Sunday, November 1, 2009

EXACTLY What Weber Needed!

The Gopher football team overcame plenty of obstacles in Saturday night's 42-34 victory over Michigan State, including:
  • A school-record 17 penalties for a school-record 157 yards
  • Two big plays from MSU's Keshawn Martin: an 84-yard end-around and a 93-yard kickoff return, both for TDs
  • Michigan State scored 14 points off two Minnesota turnovers

That was just a sampling of the weirdness of Saturday night's game, but "every baby's beautiful" for this Gopher team.

That Michigan State was even in the game is certainly open for criticism. The Gophers broke out to a 14-0 lead less than two minutes into the game and had plenty of opportunities to run away from the Spartans. However, dropped passes and the penalties kept MSU around, and the Gophers needed some late magic to keep the game in the win column.

With just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Gophers nursing a one-point lead, Adam Weber's pass was complete to tight end Nick Tow-Arnett but the ball came loose and bounced into the hands of running back Duane Bennett. 59 yards later, Bennett was in the end zone and the Gophers had an eight-point lead. The officials looked at the play to make sure it was a deflection and not a fumble or an incomplete pass, but the ruling on the field stood. However, the officials missed a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit on Tow-Arnett which allowed the ball to jar loose.

After the Gophers stopped MSU on downs, Minnesota faced a punting situation with less than two minutes remaining and the Spartans out of timeouts. However, MSU picked up a penalty for running into punter Blake Haudan and the Gophers were able to retain the ball and run out the clock.

Bennett had two receptions in the game, both going for long touchdowns. He took Weber's pass 62 yards to the house in the first quarter for his other TD. For Bennett, two receptions, 121 yards, and 2 TDs was not a bad line.

The story of the game was the offense, led by Weber. The Gophers racked-up 505 total yards in the game. Weber was 19-31 for 416 yards, 5 touchdowns, and one pick in the game. A week after having several critics - including me - clamoring for a change at QB, Weber silenced his critics for a week with a huge step-up performance.

Other than Weber and Bennett, the offensive stars included: Tow-Arnett (8 catches, 81 yards, 2 TD), Da'Jon McKnight (4 catches, 98 yards for his first catches of the season), and Brandon Green (2 catches, 60 yards and a TD). WR Troy Stoudermire also had a fine 48-yard reception for his only catch, but he also dropped a sure-thing pass which would have resulted in a TD in the third quarter.

The defense played reasonably well, limiting MSU to 360 total yards. However, the defense - and special teams - was susceptible to the big play, which was one reason why Sparty was in the game at the end.

Next up for the Gophers is Illinois, led by senior QB Juice Williams (pictured below, right). The Illini are having a hugely disappointing season at 2-6 (1-5 in the Big Ten). However, they demolished Michigan in the second half in Champaign on Saturday and will be coming into TCF Bank Stadium in a much better position emotionally than a week ago. Still, it's a game the Gophers should win.

After Illinois comes a non-conference game at home against South Dakota State, followed by a season-ending showdown against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. At 5-4 right now, the Gophers need one more win to become bowl-eligible, and with two victories will almost certainly achieve a bid.

The Gophers made a ton of mistakes in Saturday's game and kept Michigan State around even though the Spartans didn't seem to have much interest in winning. Still, the Gophers picked up a victory in a game they simply had to have. Sitting at 5-4 with two winnable home games directly ahead of them is definitely better than the alternative.

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