So this is what a halftime lead feels like.
The Gophers are in their TCF Bank Stadium locker room, basking in the unfamiliar feeling of their first halftime lead of the season, 21-14 over Northwestern. Minnesota has benefitted from a pair of Wildcat fumbles, including one inside the Gophers' 5-yard line, and a series of ill-timed penalties.
But the Gophers have also played smarter and with more enthusiasm as the game as gone on. Four of Minnesota's first five possessions ended in punts -- uniformly short punts, too -- but the Gophers have put together a pair of long touchdown drives to end the half. They've mixed up the playbook by throwing to running backs (Duane Bennett was left unguarded for a 38-yard touchdown pass), to the tight end (Eric Lair set up a score with a 42-yard reception), and even a pass from the running back to the tight end (Bennett to Lair for an 8-yard score).
The defense has settled in, too, after surrendering a pair of worrisome quick-strike touchdowns in the game's first eight minutes. Northwestern, which came in 4-0, needed only 2:43 -- their total on a PAIR of touchdown drives -- to go 67 and 74 yards for scores. But the Gophers have forced a couple of fumbles and held the Wildcats on their last two possessions of the half, giving the offense time to take the lead.
It's been the shootout that fans expected -- the teams have combined for 485 yards in the first half -- but it's also been the most complete game (well, half-game) the Gophers have put together this year.