Mason stirs Gophers out of early cruise control in 41-17 win

by Brian Hall

In most cases, Minnesota’s football team would be happy following a 24-point win.

Laughter and smiles should abound, and confidence should be riding high as the team heads into Big Ten play Saturday at Purdue.

But after defeating Buffalo 41-17 in front 34,294 at the Metrodome, the Gophers were not a jovial bunch. They seemed more relieved than happy.

Why? Perhaps it was because the team was too excited too early, said coach Glen Mason.

Minnesota (4-0) scored on its first five possessions and held a 31-0 lead against Buffalo early in the second quarter. The Gophers coaches and players began acting as if the outcome had been decided.

“It’s a mindset, when you start liberally substituting guys or talking about it,” Mason said. “We weren’t even to the 30-minute mark in the game.

“I have been around too long. All of a sudden people think this is over. When you start thinking about that, disaster is right around the corner.”

The Bulls put up 14 points in eight minutes toward the end of the first half.

Putting the second quarter behind them, Minnesota then outplayed the Bulls in the second half to avoid disaster.

Minnesota dominated the overmatched Bulls. The Gophers compiled 249 more yards, 12 more first downs and scored 24 more points than Buffalo. Minnesota ran for 299 yards in the win.

Despite the margin of victory and the inflated statistics, Mason was unhappy following the contest.

“We again missed tackles,” Mason said. “We also missed opportunities, big plays in the passing game. There were at least three times we should have hit homeruns and we didn’t. It was execution.”

Quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq finished with three passing touchdowns, but missed a wide open Jermaine Mays and Ben Utecht, which would have resulted in big gains.

Minnesota opened up the scoring when holder Preston Gruening took the snap on a fake field goal attempt and ran off right tackle untouched into the end zone, something Mason told the team they would do last Thursday.

“I am really happy we ran it,” Gruening said of his first-ever rushing touchdown. “I had time to mentally prepare because I have never run the ball before and there was a big hole. When you get plays like that, it’s big for the team.”

In the first quarter, the Gophers racked up 159 yards compared to Buffalo’s 18 in opening a 17-0 lead.

But in the second quarter, the Bulls gained 181 yards to Minnesota’s 127 and scored 14 unanswered points to end the half.

Mason then chastised his team’s effort at halftime.

“It was a little bit of a letdown,” senior Mike Lehan said. “It was something that we can’t have, especially right before the half. But, I can commend the defense for going out there and playing hard the second half.”

While the defense got the halftime message, the offense was stuck in slow motion.

The Gophers gained only two total yards on their first two possessions of the second half.

“We didn’t execute as well as we should have coming out of halftime,” running back Terry Jackson said. “We kind of got relaxed and you can’t do that.”

Instead of relaxing after a 4-0 start to the season, Minnesota now stares at the start of the conference season and a Purdue team which has beat the Gophers six-straight seasons.

“We have a lot of work to do, a lot of improvement to be made,” Mason said. “We’re looking forward to starting the Big Ten season this week against Purdue. We will have to play a lot better football.”