U working on an expected surprise

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2012 - 10:26 AM

The Gophers embrace their underdog role even if a win vs. Iowa extends a habit.

The Gophers' victory over Iowa last season was such a bolt of lightning in a 1-6 (at the time) season, the NCAA changed the rules.

"The [onside] kick we used, we can't kick it anymore," special teams coach Jay Sawvel said. The NCAA "took it away."

OK, the rule change, allowing the receiving team to call for a fair catch of a spike-kicked ball, wasn't actually aimed at the Gophers, though they have recovered onside kicks in each of their back-to-back victories over the Hawkeyes.

But maybe it's for the best that the Gophers don't rely on the element of surprise in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Just being undefeated as the Big Ten season opens, just being competitive with their brethren, comes as surprise enough.

"I'm not sure how many people expected us to be here" in first place in the Legends Division, said Gophers coach Jerry Kill. "I can tell you this, we were picked last in the Big Ten. And rightfully so."

See, the Gophers don't mind being underdogs. It fits their nobody-believes meme, provides constant motivation, and fits nicely on an underdog-themed T-shirt several players have been wearing this year. A TV screen near the entrance to the locker room this week displayed an image of Floyd of Rosedale below the teams' records: Minnesota 4-0, Iowa 2-2. And the caption on the bottom?

"Minnesota: 7-point underdog."

Infuriating? Galvanizing? The Gophers hope so.

But this, too, is true: It remains difficult to tell, without benefit of Big Ten play, whether the Gophers' record reflects their ability or their schedule.

"We're really happy about [being 4-0], but it doesn't mean much if you can't win [Big Ten] games," said defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, who, as the Gophers' primary run-stopper, will play a pivotal role in trying to capture Floyd for a third year in a row. "People won't believe we're different now."

Changing opinions is almost as difficult as changing the culture, which is why all of the Gophers' statistical improvement, especially on defense, is so frequently discounted. They're ranked 11th nationally in pass-efficiency defense, ninth in interceptions and, as defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys points out, would rank among the top 20 in fewest points allowed, if not for the three overtime periods at UNLV.

Even Claeys, though, takes a wait-and-see approach toward the Gophers' improvement. He doesn't see credibility on the line Saturday, in part because he isn't sure what his defense has proven yet. "I don't think you can say that until the end of the year," Claeys said. "The stats, they're good for people to talk about, but I'm more interested in where we're at in those stats at turkey time [Thanksgiving]."

He'd like them to say the Gophers can stop the run, given that the day's big challenge will be in stopping walk-on running back Mark Weisman, who went from blocking back to Heisman candidate in the space of two weeks. Weisman had two carries in Iowa's first two games but erupted for 330 yards the past two weeks, including three touchdowns in each game. He's big -- 225 pounds -- and strong, and runs in a style that, for the Gophers, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to that of Marcus Coker, who bulled his way to 252 yards against them last year.

"We won't be able to do that again and win. We've got to get enough people off their blocks in close to stop the run, without giving up the play-action pass over the top. That's really the challenge," Claeys said. "He can come downhill all he wants, but without any blocking, he's not going to get very many yards. They do a great job up front, they really do. He hardly ever gets hit before the line of scrimmage, and by the time you get that much momentum going forward, he's going to get 3 or 4 yards no matter what."

That's the challenge. Credibility, real credibility, in the form of poll votes, betting lines and actual respect, is the reward. That and a bronze pig.

"It's hard to win on the road," Claeys said. "But as long as we show improvement, keep the ball in front of us, I really believe we'll have an opportunity to win the ballgame."

  • related content

  • The Call: Gophers at Iowa

    Saturday September 29, 2012

    Iowa has scored the fewest points in the Big Ten, leading to a disappointing 2-2 start -- including home losses to Iowa State and Central Michigan.

  • The Gophers' defensive improvement was on display last Saturday, as linebacker Aaron Hill celebrated his third-quarter fumble recovery.

  • GOPHERS AT IOWA • 11 a.m. today • TV: ESPN2 (100.3-FM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Carolina 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Montreal 7:30 PM
Chicago
Arizona 8:00 PM
Edmonton
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pm30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 am
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Gophers do against Michigan?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close