Not only have the Gophers lost four of five games, they are starting to fire shots within their ranks.
After Minnesota got obliterated 38-14 last week at Wisconsin — the score does not give an accurate account of how big the disparity truly was — defensive end Darrell Reid vented some of his feelings in the locker room. He blamed the players for the defeat — but then also put a big chunk on the coaching staff.
That did not sit well with Minnesota head coach Glen Mason.
"He can question whatever he wants," Mason said of Reid. "He runs his mouth all the time, doesn't he? ... But I believe in freedom of speech."
While Reid decided to question the coaching staff, teammates like safety John Pawielski and Justin Fraley put it all on the players' shoulders.
"The coaches do a great job preparing us and getting us ready to go," safety John Pawielski said. "We just have to go out and do it. It's really on our shoulders."
"Any time you lose it's a disappointment," Fraley told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "But that's not an excuse. We should be playing hard every game. There's no excuse to play the way we did."
The Gophers have only one regular-season game left to get their house in order. While they are already bowl eligible — they will finish with a winning record no matter what happens against Iowa this weekend — Mason wants this team to rediscover its strength.
That means putting its troubles behind and getting the running game going again. Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber are still a formidable duo — they have combined for 2,002 yards this year — but they were much more explosive earlier in the year.
The Hawkeye defense will provide a major test. Iowa is fourth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing just 68.2 yards per game.
Mason believes the Gophers can rescue their season.
"If we win Saturday, we're 7-4," Mason said.
"By Minnesota standards — I'm not going to be totally happy with it — but that's not bad. By a lot of people's standards, that's not bad."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The numbers are still impressive. The Gophers rank first in the Big Ten in scoring (31.4 ppg), rushing (246.9 ypg) and total yards (446.9 ypg). However, much of that production came in the early part of the season. The Gophers have to learn how to forget about last week's game and put their minds on the task at hand, or they could go down for the fifth time in six games.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This is not a very impressive group physically, and Wisconsin took advantage of the lack of size and strength in their 38-14 win. The Gophers give up 261.6 passing yards per game and that figure ranks last in the Big Ten. Since Iowa is depleted in the running game and has dominated with the pass, look for the Hawkeyes to go after that weakness throughout the afternoon.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You hang in there. There's no easy way around it. That's why you want to surround yourself with tough people. You want to surround yourself with people that have some resolve. The only thing you can do is, the people who have the resolve and resilience to hang in there, you keep working with them. The ones who don't you have to make a change." — Head coach Glen Mason to the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the kind of resiliency he needs to see from his players.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Iowa at Minnesota, Nov. 13 — The two rivals will fight for Floyd of Rosedale, and the Hawkeyes have all the momentum going in. Since losing the Big Ten opener to Michigan, the Hawkeyes have reeled off five straight conference wins. They play tough defense and throw the ball extremely well.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Bryan Cupito — Even on a team with dominant running backs, quarterback play is hugely important. In order to beat Iowa, Cupito needs to make a couple of big throws early in order to loosen up the Hawkeye defense. Cupito has not been as effective in recent weeks as he was earlier in the season. He completed 17-of-33 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin. Almost that entire total came after Wisconsin put a 31-0 lead on the board.
WR Ernie Wheelwright — One of the few players who has been consistent this year. Wheelwright is a big-play performer who caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Wisconsin.
ROSTER REPORT: The Gophers appear healthy going into the regular-season finale against the Hawkeyes.
Who's To Blame, That's The Question
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