Gophers Rebound From Lethargy: Past Three Games Forgotten in 63-26 Stomping of Indiana University
Saturday, November 4, 2006

In a stunning turn of events, the University of Minnesota football Gophers, victims of a 44-0 pasting by Ohio State the previous Saturday, rebounded with 63 points against the Indiana Hoosiers. The final score: Minnesota 63, Indiana 26.

“An amazingly embarrassing performance,” Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner muttered after the game. “We were outplayed and outcoached.”

Gopher senior quarterback Bryan Cupito began the game by filling the air with footballs. In the first quarter alone, Cupito passed a dozen times. (Minnesota ran the ball only four times.)

The results were an 18-yard touchdown pass to freshman Eric Decker and a 23-yard touchdown pass to senior Matt Spaeth. Sandwiched in between was a seven-yard touchdown run by seldom-used Jay Thomas, who crossed the goal line untouched. Uncharacteristically, Minnesota was using the pass to set up the run.

After the game, Hoeppner acknowledged that his coaching staff had geared a defense to stop the Minnesota running game. Apparently, his staff ignored game films that clearly showed the Gophers inept running game against Wisconsin, North Dakota State, and Ohio State.

“We could see that [the Hoosiers] were overplaying the run,” observed the suddenly astute Minnesota coach Glen Mason. “We had some guys who were wide open.” One of the “guys” was receiver Ernie Wheelwright, normally the possessor of butter fingers, who snagged a Cupito pass for a 64-yard touchdown and ultimately a 28-0 lead. The onslaught continued. Amir Pinnix, like Thomas before him, raced untouched into the end zone on a play that started at the Indiana 10-yard line.

Even with a 35-0 lead, Gopher fans, especially those with long memories (Minnesota is notorious for blowing big leads), grew uneasy when it took the Hoosiers only two plays to score and cut the lead to 35-7. What made the fans more anxious was the earlier drop of a sure touchdown pass by the pre-season All-American Spaeth. Murmurs of “here we go again” could be heard throughout the Metrodome and grew after Jason Giannini banged a field goal attempt off the right upright.

This year, some remarkable comebacks have been recorded in Big Ten football action. Could this be another one? Many believed it to be within the realm of possibility as Minnesota kicked off to Indiana to start the second half and Jahkeem Gilmore returned it 39 yards. The Hoosiers moved the ball for a first down, and, then, quarterback Kellen Lewis hit receiver James Hardy for a 48-yard touchdown pass. The point after touchdown attempt failed, but Gopher followers were shifting in their seats.

Not to worry. Cupito led Minnesota on a well-executed eight-play touchdown drive that featured pass completions to Spaeth and Wheelwright. The latter was a 37-yard bomb with nary a defender in sight. Minnesota had upped the lead to 42-13.

Still, Indiana refused to roll over. Lewis took on the appearance of another great Hoosier quarterback, Antwaan Randle El, an old Gopher killer now in the NFL, as he mixed passes with scrambles to bring Indiana to within 42-20. A key play was an end zone interception that wasn’t by Gopher cornerback Dominic Jones. The diminutive (5-8) Jones was called for interference, setting up an Indiana first down on the Minnesota two-yard line. It appeared that Jones was desperately trying to let the Hoosiers back into the ball game.

As the fourth quarter began, the Gophers switched from a pass-happy attack to a more deliberate running game, if, for no other reason, to take time off the game clock. A touchdown drive that featured four consecutive running plays by Thomas was the result. Indiana responded with a 15-play drive of their own that, unfortunately for the Hoosiers, took six minutes and five seconds of valuable time.

Next, a poor kickoff game Minnesota good field position, something they enjoyed for the majority of the day. Pinnix rushed for 11 yards to the Indiana 34-yard line. Thomas then took a Cupito handoff and scored. Minnesota 56, Indiana 26.

A Dominique Barber interception and subsequent touchdown run of substitute quarterback Blake Powers pass resulted in the Gophers 63rd point, only 3 points less than another Mason team scored in a 66-10 route of Murray State in 2001.

The victory was the Gophers’ first in the Big Ten this year and climaxed Minnesota’s annual Homecoming festivities. A report in the student newspaper indicated that the amount of money spent on the celebration continues to decrease, a shame since, in view of the results of the Indiana game, the Gophers might want to consider making every conference home game Homecoming.

The Homecoming crowd was announced at 44,610 but most in the press box were skeptical owing to the fact that entire sections of the Metrodome’s upper deck lacked spectators.

Meanwhile, 219 miles down I-35 from the Metrodome in Ames, Iowa, a different story was unfolding. The success of the Iowa State Cyclones’ football program in recent years has paralleled that of the Gophers. Both institutions of higher learning have experienced recruiting setbacks, yet recovered to earn bowl-game status.

However, in 2006, both Iowa State and Minnesota stumbled to 3-6 won/loss records with the only chance of returning to a bowl game hinging on winning the final three games of the season. Minnesota took the first step by dispatching Indiana. Iowa State, on the other hand, took on a foe similar to Indiana in the Big 12, the Kansas University Jayhawks.

Knowing full well the consequences of defeat, the Iowa State Cyclones squandered home-field advantage and folded like a cheap tent in the wind. Kansas won by 41 to 10.

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