Gophers goal: Create another 'Nebraska Saturday'

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2014 - 6:59 AM

Will the impact from a Nebraska upset last fall mean more victories this season or a stronger future?


Gophers offensive lineman Josh Campion was caught in the postgame hysteria after last October’s 34-23 victory over Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium. This year’s game against the Cornhuskers is on Nov. 22 in Lincoln.

The fans in maroon and gold sweatshirts at the team hotel meant well, but Tracy Claeys sensed their doubts.

He and the other Gophers football coaches had awoken that cool morning, last Oct. 26, feeling certain their game plan for Nebraska could work. Players were equally confident at the team breakfast and welcomed everyone’s well wishes as they assembled for the short bus ride to campus.

“There are some good people, good fans out there,” Claeys said the next day. “But they’ll say, ‘Boy, you’ve got a tough one today.’ Everywhere the players go, that’s all they hear.”

Claeys, the day’s acting head coach, wasn’t faulting anyone. Oddsmakers had pegged the Gophers as 10-point underdogs, and given their history, it was fair to wonder if this would be that close. Minnesota was 0-16 against Nebraska since 1960, had lost those games by an average of 31.5 points, and hadn’t even held a lead against the Cornhuskers since 1969.

But this day would be different. By game’s end, attitudes would change. The Gophers could feel it on the bus, as they followed their police escort to TCF Bank Stadium. For four quarters, they would reshape a rivalry, re-establish beliefs and legitimize a rebuilding effort.

They essentially dominated the game’s final 50 minutes and then celebrated in a sea of fans a 34-23 victory that will stand as the first signature victory of the Jerry Kill Era. It was arguably the biggest win for the Gophers since they broke into the Big House in 2005 and beat Michigan.

Now, as a new season begins this week, the Gophers can scan their schedule and aspire to make more magical moments. Maybe they’ll pull off another win at Michigan (Sept. 26). Maybe they’ll stun a beat-up Ohio State team in Minneapolis (Nov. 15). Maybe they’ll reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 11 years when they play at Wisconsin (Nov. 29).

The possibilities are one reason why people love college football. Teams across the nation are dreaming of days like the Gophers had against Nebraska — when a game plan comes together perfectly, when players stretch themselves beyond their supposed limits, when a team’s own expectations are finally met, and yes, when legions of doubters end up storming the field.


At 10:40 a.m., 20 minutes before kickoff, Kill pulled the Gophers together inside their vast locker room for a quick pep talk.

He wore a maroon pullover, with a purple ribbon pinned at the crest for the Gophers second annual Epilepsy Awareness Game. Three weeks earlier, a seizure had kept Kill from making the trip to Michigan, forcing him to miss a full game for the first time in his 30-year coaching career.

Kill had taken a two-week leave to treat his epilepsy and then surprised players by showing up for their upset victory at Northwestern. He spent the Nebraska game in the press box, while Claeys served as acting coach on the sideline.

But behind the scenes, Kill had remained the team’s inspirational leader. Like usual, his players took a knee to hear this speech.

“Life is about one day a time; ain’t nothing guaranteed,” Kill told them. “So when you get done today, just know you did your best.”

A turning point

Sunshine covered the five-year-old stadium, which would fill with a near-capacity crowd of 49,995. The Gophers came through their tunnel wearing maroon jerseys and gold pants, and Nebraska wore its classic road attire — white jerseys, red pants and those famous white helmets with the red “N.”

Nebraska was 5-1, having reeled off three easy wins since a disappointing meltdown against UCLA. Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez was back from a foot injury. He and the Cornhuskers had throttled the Gophers 38-14 one year earlier in Lincoln, and this started ominously for Minnesota, too.

Martinez lofted a 42-yard pass to Kenny Bell, setting up a quick touchdown, and drove the Cornhuskers to Minnesota’s 17-yard-line on the second drive. The student section was still rubbing sleep from its eyes, and Nebraska was poised to take a two-touchdown lead.

  • 2014 SCHEDULE

    TV: The first two games are on the Big Ten Network, the TCU game will be on Fox Sports 1 and the rest are yet to be announced.

    Date Opponent Location Time

    Aug. 28 vs. Eastern Illinois TCF Bank Stadium 6:00 p.m.

    Sept. 6 vs. Middle Tenn. St. TCF Bank Stadium 2:30 p.m.

    Sept. 13 at TCU Fort Worth, Texas 3:00 p.m.

    Sept. 20 vs. San Jose State TCF Bank Stadium TBA

    Sept. 27 at Michigan Ann Arbor, Mich. TBA

    Oct. 11 vs. Northwestern TCF Bank Stadium TBA

    Oct. 18 vs. Purdue TCF Bank Stadium 11:00 a.m.

    Oct. 25 at Illinois Champaign, Ill. 11:00 a.m.

    Nov. 8 vs. Iowa TCF Bank Stadium TBA

    Nov. 15 vs. Ohio State TCF Bank Stadium TBA

    Nov. 22 at Nebraska Lincoln, Neb. TBA

    Nov. 29 at Wisconsin Madison, Wis. TBA

    GOPHERS season opener

    6 p.m. Thursday vs. Eastern Illinois TCF Bank Stadium • TV: BTN (107.9-FM)


    Today: Gophers’ goal: Another Nebraska

    Monday: national preview

    Tuesday: Big Ten East preview

    Wednesday: Big Ten West preview

    Thursday: Gophers gameday

    Signature victory no. 2?

    Signature win no. 2?

    If the Gophers pull off another whopper this season, it will come on one of these days:

    Sept. 27: The Gophers could bust into the Big House and beat a lesser Michigan team.

    Nov. 8: If Iowa, preseason ranked just outside the Top 25, exceeds expectations and rides high into TCF, a takedown here would be big.

    Nov. 15: Even without Braxton Miller, Ohio State is still a juicy, big-name target at TCF for the Gophers.

    Nov. 22: Beating Nebraska at home was one thing. A win in Lincoln would be a true stunner.

    Nov. 29: Pry Paul Bunyan’s Axe from the Badgers in Madison and Kill would have his biggest W yet.

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Golden State
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Montreal 1
NY Islanders 1 3rd Prd 12:46
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Seton Hall 90
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Tennessee 71
Texas Tech 58 FINAL
West Virginia 77
Arkansas 56 FINAL
Florida 57
Penn State 58 FINAL
Illinois 60
Lipscomb 73 FINAL
Stetson 75
South Florida 71 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Bradley 58 FINAL
Indiana State 64
UMass Lowell 69 2nd Half 0:15
Binghamton 75
Green Bay 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 76
Georgetown 67 FINAL
Creighton 40
Coll of Charleston 55 2nd Half 1:44
Delaware 65
Villanova 58 2nd Half 5:08
DePaul 48
Vermont 65 FINAL
Hartford 46
Iowa State 83
Kennesaw St 51 FINAL
Jacksonville 50
Kansas State 54 2nd Half 0:23
Kansas 67
Boston Univ 77 2nd Half 0:40
Lehigh 83
Illinois State 46 2nd Half 1:56
Loyola-Chicago 44
Albany 77 FINAL
Maine 59
Butler 58 1st OT
Marquette 58
LSU 63 2nd Half 0:20
Miss State 67
Mount St Marys 77 FINAL
Sacred Heart 71
Richmond 56 2nd Half 0:52
VA Commonwealth 52
Virginia Tech 65 2nd Half 1:34
Wake Forest 67
IUPU-Ft Wayne 75 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 65
Arkansas State 38 2nd Half 4:55
Georgia State 69
Loyola-Maryland 21 2nd Half
Army 24
Tenn Tech 30 2nd Half
Belmont 37
Bethune-Cookman 19 1st Half 2:38
Florida A&M 12
Valparaiso 39 2nd Half
Ill-Chicago 25
UAB 33 2nd Half
TX-San Antonio 29
Idaho State 26 2nd Half
North Dakota 37
Evansville 27 2nd Half
Drake 29
Rutgers 30 1st Half 0:03
Indiana 32
Ball State 26 1st Half 6:15
Miami-Ohio 25
Southern U 3:00 PM
Alcorn State
UNC-Wilmington 3:00 PM
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William & Mary 3:00 PM
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St Francis-PA 2
Massachusetts 3:00 PM
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Wagner 6
SIU Edwardsville 3:15 PM
Eastern Ill
Ohio 3:30 PM
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UMKC 9:30 PM
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Sacred Heart 71
Texas-El Paso 53 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 74
Arkansas State 61 FINAL
Georgia State 47
Bryant 84 FINAL
Robert Morris 87
Central Conn St 83 FINAL
Wagner 67
Fairleigh Dickinson 78 FINAL
St Francis-PA 60
Long Island 53 FINAL
St Francis-NY 62
Bethune-Cookman 70 FINAL
Florida A&M 57
Longwood 56 FINAL
Campbell 68
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Winthrop 77
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Marshall 67
Ohio U 74 FINAL
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Miami-Ohio 53
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High Point 41
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UNC-Asheville 59
Kent State 67 FINAL
Akron 74
Northern Ill 65 FINAL
Ball State 62
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American Univ 61
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Jacksonville 78 FINAL
Kennesaw St 64
North Florida 49 FINAL
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Houston 64 1st OT 0:18
Cincinnati 65
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Pepperdine 19
Nebraska Omaha 20 2nd Half 20:00
Houston Baptist 36 2nd Half
Sam Houston St 25
Mercer 29 2nd Half
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South Dakota 39
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TX-San Antonio 25 2nd Half
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Tulane 23
South Florida 30 2nd Half
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Bucknell 3:00 PM
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Wofford 0
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Idaho State 4
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Georgia Southern
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Murray State
Troy 5:00 PM
Morgan State 77 FINAL
Howard 64
Alabama State 5:30 PM
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