Rested Minnesota must beat Iowa to salvage high-expectation season

After the Gophers 41-20 loss to Wisconsin 12 days ago — their third straight defeat — Minnesota coach Glen Mason said his team was physically spent and even more mentally spent.
So Mason went to the medicine cabinet in his mind and found what he hopes will be a remedy: give the Gophers time off.
With a bye last Saturday, Minnesota practiced just twice a week ago. The team returned to action Monday with its usual light practice.
Mason said he won’t know until after the Iowa game on Saturday if his tactic worked, but said it needed to be done.
“We tried to rest our guys up to a certain extent at both a physical standpoint and an emotional standpoint,” Mason said.
“We needed to recharge our batteries mentally.”
The players certainly enjoyed the time away from football. Mason said a number of them were surprised they received it — after all, a three game losing streak tends to mean more practice is needed.
Mason didn’t believe that was the case.
“One of the players said ‘Coach, you really surprised me, this is a big game, we haven’t been playing very well, I really thought you guys would panic and overwork us,'” Mason recalled. “It’s amazing how kids see things.”
Defensive end Karon Riley sees the down time as a good thing. Although he said after almost two weeks without playing a real game, the Gophers are anxious to get back to conference play.
But Riley also said Minnesota is not nervous — which may be a surprise with the state the team is in right now.
A loss to the Hawkeyes means a script like this: A season which began with lofty goals, was met half-way with Rose Bowl aspirations, all of a sudden is over.
“The bye is going to be good for us,” Riley said. “It helped us refresh our minds and get our minds back together.”
Iowa’s mind, however, is already fresh. An emotional win over No. 12 Northwestern on Saturday has inspired the 3-8 Hawkeyes.
Minnesota quarterback Travis Cole said Iowa will bring a nothing-to-lose attitude with them to the Metrodome.
“They’re not playing for a bowl berth,” Cole said. “They’re playing to knock people off.”
The Gophers hope their bye week will prevent a season knockout. But whether or not it will remains to be seen.
So far this season, Big Ten teams have a mediocre 5-3 record after a week of rest. Two of those losses were by Purdue and Michigan, a pair of the conference’s top teams.
In Minnesota’s case, it’s wait and see.
Said Riley: “You can never tell until Saturday, when we line it up at 11:10.”

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]