Friday, November 13, 2009

Suddenly, Season Stems on Jackrabbits' Game

Just one week ago, the Gopher football team was coming off a nice win at home against Michigan State, which is exactly what the program needed after stinkers on consecutive weeks at Penn State and Ohio State. With bottom-feeding Illinois coming to town, the prospects of the Gophers winning that game and becoming bowl-eligible looked good. With a non-conference game against South Dakota State separating the Illinois game from the season finale at Iowa, the Gophers faced a serious possibility of having seven wins in the bank before embarking on a chance to ruin Iowa's season. A win over Iowa would give the Gophers a much better bowl game than last year's Insight Bowl (promo picture provided above with Kansas coach Mark Mangino and Minnesota's Tim Brewster).

Of course, the 35-32 loss against Illinois changed that thinking.

Had the Gophers played 60 minutes instead of 30 last Saturday, the formula described above may well have held true. However, the team dug itself into too big a hole last weekend and they now face a must-win game against the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State. Now, the Insight Bowl is a desirable destination rather than the team setting its sights on more exotic bowl destinations.

SDSU plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, a league far better known as a basketball league than a football conference. The Jackrabbits are 7-2 on the season and are 6-1 in the MVAC. They have scored 245 points this season against only 125 allowed. They have a fine running back in Kyle Minett (193 carries for 947 yards and 12 TDs), as well as two good receivers in Mike Steffen (35 catches, 629 yards, 3TD) and Glen Fox (52 catches, 585 yards, 3 TD). However, one should not have to go through position-by-position breakdowns against bowl subdivision teams.

As poorly as Adam Weber played in the last weekend, he needs a bounceback game against SDSU to gain some confidence before the Iowa finale. He was a shadow of himself compared to the Michigan State game a week prior when he was racking up Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors. The unwillingness of the coaching staff to establishing a running game in the first half led to Weber's struggles. Only after the team came out of halftime trailing 28-7 yet running the ball did the Gophers have a chance to win.

The defense was not terrible last week, but they played worse against Illinois than they did against Michigan State. SDSU has a good running attack, so look for the Gophers to stack the box and try to shut it down. They'll need a good tune-up before facing Iowa next weekend.

The Gophers put themselves in this must-win position with their flat performance against Illinois. The TCF Bank Stadium crowd will be poised for booing as they were after the first series last Saturday, adding to the pressure. Coach Brewster assured the media that the team will be ready to play SDSU this weekend, which I guess is reassuring. Still, this is a game the Gophers must win, and should win. If they lose to SDSU, one cannot imagine the booing and hissing which will be directed at Brewster and his team, and it will be very difficult to make a case for an extension for Brewster.

Prediction: Gophers 35, South Dakota State 14

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