Gophers turn tough spots into success

Matt Perkins

One of the question marks for the Minnesota football team coming into the 2005 campaign was whether quarterback Bryan Cupito was going to be able to step up his game when they needed him to.

In the Gophers’ 56-24 win over Colorado State on Saturday at the Metrodome, he quieted his critics, completing four of five third-down attempts and giving the Gophers a fresh set with each completion.

Rams coach Sonny Lubick even went as far as saying that Cupito’s performance changed the course of the game.

“Our defense ended up on the field too much in the first half,” Lubick said. “They converted some crucial third-and-10s. Give credit to their quarterback, he made a few big passes early that helped them keep drives alive. If they don’t get those first downs, I think it would have been a whole different ballgame.”

Outside of the big third-down conversions, Cupito’s numbers were less than impressive. He completed just five of his other 16 passes, ending the game 9 of 21 for 159 yards, two scores and an interception.

Minnesota coach Glen Mason doesn’t like reflecting on the numbers in the stat book after the game, but rather on the numbers during the game.

“Football is a game of numbers,” Mason said. “You only have so many blockers and if they have more hats to defend than you have to block, you have problems. That’s why we do all these motions, and we crack. We do all these things to try to take care of that extra hat out there.”

Cupito’s one moment of non-third-down brilliance during Saturday’s contest came in the third quarter when on a play-action: The extra hat bit. Cupito was able to conceal the ball well enough to buy Ellerson enough time to burn the safeties, leaving him wide open for the easy 54-yard touchdown reception.

But Cupito will be the first to say that the one shining moment doesn’t make up for all the bad balls.

“We have been really inconsistent the first two games,” Cupito said. “We have to come and play well next week before the Purdue game. We saw that Purdue won big this week and that shows that the Big Ten is tough. We have to clean everything up next week so we can get ready for the Big Ten.”

Purdue was the only ranked Big Ten team that did not lose Saturday, and the Gophers know it could be a battle of unblemished records when they play host to the Boilermakers homecoming weekend, Sept. 23-25.

By then, the Gophers hope to have fine-tuned some of their inconsistencies in the passing game.

But running or passing, it doesn’t matter to Mason as long as they are moving the ball up field.

“Some of those passes are wide-open,” Mason said. “But if they’re wide-open, you’ve got to hit it. If we’re getting first downs and moving the chains, I don’t care if we run or pass.”