Hartman: Claeys' faith in Gophers players is rewarded with victory

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2013 - 12:08 AM
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The Gophers defense was in the face of Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian repeatedly Saturday, with Ra’Shede Hageman, left, and Cameron Botticelli knocking down this pass. The Gophers broke up eight passes in all.

Photo: (MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

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Not many Gophers football fans, nor media members, nor the Las Vegas sportsbooks who had Northwestern a double-digit favorite Saturday, believed the maroon and gold would beat the Wildcats for only the second time in seven meetings.

However, acting coach Tracy Claeys was one person convinced that the Gophers would upset the Wildcats, who had to play without two of their offensive stars in quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark, who were injured at Wisconsin.

Furthermore after studying the Gophers 42-13 loss to Michigan, Claeys believed the team had competed well with the Wolverines even though the score was not an indication of how close the game was.

So now the Gophers need one more win to go to their second bowl game in a row.

The Gophers scored only one offensive touchdown on a 29-yard pass from Philip Nelson to Derrick Engel, but they took advantage of the home team’s mistakes.

The turning point came when James Manuel intercepted a pass and took it 24 yards for a touchdown.

Nelson, who alternated at quarterback with Mitch Leidner, completed eight of 11 passes 112 yards and the one touchdown, while Leidner completed only one pass on three attempts for 11 yards. Rushing-wise Leidner had the edge with seven carries for 41 yards while Nelson had nine for 39. David Cobb was the big star on the ground for the Gophers with 20 carries for 106 of the team’s 176 yards.

Well, you won’t have a quarterback controversy. Because like how they operated against Northwestern, the two quarterbacks will do the same against Nebraska this week.

Vikings inconsistent

How can you account for a team going 12-4 and coming within an interception of reaching the Super Bowl, to the following season with basically the same personnel, starting 3-7, getting their coach fired and finishing 6-10?

And now that same situation that the Vikings faced in those 2009 and 2010 seasons might be happening again. They have gone from a 4-1 start to what was eventually a 10-6 playoff season a year ago to a 1-4 mark this year that has gotten the quarterback benched.

In 2009, Leslie Frazier was the defensive coordinator when Brett Favre led the Vikings to within a few plays of reaching the Super Bowl for the fifth time.

The next year, Favre decided to re-sign for one last chance at a Super Bowl. But after the team started 3-7, coach Brad Childress was fired and Frazier took over, going 3-3 the rest of the way before having his interim tag lifted in the offseason.

Frazier’s first season as full-time coach would only get worse as the team stumbled to a 3-13 record in 2011, and many thought the Vikings were in for a long rebuilding mode.

But last season Frazier surprised a lot of pundits when he took that last-place squad from the year before and earned a wild-card berth.

Now a year later, the Vikings sit at 1-4, they have removed Christian Ponder as the starting quarterback just a year after he started all 16 games in a playoff season, and their defense has gone from a solid unit in 2012 to one of the worst in the NFL statistically in 2013.

What’s amazing is that both in 2010 and 2013, the Vikings featured almost entirely the same personnel from the previous playoff seasons.

Answers hard to find

Frazier was asked how that happens.

“There are so many factors,” he said. “I mean it’s a new roster [this season] in a lot of ways, a lot of different people playing now. You see the situation that we have at quarterback; there are a lot of factors involved. It’s a new team. It really is a new team.”

He was hesitant to say that the same thing that happened to the team in 2010 is happening again this year.

“Ask me about that [situation] at the end of the season, my friend,” Frazier said. “We’re going to get it turned around and you’re going to say, ‘How in the heck did they turn that around?’ Just like they said, ‘How in the heck did they go from 3-13 to 10-6?’ We’re going to turn it around.”

Still, when pressed about the question of how a team such as the 2010 Vikings go from being maybe the second-best team in the NFL to having their coach fired 10 games into the season, Frazier said that there are often factors away from the field that can impact a team’s performance.

“There were a lot of things leading up to that season that I can’t talk about,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff. You know what it happens a lot in our league.”

Now the Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman will hope that newly signed quarterback Josh Freeman can lead the team back to success after it has again stumbled out of the gate.

SID’s JOTTINGS
• Giants quarterback Eli Manning has thrown 15 interceptions this season, including two in each of New York’s first two possessions vs. the Bears in a 27-21 loss in Week 6. The 15 interceptions put him on a pace to challenge the NFL record of 42 set by George Blanda in 1962. But how will Manning do against the leaky Vikings pass defense?

• The Vikings have given up 308 passing yards per game, 29th in the NFL, with only the Cowboys, Eagles and the Broncos ranking worse. And the Vikings have only 10 sacks this year, ahead of only the Bears, Steelers and Giants. One plus for the Vikings is that they have intercepted seven passes in five games.

• The just-released 2018 and ’19 Big Ten football schedules have the Gophers closing the season against Wisconsin both years, continuing a tradition of the past. The Gophers and Badgers haven’t finished the season against each other since 2007, but they will do so each of the next six years.

• Former Gophers assistants Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M and Tony Levine at Houston are having good seasons, but both coaches suffered shootout losses Saturday. Levine, who also played for the Gophers and was an assistant to Sumlin at Houston, was unbeaten before losing 47-46 to BYU. Sumlin’s Aggies fell to Auburn 45-41.

• If you recall the Gophers paid North Carolina $800,000 last year to get out of a home-and-home football series. Well, the Tar Heels are 1-5 this year. However on Thursday, unbeaten Miami had to score with 16 seconds left to beat them 27-23.

• Lefthander Craig Breslow was with the Twins in 2008 and ’09 and posted a 1-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 59 games. Now he is with Boston and was 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA in the regular season, and going into Saturday he had pitched six shutout innings with five strikeouts this postseason.

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