U savors Homecoming win against Spartans

John R. Carter

Go ahead. Take your pick. Ask anyone. Minnesota football coach Glen Mason, receiver Ron Johnson, safety Jack Brewer, quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq, defensive end Greg White – it doesn’t matter.

They’ll all say Saturday’s 28-19 win over Michigan State didn’t save the season. Maybe so, but there is no doubt the victory prevented the Gophers from going on life support for at least another week.

The Homecoming win improved Minnesota’s record to 2-4 (1-3 Big Ten) and brightened the team’s dim Bowl chances ever so slightly. A loss to the Spartans would have forced the Gophers to win-out to become Bowl eligible.

“Saved it?” Mason asked. “I don’t feel like I saved the season, and if I was sitting here and I lost I wouldn’t feel like I lost the season.”

Added White: “If we win four more times, that will save the season.”

The Gophers celebrated their defeat of the Spartans like they saved the season – if not clinched a bowl berth outright.

As he jubilantly dashed off the field, Mason waved and bowed to the student section like a star of a Broadway play receiving a curtain call.

Johnson, after each of Minnesota’s four touchdowns, either jumped into the arms of an offensive lineman or head-butted a running back.

“We were excited, and we had to show our enthusiasm,” the senior captain said. “We got it going today, and we were happy with our production.”

The Gophers production – 446 yards of total offense – started with the ground attack of running backs Tellis Redmon and Marion Barber III.

The pair ran circles around Michigan State’s defense all game, combining for 284 yards and three touchdowns.

Redmon’s six-yard score put the Gophers up for good at 21-17 with 7:54 to play, while Barber’s 39-yard scamper – his second touchdown of the day – iced the game just over four minutes later.

“We kept on pounding and pounding the ball,” Redmon said. “And we came up big today.”

Also contributing as a third weapon in the rushing game was Abdul-Khaliq. The sophomore quarterback got the call from Mason to start his second straight game – this time playing the entire way.

Abdul-Khaliq, while throwing for just 124 yards on a less than impressive 11 of 23 passing, added 42 yards on the ground – 31 of which came on Redmon’s go-ahead touchdown drive.

“Let’s face it, we have to run to the ball well,” Mason said. “If we throw the ball 50 times a game because we can’t run it (well), then it’s going to be a long day for us.”

On this afternoon, the long day belonged to coach Bobby Williams and his Spartans. Unlike Minnesota, Michigan State never established a running game.

The Spartans gained 121 yards on the ground but only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. The lack of consistent rushing success forced Michigan State to rely primarily on the passing game.

For three quarters, the Gophers feel victim to the Spartans air assault. The duo of quarterbacks Jeff Smoker and Ryan Van Dyke threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns in the first 45 minutes.

But come the fourth quarter, the Gophers defense finally figured out the pair of quarterbacks, as well as receivers Herb Haygood and Charles Rodgers.

Minnesota held the Spartans to just 42 passing yards in the final 15 minutes on 12 attempts. Of the two deep-threats, only Rodgers caught a ball in the fourth quarter – a short reception for 10 yards.

“They have two of the best receivers in the Big Ten,” Brewer said. “We didn’t want to kill ourselves. We wanted to get a feel for the game, a feel for what they were doing. After we locked down, we had some success.”

Appropriately, the final Spartans completion of the day went to Ukee Dozier – a Gophers cornerback who intercepted Smoker at Minnesota’s two-yard line with just over two minutes to play.

To no one’s amazement, celebration ensued. The Gophers now hope the jubilation and solid execution continues.

“We have to keep this going throughout the season,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “It’s not like we clinched a bowl today.”

It sure seemed that way.

 

John R. Carter covers football and
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