Doubled Up
Kansas Spoils Gopher Fan Party in Warm Arizona Desert

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A solid 8 -point favorite, the University of Kansas football team did not disappoint the thousands of their fans in attendance at the 20th annual Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., as the Jayhawks coasted to a 42-21 win over Minnesota’s Golden Gophers.

Throughout its existence, the Insight Bowl has become notorious for high-scoring competition. In the previous five years, the Insight Bowl averaged 82.4 points per game. Typical of those games was Oklahoma State’s 49-33 trouncing of Indiana in last year’s game. Of course, that five-year period also contained one of the most ignominious losses in the history of Minnesota football after the Gophers blew a 38-7 lead and Texas Tech pulled off the greatest comeback in NCAA bowl history to win in overtime by 44 to 41. The shameful defeat cost coach Glen Mason his job.

Offensive fireworks were not always a tradition with the Insight Bowl, which came to life in 1989 as the Copper Bowl and was played in Tucson. The first game saw Arizona topping North Carolina State by the conventional score of 17-10. The annual event became the Insight Bowl in 2002 after Insight Enterprises, Inc., a Tempe-based direct marketer of computers, hardware, and software. It wasn’t until after the bowl had moved north to Tempe that all hell broke loose when California and Virginia Tech combined to put 101 points on the board (Cal won, 52-49).

It was no surprise then that the Kansas-Minnesota contest started off like a house on fire. Kansas won the toss and elected to receive. A strange bloop kick by the otherwise reliable Joel Monroe resulted in the Jayhawks taking over at their own 40-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Kansas’ superlative quarterback Todd Reesing dropped back and spotted Dezmon Briscoe sprinting past Gopher defenders. Reesing hit Briscoe in mid-stride, and the result was an 88-yard touchdown play. The stadium clock read 14:49 as the Jayhawks lined up for the extra point.

Minnesota stormed right back. On the Gophers’ first play from scrimmage David Pittman passed to Eric Decker for a 75-yard advance to the Kansas 12-yard-line. Utilizing an offensive scheme designed by new line coach Tim Davis, Minnesota took three plays to score on a one-yard plunge by Jon Hoese. After Monroe’s extra point the score was 7-7. The stadium clock read 13:18, and it appeared that the 101 points totaled by California and Virginia Tech would easily be eclipsed in the Valley of the Sun. The sophomore Hoese, incidentally, had never touched the ball in an offensive series in a college football contest until this game. The former safety and special team performer from Glencoe, Minn., thus goes into the record books as the only Gopher to score a touchdown on a hand-off the first time he ever carried the ball in a bowl game.

The Gopher defense rose to the occasion and stopped the Jayhawks after six plays, and Alonso Rojas’ punt was downed at the Minnesota 21-yard line. Quarterback Adam Weber engineered a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive topped off by another Hoese run (this one for two yards). Monroe kicked the extra point, and it was Minnesota 14, Kansas 7.

Using a no-huddle spread offense, Reesing and company retaliated with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a 14-14 tie. Various forms of no-huddle offenses proved to be the bane of the Gophers’ existence during the entire season, as coordinator Ted Roof was unable to come up with schemes to counteract them. The key play in the drive was a 10-yard touchdown pass from Reesing to Kerry Meier, a converted quarterback.

The Jayhawks took the lead for good in the second quarter after a 10-play, 69-yard drive culminated by a six-yard touchdown pass from Reesing to Briscoe and the extra point by Jacob Branstetter. The scoreboard read: Kansas 21, Minnesota 14. Before the quarter’s end, Kansas had increased the lead to 28-14.

Meanwhile, the Jayhawks easily adjusted to the new offense installed by Davis. The Gophers were held scoreless for the balance of the first half. After the game, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said he was “pleased with what we added to our offense.” However, he added: “We have a lot of work to do. But I really think that the combination of what we are going to try to do with the running game and the spread passing game will make us a very good offensive football team in the future.” He pointed out that Minnesota will not lose any offensive players in preparation for the 2009 season.

Kansas coach Mark “The Fatman” Mangino said he had “heard rumors” about what the Gophers were cooking up on offense. “We had to make adjustments,” he said, including adding blitz pressure. “Minnesota did some things we hadn’t see them do in the videotape they sent us.” He added that the key to the game was the fact that his team’s offense “controlled the action.”

Briscoe caught an Insight Bowl game-record 14 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, and Reesing threw for four scores in what would become Kansas’ 42-21 victory.

After Minnesota’s early 14-7 lead, Kansas scored 28 unanswered points to seize control of the game. Reesing completed 27 of 35 passes, hitting on a school-record 14 straight passes in the first half. He threw for 313 yards and improved to 20 wins and only six losses as a starter. Meier caught one touchdown pass and threw another for the Jayhawks, who now have won three straight bowl games. As night slowly fell on the desert, the cries of “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk” filled the stadium. Meanwhile, the small but vocal crowd of Minnesota supporters were resigning themselves to the fact that another Insight Bowl defeat was eminent.

“We got beat by a better football team,” Brewster admitted.

“Our program is a work in progress,” said Mangino, “and every day it seems to get better and better.” The Insight Bowl marked the Jayhawks’ first back-to-back bowl appearances. The school, of course, is better known for its basketball accomplishments.

Decker caught eight passes for 149 yards and a touchdown for the Gophers. Both marks are bowl game records for Minnesota.

In the third quarter, Meier hit Briscoe for a 32-yard scoring play to give the Jayhawks a 35-14 lead. Minnesota retaliated with a 12-play drive that ended with a Kansas goal-line stand as Weber was stopped on fourth down at the Kansas one-yard line. “Obviously, it’s very disappointing when you are fourth and inches at the goal line and don’t get in,” Brewster lamented.

Minnesota later cut the lead to 35-21 on a 6-yard pass from Weber to Decker early in the fourth quarter, but the Gophers’ offense stalled after that. Weber was 19-of-34 for 176 yards and a touchdown.

“That Decker is a tough guy to defend,” said Mangino. “He’s a real football player.” Decker commented that his team has yet to “learn how to finish” a football season.

Kansas’ Jake Sharp scored on a 2-yard run late in the fourth quarter to end the scoring.

Gopher fans could only console themselves with the fact that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky in beautiful Tempe, and the temperature at game time was a warm 73 degrees.

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