Let’s face facts: Most fans didn’t expect the Gophers to beat a Northwestern team that not only beat Iowa but also lost 24-20 to Ohio State. At 8-3, the Gophers are a cinch to get a very good bowl bid even if they lose next week.
Coach Tracy Claeys sang the praises of his senior class Saturday, after the Gophers took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards for a touchdown and never were really threatened after leading 12-0 at halftime, coming up with their best performance of the year.
“When they said they were going to come play at the University of Minnesota, we weren’t doing well, footballwise or off of the field. They had a big part in believing in what we wanted to do,” Claeys said after the 29-12 victory. “They established that culture and have kept it going. This senior class has worked harder than any of them.
“Before the season, the times they got together with the kids, all the extra things they’ve had. They really worked hard at having a good year this year. We are all disappointed to come out short in three ballgames, but we’ve had our chances. To get a win at home in the last game at TCF, it means a lot to these players, but it’ll mean a lot to those kids for how much they have put into it.”
The Wildcats put up a mild threat in the second half, but the Gophers offense was able to punch in a couple of touchdowns to keep their opponent at bay.
“I just thought Shannon Brooks did a great job. He got every yard and fought. He moved the chains and caught a big pass,” Claeys said. “In the end, Mitch [Leidner] had the big throw to Drew [Wolitarsky] on the play action. We reacted when we needed to. You always celebrate those.
“We have to be more consistent. We went through a stretch there where we really struggled. We are beat up up front and all that. Still, it’s all excuses and we are better than that. Our kids know that, and those two running backs are better than that. We just got away from the fundamental things, and when you do that against good ball teams you’ll be in trouble.”
Leidner walked off the field a winner in his final home game. “Really tough opponent, really well-coached football team,” the Gophers quarterback said. “We have a lot of respect for Coach [Pat] Fitzgerald and their program. We had a lot of good battles with them throughout the years, so to come out with a win tonight means a lot to us.”
Moore still going strong
I don’t think there is another coach anywhere who has worked with the quarterbacks that Owatonna native Tom Moore has. Moore, who recently turned 78 and will be in town to face the Vikings on Sunday as the assistant head coach and offensive consultant for the Cardinals, recruited Tony Dungy to the Gophers, won two Super Bowls with Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers and developed the offense that made Peyton Manning maybe the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
This will be the second consecutive year the Vikings and Cardinals have squared off. Last season, the Vikings lost 23-20 at Arizona, a game in which they had a chance to win at the end of the game but Teddy Bridgewater was sacked and stripped in the final seconds.
Getting back to Moore, he had a special relationship with Dungy. The two went from player and coach to working alongside each other with the Steelers from 1981 to 1988, with the Vikings in 1992 and ’93 and with the Colts from 2002 to ’08 when Dungy was the head coach for Indianapolis.
Moore talked about what he saw from each QB, starting with the player he is most closely tied to, Manning.
“When he came in the league he came from a quality college program, he came from a great football family, he was probably a little bit ahead of the curve compared to a lot of quarterbacks coming into the league,” Moore said. “But Peyton was very, very special. He had the greatest work ethic, the greatest desire and passion to be great, and willingness to do what you had to do to be great.”
And what did he see in Bradshaw, who got Moore his first two Super Bowl rings with back-to-back titles in the 1978 and ’79 seasons with the Steelers?
“A great football player and a great athlete and a great quarterback, and he has four Super Bowl rings to back it up,” Moore said. “He could throw the ball. He was a big, strong athlete who could throw the football. We had great weapons, and he took advantage of them. In his time, it was a different ballgame than it is now. But he’d be great today just like he was great then.”
Moore also gave a lot of credit to Dungy, not just as a coach but as a player who was ahead of his time.
“To me Tony Dungy was the 1976 Peyton Manning,” he said. “The same work ethic, the same passion for the game, the same brilliance in knowing what to do. All three of them in their particular sections of their football era were great, fantastic quarterbacks.”
Few coaches can say they have coached for more than five decades with five different college teams and eight pro teams. Moore has proved his genius over all those stops.
So does Moore have any plans on slowing down? “I’m going to coach until nobody will hire me,” he said. “As long as someone will hire me, I’m going to coach until the day I die. I love the game, and I love the work. This is what I want to do, and I’m going to do it as long as I can.”
• While Sunday’s game with the Cardinals is obviously big for the Vikings, who desperately want to end their four-game losing streak, it’s worth noting that regardless of the outcome of this game, Thursday’s Thanksgiving matchup between the Vikings and Lions in Detroit will determine which team controls its destiny in the NFC North with only five games remaining in the season after that. If the Vikings lose to Arizona and beat Detroit, they would still reclaim first place because they would have the tiebreaker for the time being.
• Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer have a long history in the league. It took Arians 20 seasons to become a head coach and it took Zimmer 20 seasons to become one as well. They faced off last season in Arizona as head coaches, but the two also had some real battles in the AFC North from 2008 to ’11, when Arians was the offensive coordinator of the Steelers and Zimmer was the defensive coordinator of the Bengals.
• If the statistics are any indication, passing the ball will be difficult Sunday for both squads at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Cardinals are ranked second in the NFL in opponents’ passer rating at 71.2 while the Vikings are third at 74.6. And the Cardinals are third in opponents’ completion percentage at 58.3 percent, and the Vikings are fourth at 58.5 percent.
• While the Vikings special teams have been under turmoil because of Blair Walsh’s kicking, punter Jeff Locke is having a career season. He already has 23 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, which ties the best mark of his career, and he still has seven games to play. He is also averaging 40.0 yards per punt, the second-highest mark in Vikings history.
• Speaking of history, Cordarrelle Patterson is now the Vikings’ all-time kick return leader with 3,659 yards, passing Darrin Nelson, who had 3,623 yards. Patterson did it in 36 fewer games than Nelson as well.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org