Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Didn't hear any "Fire Brewster" chants today, which was unusual, considering how much vitriol the coach has received during this four-game losing streak. Of course, the fact that a win -- a win! -- wasn't out of the question until the final few seconds had lots to do with that.
I'm not naive enough to believe that the rumors of Tim Brewster's imminent demise are over, but perhaps they'll take a week off.
That's not to say a 29-28 loss has fixed anything. Far from it. There were plenty of worrisome signs all over TCF Bank Stadium, starting with the fact that Northwestern turned the ball over three times and committed 10 penalties and won anyway.
Some of the worrisome signs were in the stands, where the announced crowd of 49,228 was more fictitious than a campaign pledge. Had to have been close to 5,000 no-shows, and you have to wonder if the quality of the remaining visitors will prevent the stands from emptying even further. That's not a Brewster-friendly trend, because the athletic department needs to keep the ticket-buyers happy.
Speaking of those upcoming games, now that the Gophers have been swept on their four-game homestand, here's who is still to come in Minneapolis this season: Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa. Gulp.
True, the Big Ten may have lost a little of its nationally ranked luster today, because Ohio State and Michigan looked vulnerable, Wisconsin was upset at Michigan State and Northwestern didn't resemble a Top 25 team. It gives the Gophers hope that they won't be engaged in a series of David-vs.-Goliath matchups, and maybe can even win a few games. Hope, I said, hope.
Hope takes the form of an expanded playbook, too, since the Gophers threw effectively to running backs and tight ends for the first time, and even ran a trick play on Duane Bennett's halfback pass to Eric Lair. "We've been working on that since fall camp began," Lair said with some excitement. "We practice it every day."
There's hope for the secondary, too, where Ryan Collado filled in at safety and shored up a unit that was torched early, but got better. Collado had one of the hard-luck plays of the game, defending a fourth-quarter pass to Jeremy Ebert about as well as possible, only to have Ebert wrest the ball away for a touchdown as they came down.
But the hopeful signs aren't what most Gopher fans will remember. The take-away from this game is: The offense -- and the play-calling -- fizzled with the game on the line. Minnesota still had the lead, 28-26, with eight minutes left, but given a chance to put the game away with a score, went three-and-out and punted. (Don't get me started on punting -- Northwestern started three first-half drives from the 33 or closer because of short punts.)
Minnesota trailed by a point with two minutes left and two timeouts, and started its drive on its own 38 thanks to a fortunate kickoff/fumble recovery. The Gophers didn't have much noticeable urgency during their drive, and twice ran Bennett into the line for lost yardage -- and lost time. There were a few boos at the play-calling, though Brewster defended the drive.
"I felt great about us moving the ball in the two-minute (drill), about kicking a field goal to win the football game," he said. "We were in great shape. We felt if we got to the 30-yard line, our guy (kicker Eric Ellestad, whose longest field goal this season is 42 yards) was going to be good. Anything inside the 30 would make it even better. We felt we were in great shape with the clock, but both those runs that we called in the two-minute, they didn't give us much."
So now they're 1-4 with their next two games on the road, and the heat on Brewster won't ebb, especially if things go badly in Madison next week.
On the other hand? The Gophers say they still have hope.
"I guarantee you," Kyle Theret said, "if we go out and get the axe next week, people will forget about this game."
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