Football team continues downward spiral with loss at Madison

MADISON, Wis. — For the third straight week, there is agony, frustration and confusion in Minnesota football land.
For the third straight week, the Gophers defense allowed an opposing quarterback to victimize them on the ground.
For the third straight week, Minnesota’s offense struggled in the red zone, and couldn’t put the ball in the end zone — or through the uprights, for that matter — when it counted.
For the third straight week, the Gophers allowed three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, while the offense couldn’t put together consecutive scoring drives.
For the third straight week, Minnesota lost; this time in a 41-20 embarrassment at the hands of arch-rival Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
“I have a football team that I’m not sure is physically spent,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said, “but is emotionally spent.”
Following this Minnesota loss, the Badgers paraded around the field with Paul Bunyan’s Axe — for the sixth straight year — like it was the Stanley Cup, making sure each player got his chance to hoist the trophy high.
While Wisconsin (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) did so, the Gophers (5-5, 3-4) were left to contemplate what went wrong. The answer was quite simple: everything.
First, there was the inability to stop Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who rushed for a career high 127 yards on just 13 carries, while adding a touchdown.
The sophomore’s stats, combined with those of Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El and Northwestern’s Zak Kustok, total 427 yards rushing and five touchdowns — all given up by the Gophers over the past three weeks.
“We’ve sure been having trouble stopping the quarterback draw, or quarterback scramble,” Mason said. “It’s absolutely been killing us.”
The 216 Wisconsin rushing yards came without the nation’s fourth leading rusher, Michael Bennett, who was out with a sprained ankle.
But his absence didn’t stop the Badgers offense. It was the Minnesota offense which struggled.
On the Gophers six trips to the red zone, Minnesota scored just two touchdowns and booted a pair of field goals.
Gophers kicker Dan Nystrom missed an extra point, a 27-yard field goal, and had another 34-yarder blocked.
The only player not at fault for the red zone problems was running back Tellis Redmon, who finished the day with a career high 211 yards on 30 carries.
The reason the sophomore can’t take the blame: the Gophers continually called pass plays, instead of handing the ball to Redmon and letting him bang it home.
“We’re trying to spread it out when we get down near the goalline,” Mason said. “You can’t accuse us of being conservative.”
Conservative, yes.
Crazy? Probably.
The Gophers could have put the game out of reach in the first half, but instead led by just two at halftime.
Fifteen minutes later, when House of Pain’s “Jump Around” echoed through the stadium after the third quarter, the crowd made the stadium shake like Los Angeles during an earthquake.
That set things up for — you guessed it — another fourth quarter natural disaster which saw both Minnesota’s offense and defense fall apart.
The Badgers scored three touchdowns, including Bollinger’s one-yard touchdown run, in a span of 7:18 to hang the Gophers in front of 79,171 witnesses.
Minnesota’s offense, led by the second week of a quarterback rotation, scored just eight points down the stretch, while managing just four first downs in the final frame.
“That’s part of the game,” Gophers defensive end Karon Riley said. “Sometimes things happen for certain reasons and today we came up short, again.”
Added Mason: “You play for a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. We had that chance but we sure didn’t perform very well.”
For the third straight week there is agony, frustration and confusion in Minnesota football land.
The Gophers now have a weekend off to find what’s missing before Iowa comes to town on Nov. 18.
A win and all the happenings of the past three weeks will be forgotten. A loss, however, will mark the biggest collapse in the program’s history.
So what will Mason tell his players so they don’t take the three-game losing streak to heart and wish the season ended now?
“If you win your last game against Iowa, it will make you 6-5 and you’re probably going to go to a bowl game,” Mason said. “If you don’t, you know what? You don’t deserve to go to one.”