Where Do Gophers Go From Here?

After a loss to Illinois, the Gophers are facing an FCS school in South Dakota State. They have put themselves in a difficult position now.

It's unclear where the Gophers go from here.

A week ago, they were headed on the path to a bowl game, the second consecutive postseason affair during Tim Brewster's tenure.

But following a loss Saturday against lowly Illinois, Minnesota enters its upcoming matchup against FCS (formerly Division I-AA) South Dakota State in a must-win situation.

Instead of feeling like a rejuvenated football team, the Gophers are experiencing a bad case of déjà vu against a team that might well get off the bus with a case of overconfidence.

When Brewster went 1-11 in his first season, the worst loss of the year came against North Dakota State at the Metrodome. A driven Bison squad with nothing to lose handed the Gophers a tough loss in a year filled with them.

South Dakota State, a Top-10 ranked FCS team before a Saturday loss against Southern Illinois, enters Saturday's matchup against the Gophers under similar circumstances.

Perhaps the Gophers overlooked Illinois, following a win against Michigan State. Will they look past SDSU toward next weekend's matchup against the Iowa team that blew them out at home last season?

Minnesota has already put itself in a difficult position, needing one more win to become bowl eligible. Iowa's loss against Northwestern knocked the Big Ten as a whole down a notch, and probably decreased Minnesota's chances of scoring a solid bowl game.

But the teams that wind up in sunny places like California or Florida in the middle of a Midwestern winter get there because they win the must-haves and avoid the late-season uncertainty that the Gophers have found yet again.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers outscored Illinois 25-7 in the second half of Saturday's loss. But they lost in part because of inconsistency. A young corps of receivers is still seeking a rhythm with QB Adam Weber. A week after he caught four passes for 64 yards, Da'Jon McKnight, injured WR Eric Decker's replacement, caught just one for 13 yards against the Fighting Illini. No guarantee with the running game, although RB Kevin Whaley and RB Duane Bennett appear to be skilled enough to get a lot of reps down the stretch. TE Nick Tow-Arnett is a great option for Weber.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Minnesota was down 28-7 at halftime and never climbed out of that ditch. With Illini QB Juice Williams injured in the first half, the Gophers didn't do enough to rattle his freshman replacement QB Jacob Charest. The worst passing offense in the league threw for 238 yards and a touchdown. Minnesota recorded just one sack. S Kim Royston is a gamer, but he has to stay level-headed to avoid silly penalties. DE Cedric McKinley had seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble against the Illini, just a few weeks after he served a two-game suspension for a rules violation.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. South Dakota State (7-2), Nov. 14 — In 2007, the Gophers learned that they can't underestimate FCS schools, after North Dakota State beat them. South Dakota State should not be overlooked by this inconsistent Gophers team.

KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Gophers are executing early on offense and defense they should have an easy day against South Dakota State. They have too much athleticism and talent to fall to SDSU. If for whatever reason they show up to Saturday's game with a nonchalant attitude, they might be in trouble. SDSU will give them everything they have. And Minnesota's proven that they'll play down to an opponent's level.

SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads 6-0 (last meeting, 1933, 19-6 Minnesota).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's Senior Day, and that's a very special day at the University of Minnesota. It will be very emotional for our players to see seniors playing their last game in TCF Bank Stadium. There are 28 players we're going to recognize on Saturday, walk on and scholarship players that have committed four and five years of their lives to the University of Minnesota. They've done a great job. These young people have done a great job in the classroom. A large majority of this class is already graduated. I think that's a significant statement about the group." — Tim Brewster on Senior Day Saturday.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

QB Adam Weber — Up or down? Inconsistency has been the trend for Weber all season. Will he finish on a high note?

TE Nick Tow-Arnett — Weber's new favorite target will continue to be a solid weapon down the stretch.

DE Cedric McKinley — He's been active since returning from a two-game suspension. He looks like a prototypical defensive end. Good thing he's playing like it, too.

NOTES

  • C Jeff Tow-Arnett returned to practice Tuesday. The senior, who plays for the Gophers along with brothers Nate and Nick, broke a bone in his right leg against Wisconsin Oct. 3 and needed surgery. He'd already recovered from major offseason knee surgery when he was hurt against the Badgers. Although Tim Brewster didn't know if Tow-Arnett would ever suit up again for the Gophers. But the senior hopes to play this week against SDSU. Brewster says that won't happen, but he's definitely ahead of schedule for his recovery.

  • QB Adam Weber has had an up and down couple of weeks. He was the hero for a career performance against Michigan State. And somewhat of a villain — the TCF Bank Stadium crowd booed him — during a crucial loss against Illinois Saturday in which he threw a costly pick that was returned for a touchdown.

    It must be the glove.

    Weber used a glove on his throwing hand when he faced the Spartans. He used it again against the Fighting Illini but didn't have the same level of success.

  • Minnesota's tough losses this season might have cost the school more than one million bucks. The Gophers had a good chance to get into the Champs Sports Bowl, with wins over Wisconsin and Illinois, two teams the team believes it should've beaten but didn't. The payout for that game is about $2.25 million. It looks like their most likely invite, however, will come from the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, for which the payout is $750,000.

  • Coaches and players praised C Jeff Tow-Arnett's rapid return to the field following major surgery to repair a broken bone in his leg. He practiced Tuesday with a brace and bandage on his right leg.


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