a season since 1983. TCF Bank Stadium isn't proving to be much of a home-field advantage. The Gophers are 4-7 in their stadium that opened last season.
How poorly have things gone for Minnesota? The Gophers led at halftime Saturday for the first time this season. Minnesota's last halftime lead came on Nov. 14 of last season against South Dakota State.
For now, the players are saying the right thing, but with games against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State in the next four weeks, it will be a challenge to stay positive.
"The entire season has been pretty tough, but we keep bouncing back every week," said quarterback Adam Weber, who threw for two touchdowns, but had his last pass of the game intercepted as the Gophers were trying to drive into field-goal range. "We're a strong team, a team that's strong in character and integrity so I'm happy with how we responded."
The Gophers are 0-1 in the Big Ten with several heavyweights on the schedule. Minnesota travels to Wisconsin next week to face the Badgers, who won't be in a good mood after being upset by Michigan State on Saturday.
"Going into Big Ten play we wanted to come out with victories," said running back DeLeon Eskridge, who ran for 119 yards and a touchdown. "It is a huge disappointment, but I think we are going to bounce back and play better next week."
--Troy Stoudemire, who was suspended for the Northern Illinois game, returned against Northwestern, but has been switched from wide receiver to cornerback. He returned a kickoff for 27 yards and made a tackle.
--Linebacker Gary Tinsley had a big game against Northwestern. The junior forced his first career fumble and finished with 10 tackles, including seven solo stops and two that resulted in a loss.
--Adam Weber continues to move up the Big Ten record book. He threw for two touchdowns against Northwestern, the 60th and 61st of his career. He's tied with Michigan State's Jeff Smoker and Iowa's Drew Tate in the No. 10 spot all-time.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB DeLeon Eskridge. The junior had a strong game and has emerged as the Gophers' No. 1 back. He ran for 119 yards on 22 carries against Northwestern, a 5.4 average, including a touchdown run. It was the third 100-yard rushing game of his career. Eskridge has taken advantage of his extra playing time with Duane Bennett's carries limited by an ankle injury.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TE Eric Lair -- The junior continues to make big plays, which means he'll continue to get plenty of chances in the offense. Lair caught three passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern. He's averaging 14.7 yards a catch and is showing the ability to get downfield and stretch the defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Guys like that are always tough. You got a lot of them in them in the Big Ten. He's a small, shifty guy....Those quarterback scrambles killed us and we can't have that." -- Safety Kyle Theret on Northwesterm quarterback Dan Persa.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton came up with a couple of wrinkles that paid off in touchdowns. Quarterback Adam Weber hit tailback Duane Bennett running down the sidelines for a 38-yard touchdown. Bennett later hit tight end Eric Lair with an 8-yard TD pass. Although Bennett's ankle injury keeps him from his usual number of carries, the play-calling has kept him involved in the offense.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Not only can't the defense stop anybody, it can't get off the field. Northwestern's diversified offense rolled up 480 total yards and ran 73 plays. Quarterback Dan Persa completed 23 of 30 passes for 309 yards and ran the ball 18 times for 106 yards The Gophers allowed 28 first downs and let the Wildcats convert 8 of 11 third down chances. The defense forced two turnovers deep in its territory, but couldn't make a stop when it mattered in the fourth quarter when Northwestern drove for a touchdown and a field goal.
--P Dan Orseske, who suffered a foot injury while having a punt blocked against Northern Illinois, had six punts for a 34.6 yard average against Northwestern.
--LB Mike Rallis didn't play against Northwestern because of a leg injury.
--S Kim Royston is still sidelined by the broken left leg he suffered in the spring.
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