Unattractive Win
November 14, 2009

Much to the relief of the majority of those in attendance at TCF Bank Stadium on November 14, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers slogged to a highly unconvincing 16-13 victory over underdog South Dakota State (SDSU).

Minnesota looked worse in victory than the team did the previous week in losing at home to lowly Illinois. In fact, the offense that allowed the Gophers to stay close to the Fighting Illini went into a deep slumber against the FCS Jackrabbits and never emerged. Minnesota’s sole touchdown came when defensive end D.L. Wilhite scored on a three-yard fumble recovery in the second quarter. Blitzing cornerback Michael Carter got to SDSU’s inadequate freshman quarterback Thomas O’Brien from Winona, Minn. Carter hit O’Brien, the ball popped into the air, and landed in Wilhite’s hands. The Gophers trailed 10-6 at the time.

The game’s first quarter saw Jackrabbits entering the field wearing uniforms more suitable to a high school team as well as both Gopher quarterback Adam Weber and running back Kevin Whaley slipping and falling on the dew-laden TCF Bank Stadium turf at crucial moments, lending an aura of comedy to Minnesota’s ineffectual passing and running attack. Nevertheless, the Gophers advanced to the SDSU 23-yard line, and Eric Ellestad kicked a field goal to put Minnesota ahead by 3-0.

Later in the quarter, after a Traye Simmons interception, the Gophers advanced to the Jackrabbit eight-yard line, but Weber missed seeing wide-open tight end Nick Tow-Arnett in the end zone and had to settle for another Ellestad field goal to make it 6-0. Another interception, this one by Gopher Simoni Lawrence, thwarted a SDSU drive after an 84-yard kickoff return by Tyrel Kool. Minnesota was forced to punt after Weber was sacked for a 10-yard loss by linebacker Isaiah Jackson. Blake Haudan’s punt was returned by Saunders Montague for 49 yards to the Gopher 11-yard line. The Jackrabbits, however, were unable to punch the ball in for a touchdown and called on kicker Peter Reifenrath who converted on a 20-yard field goal to bring SDSU within 6-3.

With third down and nine yards to go, the bungling Weber threw the ball right into the arms of linebacker Derek Domino from Spring Lake Park, Minn. Domino ran the ball back 22 yards untouched into the end zone. The unthinkable had happened. Minnesota trailed by 10-6. It was up to Carter and Wilhite to work their magic to return the lead to the Gophers at 13-10. Minnesota players celebrated in the end zone as if the team had just won the Rose Bowl.

The second quarter was marred by penalties and turnovers on both sides, but Minnesota held on to its three-point lead entering halftime. During the third quarter, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, drawing the biggest ovation of the day from the announced crowd of 50,805. More inept play dominated the scoreless third quarter. The Jackrabbits returned to life in the fourth period, capping a 60-yard, 13-play drive with another Reifenrath field goal to tie the score at 13. The Minnesota offense was going nowhere as opportunity after opportunity was missed. Whatever the game plan was going into the contest, it was thoroughly ignored by the bumbling Weber and his colleagues. It looked as if SDSU was on the verge of an unthinkable upset.

It was up to the defense to save the day. The Jackrabbits had the ball on their own 18-yard line when O’Brien fumbled the shotgun snap. Defensive end Cedric McKinley recovered for the Gophers at the 11-yard line. After three plays and two timeouts, the Gophers could advance only to the 8-yard line. Ellestad then kicked what proved to be the winning field goal for a 16-13 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Ellestad shocked everyone in attendance by bouncing the ball off his foot. Kyle Sheehan grabbed the ball on his own 34-yard line and returned it nine yards to the 43. SDSU advanced to the Minnesota 44-yard line but could go no further as O’Brien threw four straight incomplete passes. Minnesota milked the clock down for more than a minute, and SDSU had only 38 seconds left to reach field goal range. Once again, O’Brien and his teammates were unable to significantly advance the ball, despite an improvised series of laterals on the last play of the game. Appropriately enough in an error-plagued contest, the game ended with an illegal forward pass penalty called on the Jackrabbits.

After the game, talk focused on Weber’s poor performance (10 completions in 21 attempts for only 94 yards), a Gopher rushing attack that was able to produce only 137 yards, and a pair of missed SDSU field goals that would have given them a victory. Coach Tim Brewster would hear none of it.

The following are post-game comments made by Brewster, followed by our reaction:

“I’m happy to have won our sixth game.”

Although it was by three points against a FCS team that the week before had been soundly drubbed, at home, by Southern Illinois. A meaningful sixth win would have come a week earlier against Illinois, but that did not happen. Minnesota had not played SDSU since 1933.

“Wins are hard to come by.”

Especially for you, coach. Your record since coming to Minneapolis in 2007 is 13 wins and 24 losses.

“We’re bowl eligible. How many teams can say that?”

Only about half of the teams in the NCAA’s FBS division. The bowl season this year will feature no less that 34 bowl games.

Perhaps, the most insightful quote came not from Brewster but was uttered by SDSU running back Kyle Minett, a native of Ruthton, Minn., who said that the Gophers were “no better than any other teams we’ve played this year.” Among those teams are Cal Poly, Missouri State, and Georgia Southern.

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