Every ascending football team has its trials and hurdles. For Minnesota, that's Michigan, a team that has tormented the Gophers for the past 16 years.
For 58 minutes in Ann Arbor, the Gophers did everything that was expected and held the lead. But when the game was on the line they could not stop Michigan from mounting a comeback and stealing yet another win. This time, the final score was 27-24.
The game was somewhat similar to last year's meeting at the Metrodome. In that game, Minnesota led by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter before the Wolverines came to life and mounted a charge for a 38-35 triumph. The Gophers had waited 365 days for another shot at their rivals and a chance to gain possession of the Little Brown Jug.
Instead of redemption, the Gophers found heartbreak yet again.
"It doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down as long as you keep getting up," coach Glen Mason told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"That's all you have to do. Just keep getting up. That's how we've taken this program from a disgrace and made it competitive. We'll continue to do it. Hey, I'm hurting right now. I might put on a good facade. But I'm hurting inside. But we'll get back up."
The Gophers are a talented team with two great running backs in Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber. They also have an underrated group of receivers and a defense that has shown some improvement this season. However, beating Michigan would have been a huge step up for the program and the Gophers were simply unable to do it.
The defense could not hold the door closed in the late stages of the fourth quarter. After allowing just a second-half field goal, the defense simply watched as Michigan freshman QB Chad Henne led the Wolverines down the field in search of the winning score. It came when he hit tight end Kyle Ecker for a 31-yard TD pass. On the play, Ecker caught a short pass and slipped through the arms of linebacker Brandon Owens before evading the tackle of Mike Wojciechowski on his way to the end zone.
Minnesota's big-play offense got the ball back, but it could not produce a first down.
All is not lost for Minnesota despite the painful defeat. If the Gophers can keep their wits about them and focus, they should be able to reel off three straight wins vs. Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Jared Ellerson — He made a spectacular catch in the end zone midway through the third quarter that gave Minnesota a 21-20 lead. Ellerson caught six passes for 83 yards and displayed the toughness and athleticism needed to take the pressure off the Minnesota running game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Minnesota defense — The Gophers did not have a poor defensive effort, but they fell apart in the clutch. They held Michigan to three points in the second half until freshman QB Chad Henne threw a game-winning TD pass to Tyler Ecker with 1:57 left in the game. How will the Gopher defense respond to the devastation of this loss?
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a severe disappointment. We came into the game expecting to win." — DT Mark Losli on the 27-24 loss to Michigan. Minnesota has lost 16 in a row at the hands of the Wolverines.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Gophers still have an opportunity to rescue their season. They have three very winnable games with Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana coming up, and the running game could be dominating in that stretch. Laurence Maroney burned the Wolverines for an 80-yard TD run, and the Gophers should be able to make big plays on the ground throughout the rest of the season.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The psyche of this team may be shaky. The Gophers had pointed at this game for a full year, but still could not beat Michigan. Coach Glen Mason must get the Gophers over this hump one of these seasons.
ROSTER REPORT: The Gophers did not appear to suffer any key injuries in the loss at Michigan. However, QB Bryan Cupito had his second straight sub-par game. He completed 8-of-22 passes for 156 yards and missed several open receivers. "They were giving us throws, I just didn't make enough of them," Cupito told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "If teams are going to do that, I have to make them pay and I didn't make them pay today. There were certainly opportunities for me to make the big touchdown pass. I just didn't do it."
Can Gophers Get Up After Michigan Knockdown?
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