As the seconds ticked off on the scoreboard at TCF Stadium, the end of the Gophers football team’s unexpected 34-23 victory over No. 25 Nebraska on Saturday, there was a tap on my shoulder in my press box seat at TCF Bank Stadium.
Turning around I found it was the University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, who was very excited about the fact that the Gophers had won two Big Ten games in a row since the end of the 2010 season, when they beat Illinois and Iowa under interim coach Jeff Horton.
After that season, Kaler was involved in the hiring of Jerry Kill and his staff, and he said the Gophers are in good hands and that more victories are ahead for the young group of football players.
At every other place where Kill has coached, he has taken over a rundown football program and turned it around to win by its third year.
This is Kill’s third year, and after successive losses to Iowa and Michigan, it didn’t appear there was any chance of that happening here.
But now after qualifying for a second consecutive bowl appearance, you think anything could happen with this team if it plays like it did against Northwestern and Nebraska the past two weeks.
The Gophers had lost 16 in a row to the Cornhuskers, last won in 1960, and Saturday they beat a team that had lost only once all year, to UCLA. After falling behind 10-0, the Gophers got going against Nebraska the way UCLA did in winning 41-21 after trailing 21-3 in the second quarter.
Acting coach Tracy Claeys talked about how tremendous the mood of the team was.
“Not one time did you think that the kids panicked,” Claeys said. “They all stayed in there together. It’s all about confidence. I couldn’t be prouder of them. We’ve gotten better in the weight room, our academics are better. Those kids are up there till 10 o’clock at night doing study halls and tutors. They’re putting in a hell of a lot of time right now, and it’s good to see them get rewarded for all the hard work they’re putting in.”
Now they have to win at Indiana next week to keep building up the excitement.
Ponder ready for chance
The last time Christian Ponder suited up against the Green Bay Packers, he played his best game of the 2012 season, capping off an extremely effective four-game stretch in which he helped the Vikings into the playoffs.
Now, he will get another chance to try and turn a Vikings season around and prove that he can be the player the team saw at the end of last year, when facing Green Bay he completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 120.2 QB rating that stands as the best of his career.
Still it’s interesting to note that if it wasn’t for the concussion suffered by Josh Freeman on Monday night, Ponder likely wouldn’t be in this position.
With that in mind, Ponder was asked how he felt when the 2011 first-round pick got the news that he would get another shot to start.
“I was excited,” he said. “You know it’s an opportunity for me to get out there and get this job back and we’re playing a rivalry game against the Packers at home. I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s a way for me to get this job back.
“We want to get back on track. We don’t like our record right now and we know it’s going to be a tough game, but I think just from the attitude of the guys this week, everyone is understanding that we have a sense of urgency that we need to win, and we need to start now.”
Ponder also said the offense should be able to have a more diverse playbook this week compared to last week against the Giants. “[Freeman] was put in a tough situation and a difficult situation, but we do have a little bit more in this week,” Ponder said.