Game’s goals unchanged for undefeated Gophers despite opponent

by Brian Stensaas

It’s a decision not uncommon among college coaches in a variety of sports. Even though the next day’s game or match might be right across the street, the night before is spent in a hotel.

While the coaches use the hotel stay as a form of supervision – such as Minnesota football team’s 11 p.m. curfew – some players also use the quiet time for motivational purposes.

Gophers’ senior cornerback Michael Lehan makes sure the last thing he does Saturday mornings before leaving for the stadium isn’t checking under the bed and turning in his key. He takes time to sit down and make out his goal sheet, both personal and for the team.

It’s something he’s done since the days of former Minnesota players Willie Middlebrooks and Tyrone Carter, now both playing in the NFL.

And though the Gophers welcome 32-point underdog Buffalo to Minneapolis on Saturday, there will still be a goal sheet. And the expectations will be just as high.

“This is not our last non-conference game,” Lehan said. “We have to look at this as our first Big Ten game. You just don’t become a Big Ten caliber team with one week of practice before. We have to be one right now.”

Minnesota (3-0) looks to push its record to 4-0 for just the third time since winning the 1960 National Championship. The Gophers started 4-0 in 1987 and 1999.

While playing a team like the Bulls – who limp into the weekend 1-2 and ranked 107 of 117 teams nationally in total offense – would appear to lock-in the Gophers fourth win, Minnesota knows not to get over confident.

It was only two years ago that Ohio came into the Metrodome and squeaked out a 23-17 win.

“We were supposed to walk all over (Ohio),” Lehan recalled. “And they came in here and got us. Buffalo does some things on offense that throws defenses out of whack. We don’t come in prepared and they’ll put up a lot of points.”

From an offensive standpoint, Minnesota will no doubt use the game to fine tune the a running game hampered by injuries thus far this season.

Both Thomas Tapeh and Marion Barber III are expected to see playing time after sustaining injuries.

In addition, the passing attack of Asad Abdul-Khaliq will once again be on display. Abdul-Khaliq owns the nation’s second-best passing efficiency with a 198.9 rating.

Coach Glen Mason is aware of the numbers, but he’s cautiously optimistic.

“They are very underrated,” Mason said of Buffalo. “They’re young, but each and every week they get a little better. They’re well-coached and play really hard. That impresses me. I like it when I see kids play hard.”

Lehan said he will make his goal sheet for this weekend on Saturday morning, just like clockwork. He hopes to play a mistake-free game, with tenacious defense and, obviously, win the game.

But at the top of the list – like every week – is playing hard. Something Mason is sure to notice.