Despite adversity, Gophers persevere

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2010 - 9:30 PM

Saturday's Big Ten road victory over Illinois is a tribute to a team and coaching staff that never gave up.

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Gophers interim head football coach Jeff Horton got plenty of hugs — and a Gatorade bath — after his team stopped Illinois.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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On the Big Ten Network postgame show on Saturday, former Gophers football coach Glen Mason and his cohorts were talking about what a great job the U coaches and players have done hanging together after nine consecutive losses to be able to go on the road and beat Illinois, one of the better teams in the Big Ten.

They talked about how much heart this team must have.

And it was the first Big Ten victory in November for the Gophers since Mason was coaching the team in 2006.

But Mason and his group don't know the half of what this players have gone through this season, and despite that, they have played hard in every game -- for example, outscoring Michigan State in the second half last week.

As the team prepared last week for Illinois, the offensive linemen didn't wear pads so as to rest their legs, because they had only one backup lineman available.

The normal traveling squad is 70. Minnesota had only 57 players eligible and available to fly to Illinois. And the Gophers had 58 for the trip to Michigan State.

The NCAA allows 85 players on scholarship. The Gopher have only 76 on the squad.

As for the Gophers' 38-34 victory, what a performance put on by quarterback Adam Weber, completing 20 of 36 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns. And what a job he did directing the team on the final drive, 10 plays for 80 yards to clinch the victory.

Yes, this young man has taken his share of abuse from fans who wanted him replaced by MarQueis Gray.

So you have to take your hat off to interim coach Jeff Horton and his staff for keeping this team interested in playing football under horrible conditions after Tim Brewster was fired.

And what if the Gophers beat Iowa, which lost to Northwestern on Saturday, in the season finale at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 27?

I'm sure I will get my share of criticism for even suggesting that athletic director Joel Maturi and the geniuses who will decide who the next coach will be, but maybe Horton should be considered as Brewster's successor if the Gophers can't find a big-name replacement. Horton has a lot of head coaching experience with a lot of success. And if you want my opinion, this staff is one of the best the Gophers have had with three coaches -- Horton, Tim Davis and Kevin Cosgrove -- who were at Wisconsin when the Badgers went to two Rose Bowls.

Harvin will play

Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, who had some migraine problems during the week and missed practice, will definitely play Sunday against the Bears. ... Look for running back Toby Gerhart to see his most action Sunday. ... Vikings quarterback Brett Favre will get a good test from the Bears defense, if their past record means anything. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 68.9 against the Bears, second behind only to the Packers.

While the Vikings had only six sacks going into the Arizona game last Sunday, they now have 12 -- the same number as the Bears. Last Sunday in beating the Bills 21-19, the Bears sacked quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick only once, but they had 12 quarterback hits.

Mike Tice, the former Vikings offensive line coach and head coach and now the Bears line coach, has been shuffling his line all year. Tice, who is very familiar with the Vikings defensive line, said, "We're going to find out [Sunday] if we are man enough." The Bears will have their starting five healthy and ready to play for the first time this season. The Bears offensive line had its worst day this season when it gave up 10 sacks to the Giants.

About the Vikings defensive line, Tice told the Chicago Tribune: "When I watch the tape I am very proud of the players we either drafted or brought in and how well they have played. Very proud, and why wouldn't you be? You look at them as your guys. They are not my guys any more, but I had something with bringing some of them in there."

While the Vikings have only nine takeaways this year, the Bears have 20 takeaways, second to the Steelers' 21. However, the Bears have converted those into 43 points in eight games, 26th in the league.

Bears receiver Devin Hester has been a problem for the Vikings as far kick returns in the past. But this year, the Vikings have allowed an average of 3.5 yards per punt return, the lowest in the league. The longest allowed by the Vikings has been 9 yards. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's net average of 42.1 yards per punt is the best in the NFL.

Jottings

According to Bodog.com, the Vikings were 11-to-1 in preseason to win the Super Bowl. The odds were 40-to-1 before beating Arizona, and they have now improved to 30-to-1. The Bears were 30-to-1 before the season, 50-to-1 after last week and fell to 80-to-1 this week.

The Twins have finalized plans to play a pair of exhibition games in Atlanta against the Braves on March 29-30 in advance of the season opener in Toronto on April 1. ... Twins season tickets for the 2011 season are at 94 percent renewal, and it's a cinch they will reach 25,000 for a second consecutive season. Meanwhile, more than 2,000 people have made deposits to join the "On Deck Circle," the Twins season ticket waiting list. ... Twins single-game tickets are tentatively scheduled to go on sale on March 19.

The Twins were happy to see the Lee County Board of Commissioners in Fort Myers, Fla., initiate plans to acquire 15 acres of land south of the Twins spring training complex. The land could be used for future expansion of the complex.

Twins pitchers and catchers will report to spring training on Feb. 17, with the balance of the squad reporting on Feb. 22.

Through seven games with the Sacramento Mountain Lions in the UFL, former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper is 142-for-239 completions for 1,469 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has also rushed for 57 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown. Culpepper is playing under former Vikings coach Dennis Green, and the Mountain Lions are 3-4 overall and in fourth place.

Watertown native Matt Janning is playing with the Phoenix Suns this year after signing a multiyear contract in the offseason. Janning went undrafted after finishing four years at Northeastern University. Janning was named the All-Colonial Athletic Association's player of the year last season after averaging 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He has yet to appear in regular-season action with the Suns.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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