Loss cripples Gophers' high hopes

The Gophers self-destructed in the second half against Wisconsin with penalties, turnovers and other mistakes. Even coach Tim Brewster admitted it will be a tough loss to put behind them.

Maybe this should have been expected. Maybe it was too much, too fast in Gopher land.

That 7-1 start is a distant memory now, particularly after a miserable second half led to Minnesota's 35-32 loss to Wisconsin.

Three personal fouls, two safeties, a fumbled kickoff ... all in the second half, all leading to the Gophers' third-straight loss. Minnesota led the game, 21-7 at the half. That didn't matter much by the end of the game.

"We're going to lay on a sword for the next couple days," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "We're going to bleed this one out hard. This will be tough to let go."

They don't have long. The Gophers finish the regular season at home Saturday against Indiana. At 7-4, they need a victory to stay out of the Big Ten's bottom bowl — the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. It's a long fall from the Rose Bowl aspirations of a few weeks ago.

Wisconsin scored 11 points in fewer than three minutes in the fourth quarter, turning a 24-17 deficit into a 28-24 lead. A P.J. Hill touchdown run was followed by Troy Stoudermire's fumbled kickoff return. The ball was knocked through the back of the end zone for a Badgers safety, then the next Gophers possession started at the 7. A sack and false start pushed them back to the goal line, where Adam Weber was sacked on third down for the second safety in less than three minutes.

Those are the type of mistakes young teams typically make, but the Gophers managed to avoid through the first eight weeks of the season. Not so over the last three games, all losses.

"Such a disappointing loss," Brewster said. "Heck, we had an opportunity to come in here and do something special. And we didn't get it done. It's a tough pill to swallow."

NOTES

  • MLB Lee Campbell pulled a hamstring and S Kyle Theret injured his left leg in a span of three plays early in the third quarter. The personnel losses were a big blow to the defense.

  • RB Shady Salamon received nine carries, his most extensive work in a few weeks, as the coaches try to ignite a stagnant running game. Fellow freshman DeLeon Eskridge hasn't been effective after a fast start to his career. Eskridge further fell out of favor on Saturday with his fumbled handoff from Adam Weber. Eskridge and Salamon combined for 107 rushing yards against Wisconsin.

    GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Adam Weber — Again finished as the team's leading rusher (43 yards, one TD) while throwing for 202 yards and three scores. The Gophers must get Weber more help with the running game, but real improvement won't be made now until next season.

    KEEP AN EYE ON: WRs Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith — The pair of freshmen combined for 125 receiving yards and each caught a touchdown. Green and Smith could join with a healthy Eric Decker to give the Gophers a potent receiving corps next season.

    LOOKING GOOD: The defense forced Wisconsin to fumble five times, and the Gophers were able to recover three of them. The turnovers were part of the reason Minnesota was able to build the 14-point bulge at the half.

    Willie VanDeSteeg collected three tackles, all for losses, including a pair of sacks, to become Minnesota's all-time leader in career tackles for losses with 43.5. He is also now fourth in career sacks with 19.5.

    Garrett Brown had a huge first quarter, blocking a 33-yard field goal, breaking up a pass and recovering a fumble, all within the game's first 15 minutes.

    STILL NEEDS WORK: DeLeon Eskridge fumbled a handoff exchange from Adam Weber on the Gophers' opening drive, giving Wisconsin possession at the 10-yard line. Little did anyone know it would actually get worse from there for Minnesota.

    On the drive when Wisconsin tied the game at 24, DE Willie VanDeSteeg sacked Badgers QB Dustin Sherer on first down and had him in his grasp on second-and-19. But Sherer wiggled away, completed a 17-yard pass and had 15 more yards tacked on thanks to a late hit by Tramaine Brock. Soon, the Badgers had their touchdown and a tie game. "When you get that close to the quarterback, when you have him in your arms, you shouldn't let him go," VanDeSteeg said. "That's my fault right there."

    Minnesota committed three costly personal fouls and turned it over three times. It's difficult to win games on the road with mistakes in the special teams and with turnovers.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to lay on a sword for the next couple days. We're going to bleed this one out hard. This will be tough to let go." — coach Tim Brewster


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