The Gopher football team entered the fourth quarter of Saturday's game against Northwestern trailing 24-21. Then, Duane Bennett took over.
The sophomore running back scored his third touchdown of the day midway through the fourth quarter, giving the Gophers the lead 28-224. Eric Decker's 1-yard TD reception from Adam Weber with just over 90 ticks left salted away a 35-24 Gophers' win in the opening game of the Big Ten schedule.
One week after collapsing in the fourth quarter against Cal, the Gophers closed out the Wildcats. A big reason why was Bennett. Carrying the load in week four, Bennett rushed 21 times for 89 yards and 3 TDs. After missing virtually all of last season with a knee injury, the team's leading rusher of 2007 has moved to the head of a crowded backfield, ahead of runners such as DeLeon Eskridge, Shady Salomon, and Jay Thomas.
Weber was ok. He completed 15-26 for 186, 2 TD, and 1 interception. As usual, Decker was his favorite target (8 catches for 84 yards, 2 TD), but he also found TE Nick Tow-Arnett five times for 65 yards. WR Brandon Green caught the other two completions for a total of 37 yards.
One year after allowing Northwestern QB Mike Kafka to rush for 217 yards in a 24-17 loss to NU, the Gopher defense played much better against the run, allowing just 64 yards. Although Kafka threw for 309 yards against the defense, the team forced 3 turnovers, including a key interception in the red zone by CB Kim Royston at the end of the first half with NU trailing 14-10 but knocking on the door. The defense bent but didn't break on Saturday, but the secondary must play better next week.
Next up is 4-0 Wisconsin in the first conference game at TCF Bank Stadium. Bucky crushed Michigan State 38-30 Saturday behind 3 TD from WR Garrett Graham and 4 TD passes from junior QB Scott Tolzien. The junior QB is 66 for 99 passing this season with 8 TD against 2 interceptions. Sophomore RB John Clay has rushed for 398 yards and 4 TD in the season's first four games. In the air, the Badgers are led by TE Graham (16 catches, 200 yards; 4 TD), as well as WRs Nick Toon (18 catches, 236 yards; 2 TD) and Isaac Anderson (10 catches, 236 yards; 1 TD).
The Minnesota/Wisconsin rivalry has heated up again since coach Tim Brewster's arrival in 2007. Brewster and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema clearly do not like each other much, and the recruiting rivalry between the two coaches has gotten hot as well. The atmosphere should be electric for the first conference game at the new stadium. The Gophers will need to play better than they did last week against Northwestern to defeat Wisconsin, but if they carry over the fourth quarter momentum from the Northwestern game to the Wisconsin game, they'll have a chance.