Spartans Will Go Bowling
November 24, 2012

The University of Minnesota football team’s offense came out flat at the start of the Michigan State game on November 24 and stayed that way throughout the 26-10 home loss.

By halftime, the Gophers trailed 13-7, the team’s only points coming from Aaron Hill’s 33-yard run after he intercepted an Andrew Maxwell pass and ran 33 yards for a touchdown. The offense, meanwhile, had only 22 yards rushing and 31 yards via the pass. Things got no better during the break, as coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure and did not return to finish the game.

Many of the announced 44,194 in attendance would have done themselves a favor by also exiting at the half as the Gophers went on to execute the worst offensive performance since 1974 and the worse by a Big 10 team in five years.

Freshman quarterback Phil Nelson’s poor performance in prior games had been excused as jitters before hostile crowds on the road. But against the Spartans, he was treated to the friendly confines of TCF Bank Stadium. The result was 23 passes and 13 completions. Unfortunately, three of his passes were completed to Spartan defenders. He looked every inch of a timid 19-year-old who last year at this time was throwing passes at Mankato West High School.

Nelson wasn’t the only Gopher who was overmatched. It was a question of which team had the better personnel. Clearly, it was not Minnesota. As what usually happens in Minnesota this time of year, the Gophers lack of depth is showing. Minnesota more often than not is able to recruit 22 decent players to man the starting positions. Such was the case this season as the Gophers rattled off four victories against non-Big 10 opponents. Into the conference portion of the schedule, injury, defection, and fatigue took their toll on the team’s regulars. Bench strength, as usual, was thin. Recruitment of role-players has been lacking at Minnesota since the advent of two-platoon football. Each year, the bench is staffed with anonymous players who come and go from the program with little notice.

Depth has been the problem with the Gopher football program since the glory days of Murray Warmath. Today, when injury stalks the team, the philosophy of “next man up” does not work because the next man up is incapable of filling the shoes of his predecessor. Until Minnesota is able to find the next man through recruitment, red-shirting, or walk-ons, the program will languish.

This season, the Gophers philosophy of “next man up” proved to be lacking because the next man was incapable of replacing his predecessor. When injury struck, the team was unable through recruitment, red-shirting, or walk-ons to find capable replacements.

Minnesota was fortunate to become bowl-eligible relatively early, had no pressing need to exercise competency against Nebraska and Michigan State, and did not.

Spartan All-Big-10 running back La’Veon Bell rushed 35 times for 266 yards, including five runs of more than 10 yards. The Michigan State defense kept the Gopher offense on its heels and easily won the battle of the trenches.

“We ran the ball the best we have all season,” commented MSU coach Mark Dantonio. “Our game plan was to run the ball and make our own breaks.” He indicated the passing game was limited because his quarterback, Andrew Maxwell, was suffering from a “severely bruised” throwing arm.

With the victory, Michigan State, too, became bowl-eligible.

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