The Gophers football team had a lot of heroes in its third consecutive conference victory Saturday, beating Indiana 42-39 — a victory over an opponent that was a nine-point favorite on its home field.
There was Aaron Hill, a redshirt senior linebacker who recovered a fumble by Indiana’s Tevin Coleman with 25 seconds to play as the Gophers were trying to keep the Hoosiers out of the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. Indiana had second-and-goal from the Gophers 9-yard line.
Hill was smart enough to know that the pass Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld had thrown to Coleman didn’t go forward, making the ball live at the Gophers 23-yard line. Hill picked up the ball and started running the other way, a recovery that led to only the Gophers’ third victory in Bloomington since 1969.
Yes, Hill was a hero, but so was quarterback Philip Nelson, who completed 16 of 23 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, the most important of all the 50-yarder to Maxx Williams that put the Gophers back in front with 1:53 to play after Indiana had come all the way back from a 35-13 deficit in the third quarter.
However, without the great rushing of David Cobb, who rushed 29 times for 188 yards and kept the talented Hoosiers offense off the field, the Gophers would not have won. He picked up a final first down after Hill’s recovery with an 11-yard run, enabling the Gophers to run out the clock.
Cobb, a junior from Killeen, Texas, has found himself a big part of the past three Gophers victories, rushing for more than 100 yards in each game.
Through the first two years of his career, Cobb had rushed for only 65 yards on 11 carries. Now, with 429 yards on 80 carries over the past three games, he has accumulated 803 yards on 140 carries this season.
Cobb had only six of the Gophers’ 38 carries in the season opener against UNLV, then had nine carries at New Mexico State and 13 against Western Illinois.
But he had 25 carries for 125 yards against San Jose State, showing what he could do.
All the Gophers running backs struggled to get going in their first two Big Ten games, losses to Iowa and Michigan; in those two games, Cobb combined for 15 carries for 42 yards. But he has taken off of late, and the Gophers have taken off with him.
Cobb has also become a much more dangerous receiving threat. Cobb had caught one pass his entire collegiate career before this season. This year he has 11 receptions for 118 yards, including a career-high 27-yarder Saturday.
Vikings maintained faith in Ponder
While most of the media had retired Christian Ponder as the Vikings starting quarterback when Josh Freeman was signed, both General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier have never given up on the 2011 first-round draft choice.
Spielman and Frazier have made it clear that they still believe all Ponder needs is some more experience to develop into a good quarterback.
So all the talk about Ponder not starting again this year was clearly off base, as he will start his second game since Freeman was acquired Sunday at Dallas.
There is a little more pressure on Ponder to produce in this game, since he was raised in Texas and will have a great number of relatives and friends watching the game.
However, Ponder said he grew up a Broncos fan, even though he lived closer to the Cowboys.
“I grew up a Denver Broncos fan because of John Elway, but I followed Dallas a little bit,” he said.
It will be his first game in Dallas.
Before last week’s game against Green Bay, Ponder hadn’t played in a month because of a rib injury, a bye week and losing his starting job, first to Matt Cassel and then Freeman.
Asked if facing the Packers helped him get back into playing shape after the long layoff, Ponder said: “I think so. I’ll be ready to go this week and everybody needs to be on top of their game, because Dallas is a good team, but we’re looking forward to it.
“It will be fun, it will be cool. I never got to play in the old [Cowboys] stadium, to be out there in the new one, especially how cool the stadium is, it’ll be a cool experience.”
Ponder also said his confidence is high, both in himself and the struggling Vikings.
“I’m confident in this team, but we know it’s going to be a tough challenge,” he said. “Dallas is a good team and they’re 4-4 and fighting to get above .500, and it’s going to be tough at their house.
“We have to get ourselves on track but it will be fun to be at home and play in front of my family and everything.”
How many tickets did he buy?
“I didn’t have to get as many as Adrian [Peterson],” Ponder said. “I know Adrian bought out half the stadium but there will be a few of my family members there.”
Peterson also is a Texas native, and the reigning NFL MVP is sure to have a number of fans at the enormous stadium supporting him.
• Gophers freshmen football players who have not yet played are expected be redshirted, meaning they would have four years of eligibility left even though they have been able to practice. This group includes highly rated running back Berkley Edwards from Novi, Mich.
• The Timberwolves are setting all kinds of records for ticket sales. This year’s single-game Internet pregame sale was the team’s most successful ever, doubling last year’s totals.
• Former Wild star Marian Gaborik, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets after getting traded from the New York Rangers last season, is having another great start to the season. Gaborik entered Saturday night with 10 points — on five assists and five goals — in 11 games.
• Former Star Tribune sports reporter Jon Roe announced in his column for Minnesota Golfer that he is retiring from golf reporting after 50 years.
• Devoe Joseph, the former Gophers men’s basketball guard who transferred to Oregon, is playing for FIATC Joventut Badalona in Spain and is averaging 13 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest.
• MarQueis Gray caught his first professional pass for the Cleveland Browns last week, a 5-yard reception against the Kansas City Chiefs. The former Gophers quarterback, now playing tight end in the NFL, also has two carries for 8 yards on the season.
• Kris Humphries, the former Gophers and Hopkins standout, played his first game with the Boston Celtics this week and scored eight points on 3-of-4 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes at Toronto. This is Humphries’ 10th NBA season and the Celtics are his fifth team, after Utah, Toronto, Dallas and New Jersey/Brooklyn.