We have decided to pass over the depressing football played on Sunday ... and even pass up (at least for now) the opportunity to talk about the 3-0 Wolves or the getting-it-together Wild in order to swing back to Saturday and take another look at a Gophers football program that is starting to capture some imaginations.
We said it in print today, but we'll say it again: that game Saturday against Indiana was precisely the type of game they have lost so many times in the past 15 years. It was scripted uncannily -- get everybody believing, put together a big lead (35-13 in this case), give it all back, offer one more glimmer of hope and then collapse for good.
The difference, of course, was the final act. Instead of the inevitable game-winning TD or even the game-tying FG that led to an overtime win, Indiana ran one of the worst plays in football -- regardless of outcome -- at the worst possible time. If there is a higher-risk, lower-reward play than the slightly backward swing pass, we have no idea what it is. But that's what the Hoosiers ran. Aaron Hill scooped up the gift, and away we go. Momentum remains on the Gophers' side, as evidenced by these numbers:
*3: The Gophers became just the third college team since 1980 to win three consecutive games in which it was the underdog by a TD or more, per R.J. Bell at Pregame.com.
*7 and 18: Number of votes Minnesota received, respectively, in the AP and Coaches' polls.
*607: Combined yards passing for the Gophers in these last three victories, showing they can throw effectively when needed.
*695: Combined rushing yards for the Gophers in these last three victories, an average of just over 230 per game and the establishment of an identity on the ground.
*1973: The last time the Gophers won four consecutive Big Ten games in one season, which they have a chance to do Saturday against Penn State.
There is still much work to be done, but we have a theory that when we look back on this program in five years, the smart person will look for a turning point and find not the Northwestern or Nebraska victory, but rather the Indiana win. That was the one the Gophers could never never get before -- the winnable game to sustain momentum.