As Indiana erased a 35-13 Minnesota lead and went ahead 39-35, most Gophers fans were probably thinking the same thing: “here we go again.” Time and time again Gopher teams would blow seemingly insurmountable leads. I could go through a list of all the collapses of the last 25 years or so, but that would take a long time and bring up heartbreak and angst.
Many of us Gophers fans are fatalists — we assume the worst is going to happen. Yet the Gophers have won three Big Ten games in a row and with a victory over Penn State this weekend, will make it four wins in a row for the first time since 1973. We’re due right?
WHAT I LIKED
1. Philip Nelson’s progress: I’ve always liked Nelson’s talent, athletic ability, quick release, you name it. However, outside of the first half against Purdue last year, we weren’t seeing any progress. Nelson hit rock bottom against Iowa, looking completely over-matched and I was ready to call him a bust. He only saw a few snaps the next week against Michigan and some were questioning if his career with the Gophers was over. Then he took over in the Northwestern game with the Gophers trailing and lead them back to victory. He has been the key to the offense in three consecutive Big Ten victories. Nelson completed 16-of-23 passes for 298 yards and 4 touchdowns in the victory over Indiana, his best performance in his career.
2. David Cobb looks like an All-Big Ten caliber back: David Cobb looks better and better with each passing week. I love the way Cobb runs, combining size, speed, power, and cutback ability. Cobb almost always breaks the first tackle and is willing to lower his head and shoulders and lay a hit on would be tacklers when he finishes a run. His running style is similar to former Gopher Marion Barber III. Cobb only needs 170 yards to eclipse 1,000 and become the first Gopher running back to do so since Amir Pinnix in 2006.
3. The emergence of Donovahn Jones: Everyone and their brother can see the talent Jones possesses. Now putting that raw talent on the field and getting him to produce as a true freshman isn’t as easy as it looks. However, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has done a fantastic job integrating Jones into the offense with speed sweeps, and splitting him out wide in the passing game. Jones caught three balls for 59 yards including a critical third and long catch on the Gophers final touchdown drive when they were trailing 39-35.
4. Tommy the Tank: Starting center Jon Christenson went down with a major leg injury in the second quarter and had to be carted off the field. In stepped Tommy Olson and the Gophers scored on the very next play on a touchdown run by Mitch Leidner. The offense didn’t miss a beat with Olson at center as the Gophers put up their most gaudy offensive statistics of the year with 573 yards and 42 points.
5. Aaron Hill’s smarts: In the pre-season many coaches, players, and media members mention Aaron Hill as a leader of the defense and you could see why on Saturday. The senior linebacker and former walk-on player scooped up a fumbled lateral as Indiana was marching for the game winning touchdown with under 30 seconds to play. The turnover was unexpected and clutch. Hats off to you Aaron Hill!
6. Offensive play calling: Matt Limegrover has been on fire calling plays. The guy can’t miss, seemingly every call is the perfect one.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
1. Fourth quarter defense: The defense didn’t have any battery life left after chasing Indiana’s up-tempo offense all afternoon. Good thing Aaron Hill made a play at the end and the fact that football games are only four quarters long.
2. Paging Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams: Remember back in the Meineke Car Care Bowl when Kirkwood and Williams looked like they were going to lead this offense next year to new rushing heights? As great as David Cobb has been, he’s going to need some help. And with Berkley Edwards redshirting, one of these two is going to need to emerge if the Gophers want to upset either Wisconsin or Michigan State.
3. The Indiana crowd: It’s not often I feel bad for the opposing team, but gracious how about a little support for your football team? I know it’s a basketball school, but that crowd, on Homecoming was embarrassing.
4. Not finishing Indiana off earlier: When it was 35-13, I looked like a genius and Vegas looked like a bunch of schmucks. Then the Hoosiers came back and the Gophers “only” won by three, despite being 8.5 point underdogs. If only they would have kept their boots on Indiana’s throat. Oh well, a win’s a win.