The Gophers football team finished the season 8-4, a record nobody expected other than maybe Jerry Kill and the coaching staff.
The Gophers lost 14-3 at Michigan State on Saturday, when a Spartans defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation still gave up 101 rushing yards to the Gophers’ David Cobb, who put on a good performance even though he was injured early in the game.
A week ago, three turnovers killed the Gophers’ chances of beating Wisconsin, but the Badgers only won 20-7 in a game many expected to be a rout.
It happened again Saturday. Three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble — killed any chance for the Gophers scoring one of the bigger upsets in program history.
Defensively, the Gophers did well against the Badgers and the Spartans, but they have now gone 10 quarters without a touchdown. One of the reasons for that is a struggling passing game, one the Gophers will have to improve on next year.
Commenting on the opportunities the Gophers had to beat a Michigan State team that went 8-0 in the Big Ten and will play Ohio State next week for the conference title, Kill said: “We had the ball 38 minutes to their 21. We missed a field goal and then we had many opportunities inside their 30-yard line and came away with nothing.
“We did some good things against their defense that a lot of people have not done. And when you are No. 1 in the country in defense you have a chance to win a lot of games.”
A year ago the Gophers went 6-7 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten. It is a different story looking ahead to the 2014 season.
The geniuses won’t be picking the Gophers for last. They have a chance to compete with the best next year.
Bad memories of McCown
Veteran quarterback Josh McCown has filled in for Jay Cutler and beaten the Vikings at Mall of America Field before. He did it in the 2011 season finale, a 17-13 victory on New Year’s Day 2012 that ended a 3-13 Vikings season.
But certainly former Vikings coach Mike Tice will never forget McCown as a 24-year-old quarterback who led the Arizona Cardinals to a last-second victory in 2003, costing the Vikings a playoff spot.
McCown was leading an Arizona team that was 3-12 and not headed anywhere. Meanwhile, the Vikings were 9-6 and leading the Cardinals 17-6 with seven minutes left in the game in Tempe.
The Vikings appeared a cinch to hold on to the victory and make the playoffs. However, McCown led a 60-yard touchdown drive to make it 17-12 with 1 minute, 54 seconds to play — Arizona failed on a two-point conversion attempt — and the Cardinals then recovered an onside kick.
McCown was sacked twice in a row — first by Kevin Williams, then by Lance Johnstone. McCown fumbled on the second sack, but Arizona recovered. Still, it was fourth-and-25 from the Vikings 28-yard line and the clock was running down.
With 4 seconds left, McCown got a snap off. He dropped back, scrambled right and found Nate Poole in the end zone just along the right sideline. Poole jumped to make the catch; he only got one foot inbounds, but the officials ruled he was forced out by Denard Walker, and the 28-yard touchdown catch was upheld by review. They changed the rule in 2008, meaning that same play today would be called an incomplete pass.
Instead, McCown performed a miracle in only his third start and the Packers instead of the Vikings won the NFC North and went to the playoffs.
Williams is the only current Vikings player who was with the team for that Arizona game. He had eight tackles, three sacks and an interception in the final game of his rookie year. The way Williams has looked lately, you wonder if he could have a game like that again against McCown.
Familiar faces in Maui
Had the results been a bit different, the Gophers might have faced both former Gophers guard Justin Cobbs and Osseo High School product Sam Dower in the Maui Invitational. But the Gophers missed playing both Cobbs’ California team and Dower’s Gonzaga squad.
Cobbs, who played only one season with the Gophers for Tubby Smith before transferring to Cal, is now a senior. He broke his right foot in August but recovered in time for the start of the season. He is averaging 15.6 points per game this season after scoring 64 points in three games in Hawaii, including 31 points in Wednesday’s 82-64 loss to Dayton in the third-place game.
Dower also had a good tournament in Maui, scoring 18 or 19 points in each game as 11th-ranked Gonzaga went 2-1. The 6-9 senior center is averaging 15.0 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
• Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is one of 40 coaches nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the best assistant coach in college football.
• The leaky Bears defense might be improved against the Vikings on Sunday by the presence of defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff, the former Cowboys Pro Bowl player who was signed by Chicago Nov. 4 and will be playing for the first time in more than a year, and Stephen Paea, who has been sidelined because of a toe problem.
• Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin suffered a broken leg that will knock him out four to six weeks and possibly jeopardize a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. It’s the latest bit of bad luck for the former Gophers standout, who missed the 2010 Olympics because of a broken arm. “That’s been my biggest disappointment as an athlete, to this point,” Martin said earlier this year, according to the Sporting News. “It took a long time for me to accept the fact that I wasn’t going.”
• Former Vikings center Matt Birk had an interesting interview with the Baltimore Ravens website where the 15-year NFL veteran, who retired after the Super Bowl, said that even if he had known about the long-term effects of concussions early in his career, he still would have kept playing. “If I was in my second year in the NFL and all these studies came out and said you’re at higher risk for CTE or ALS or Alzheimer’s by playing football, I would have just filed that away and kept playing,” he said. “We’re all called to do something in our lives. You’ve got to live your life.”
• The Colorado Rockies appear to be very interested in former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, the Denver Post reported, calling him “their primary target.” Morneau would rejoin former Twins teammate Michael Cuddyer with Colorado, and fill a void at first base left by the retired Todd Helton.