Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA -- The Gophers will play for the Big Ten West Division title next week at Wisconsin.
They put themselves in that position because they delivered a gut-check second-half performance to upset Nebraska 28-24 at Memorial Stadium.
The Gophers trailed 21-7 at halftime, but made a number of critical plays in the comeback.
Mitch Leidner, who has struggled with his accuracy, led the Gophers on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown that he capped with a 3-yard run for the final points. Huge drive for Leidner's confidence and development.
The key play was Leidner's perfectly placed 38-yard deep ball to KJ Maye along the sideline on third-and-6. That put the Gophers in at least field goal position.
The Gophers defense had to make a stop, which they got after awful roughing-the-passer call against defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli.
But Brien Boddy-Calhoun made a game-saving strip on a completion near the goal line by De'Mornay Pierson-El. The Gophers were able to run out the clock.
The Gophers played hard and got two huge plays on defense by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, but they lost to a more talented Ohio State team 31-24 on a snowy day at TCF Bank Stadium.
The difference in this game was Buckeyes freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who hurt the Gophers with his passing and running. Barrett passed for 200 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 189 yards and one touchdown.
On the flip side, Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner completed only 7 of 19 passed for 85 yards with two second-half interceptions.
David Cobb ran with heart in piling up 145 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Gophers in the game. But the Gophers needed more from their passing game than 85 yards and two interceptions to upset a team as talented as the Buckeyes.
Well, the Gophers answered how they’d respond to a bad loss and a difficult start to their November stretch run.
No one could have expected this outcome though.
The Gophers put together a thoroughly dominating performance to throttle rival Iowa 51-14 at TCF Bank Stadium.
I admittedly have a bad memory, but I can’t remember a game like this from a Gophers team, as either a beat writer or columnist. Not in an important game against a big rival. Their performance also makes their loss at Illinois two weeks ago even more perplexing.
The Gophers played darn near a perfect first half to take a 35-7 lead to the locker room. Jerry Kill’s team took control after a shaky opening series by the defense.
Lot of credit to pass around after this performance.
The defense bottled up the run and forced three turnovers in the first half.
Tight end Maxx Williams was brilliant with three touchdown catches and one highlight reel grab along the sideline on a ridiculous individual effort to drag his toes.
Mitch Leidner looked sharp throwing the ball and ran the ball well in a bounce-back performance.
Kill got his team focused and ready to play after the tough loss to Illinois and his coordinators – Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover – had smart, aggressive game plans.
With the score still close, Claeys called back-to-back corner blitzes for Eric Murray in the first half and it worked effectively. Murray caused an errant pass on a quarterback hit the first time and then forced a quick throw short of the first down sticks on the second one.
Limegrover also had a good day. He called a number of Jet Sweeps for KJ Maye, who hurt Iowa on the edge and rushed for 53 yards on six carries before halftime.
Limegrover also showed confidence in Leidner after Murray got a hand on an Iowa punt, causing it to travel only 14 yards. On the first play, Limegrover called a play-action pass and Leidner connected with Donovahn Jones for a 44-yard touchdown.
The Vikings survived a roller-coaster game against Washington for a 29-26 victory to enter the bye on a positive note.
Teddy Bridgewater had some bad throws and tough moments but he settled down and made plays down the stretch to secure the win.
To me, the key to this win came in significant contributions from a few backups and role players. Matt Asiata scored three touchdowns, a two-point conversion and ran hard near the goal line.
Tight ends Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison made some important catches and helped Bridgewater in the passing game.
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson contributed on a sack on Washington's final drive.
Those players played a critical role in helping the Vikings win and improve to 4-5.
CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – Thud.
That’s the sound of the Gophers season slamming into a brick wall. We should have known better than to believe this team might be different.
Saturday’s game was supposed to be a final tune-up for the Gophers before the grind of November hit.
Instead, the Gophers looked asleep for the first half and coughed up a late lead to lose 28-24 to an Illinois team that entered the game 0-3 in the Big Ten.
The Gophers had visions of returning home 7-1, 4-0 in the Big Ten with a pivotal four-game stretch on tap, starting with Iowa in two weeks.
And now? Yawn.
The Gophers had a chance to win after moving the ball to the Illinois’ 26-yard line. But Mitch Leidner threw three incompletions and then was sacked and fumbled on fourth down.
Leidner’s performance was all over the map. He completed a few big plays in the third quarter to give his team a spark. But he threw the ball wildly and made poor decisions in the pocket to kill any momentum.
David Cobb fumbled on third-and-long with 6½ minutes left in the fourth quarter and Illinois cornerback V’Angelo Bentley scooped it up and ran 15 yards for a touchdown to give Illinois the lead for good.
The Gophers were awful offensively in the first half, managing only 3 points and 86 total yards against the Big Ten’s worst defense. Illinois gave up, on average, 40.3 points and 402.7 yards rushing in its first three conference games.