Cal Bests Gophers
September 19, 2009

When the University of Minnesota Gophers football team was defeated by Kansas 42-21 in the Insight Bowl on New Year’s Eve, coach Tim Brewster said, “We got beat by a better football team.”

Saturday afternoon, in the media room at TCF Bank Stadium after the Gophers lost to California 35-21, the coach acknowledged again that his team had been defeated by a stronger opponent. “Our guys saw a really good football team today,” he said. “We’re going to get better.” No timetable was given.

It’s clear that the Gophers are improved from 2007, Brewster’s first year, when the team won only one game, but the question remains how much better. For example, is Minnesota ready to finish among the top five in the Big 10?

A lesson can be learned from the California Golden Bears. Under coaches Keith Gilbertson, Steve Mariucci, and Tom Holmde, the Bears did not have a winning season from 1994 through 2001. In Holmde’s last season (2001), Cal finished 1-10. Jeff Tedford took over in 2002, and the Bears started winning. Now in his eighth season at the helm, Tedford has established California not only as one of the top programs in the Pacific 10 Conference but also has lifted the Bears into the national rankings. California was ranked No. 8 coming into the game and currently is rated No. 6.

Tedford’s teams have played in six straight bowl games, and he has eclipsed the records of legendary Cal coaches Stub Allison and Pappy Waldorf. It was against Waldorf-coached teams that the Gophers fell in consecutive years to the Bears by the scores of 55-14 and 49-13. On Saturday, it looked like a similar score might be likely as California came on strong out of the gate, and the Gophers appeared flat. Jahvid best scored the first of his five touchdowns on a 33-yard run with barely five minutes taken off the clock. On their second position, the Bears set up another Best touchdown run with a 59-yard pass completion from quarterback Kevin Riley to Verran Tucker. The Gophers, meanwhile, were going three-and-out.

In the second quarter, Minnesota fought back with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Adam Weber to Eric Decker, who was knocked senseless on the play by Cal defender Sean Cattouse. “I made the play,” Decker said later. “That was the big thing.” Decker lay on the field, bleeding from his chin. Brewster complained that Cattouse was guilty of helmet-to-helmet contact, and that the officials “missed a call there. I’m surprised they didn’t see it.” Decker was escorted to the sidelines where his blood-soaked jersey was removed. Five stitches were required to close the wound.

At this point, the Gophers trailed by only 14-7, but Best soon took the wind out of the home crowd’s sails with a 27-yard touchdown romp and a 21-7 California lead. For Minnesota, the Weber-to-Decker combo worked again for a 12-yard touchdown pass, and the halftime score was: California 21, Minnesota 14.

Then a strange thing happened. After Best had accumulated 116 yards in rushing and scored three touchdowns, he barely saw the ball in the third quarter. Coach Tedford thus failed to go for the kill by continuing to let his “big dog eat.” Minnesota, on the other hand, was able to tie the score at 21 after a trick play that saw Decker throwing a touchdown pass to reserve quarterback MarQuis Gray. It was, however, the last hurrah for the home crowd, as the fourth quarter belonged to the Golden Bears.

California scored on an eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive and followed that with with an eight-play, 44-yard drive. The latter followed an interception of a Weber pass by Cal’s Mike Mohamed. Each of the two fourth quarter drives were topped off by Best touchdowns. The Bears’ dominance showed that, as was the case in the Insight Bowl, despite home-field advantage, Minnesota is not yet ready to complete against the big boys of the NCAA.

“We didn’t get enough plays to win,” Decker said in the post-game press conference. “California was ranked No. 8 for a reason.”

“We’re going to have to establish a running game,” Weber observed. (California had 163 net rushing yards to Minnesota’s 37.) “Our team can be good when we play well.”

Brewster, as usual, was optimistic. “We had a great chance, but didn’t get it done. We need to run the ball better.”

Linebacker Lee Campbell told reporters that Best was “the fastest player I have ever played against.” The Gophers, unfortunately, don’t have a running back that can come close.

Back to Main Page