Game lost, quarterback may have been found

Matt Anderson

The development started in the waning moments of the Purdue game.

It took a hiatus the next week at Penn State, but came back in full force the week after that in Michigan.

The next chance anyone had to see it – Bryan Cupito’s emergence as a legitimate Big Ten quarterback – was on full display Saturday against Ohio State.

Maybe he’ll never be Drew Brees. But he also may never again be the Bryan Cupito that started at quarterback in 2004.

That Cupito couldn’t do much of anything. He tried to throw the deep ball too much; he stared down his first read and made that throw on most passing plays. He just plain didn’t look like a Big Ten quarterback.

For the first three games plus most of the fourth game this season, he looked like that same guy. But then he threw an interception that could have been game changing in Minnesota’s Big Ten opener against Purdue, and he hasn’t really been the same since.

The drive after that, he led the Gophers down the field for a touchdown and kept the ball on an option play to convert two points and tie the game at 28.

In overtime against the Boilermakers, he threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Logan Payne on a do-or-die fourth down and was a major part of Minnesota’s upset of then-unbeaten and ranked Purdue.

The Gophers traveled to Penn State the next week and nothing seemed to work on either side of the ball, Cupito included.

But when it seemed like he was ready to turn into the Cupito everyone thought he was supposed to be, he helped keep Minnesota in the game during the first half of the next week’s game at Michigan.

He completed one clutch third-down pass after another. He threw a touchdown pass to Ernie Wheelwright before halftime to bring the Gophers within striking distance. Although he was on the bench with an injury when Minnesota pulled off the stunning win, he was a large part of the upset.

All this led for his coming-out party Saturday.

He was 13 of 17 in the first half for 198 yards and a touchdown, helping to engineer enough points to have Minnesota tied at halftime with Ohio State, a team featuring electric offensive weapons like Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes.

By the end, Cupito had racked up a career-high 396 yards passing, to go along with 26 completions, a touchdown and no interceptions. He had quarterbacked the Gophers to 31 points against one of the nation’s top defenses.

But to hear Minnesota coach Glen Mason tell it after the Ohio State game, the problems with Cupito before his interception against Purdue may not have all been his own doing.

“Cupito is a good passer; he is an accurate passer, and we have pretty good receivers,” Mason said. “I think if anything we make a mistake in, and I’m being critical of me as a coach, because we run the ball so well sometimes, we don’t throw the ball enough.”

But this past Saturday against the Buckeyes, when Ohio State cheated up to try and thwart the Gophers’ rushing attack, Cupito was ready to take advantage with his arm.

“We’ve gotta compliment the run game, because that’s what teams are trying to shut down,” Cupito said. “I think (Ohio State) were a little hesitant to blitz (Saturday) because of that … So they didn’t really blitz much. They said pass on us, and we did that.”

Although they lost the game, Minnesota found out this past weekend that when teams overplay the run, the Gophers have a player under center with the ability to make the opponents pay.

Matt Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]