Abdul-Khaliq’s struggles magnified in pair of losses

Brian Stensaas

For the second consecutive year, the second weekend in November has been a nuisance for Minnesota’s football team.

With Saturday’s 41-24 loss to No. 13 Michigan, the Gophers lost back-to-back games for the first time all year. The last time the team lost two in a row was, you guessed it, Nov. 10, 2001.

But that isn’t the only streak facing the team square in the face. Its leader, quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq has likewise gone two straight weekends with the game on his shoulders, coming through sporadically.

After games against Illinois, Northwestern and Michigan State were decided on the ground (1,110 combined rush yards), Minnesota has been forced to throw the ball the last two contests – with limited success at best.

Abdul-Khaliq was 17-of-36 for 181 yards against the Wolverines. His best showing of the evening was packed into a two-drive span in the second half of 78 and 80 yards, respectively.

Capping off the second drive was a 27-yard touchdown pass to Antoine Burns, a play that Abdul-Khaliq was forced to change on the fly and executed admirably. The pass tied the game at 17.

While the scores pushed Abdul-Khaliq to second all-time in school history with 35 touchdowns passing, the junior added a season-high three interceptions to the mix.

Still, the two drives were an upside to an otherwise mediocre outing.

“I felt like I could do anything,” Abdul-Khaliq said of the five-minute stretch. “We were doing a lot on those guys. But we had some setbacks and couldn’t regroup.”

Abdul-Khaliq struggled mightily on third down plays. Of Minnesota’s 16 plays on third down, Abdul-Khaliq threw six incomplete passes, an interception and was sacked.

The showing comes on the heels of a dismal afternoon at Ohio State on Nov. 1 where Abdul-Khaliq managed only 59 yards through the air.

“I couldn’t get much worse than last week,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “I would say I did pretty well (Saturday). They played a lot more cover-two than we expected, but we have to be prepared for changes like that. A team is not going to use the same defense the whole game.”

Gophers coach Glen Mason called Abdul-Khaliq’s effort “courageous.”

“He picked it up a notch. He played his tail off and gave everyone everything he had. If that is not enough, then shame on all of us.”

Gophers’ quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen understands what Abdul-Khaliq is going through. A quarterback at Marshall in the late 1980’s, Petersen believes the position is one of the toughest both mentally and physically.

“You get a lot of the praise when things go well – maybe too much – and when things don’t go well you get more criticism than deserved,” Petersen said. “There’s always a lot on the quarterback’s shoulders. (Abdul-Khaliq) played a tough game. I was happy for the most part. He just needs to clean some stuff up and cash in on some big plays.”

Ouch

senior co-captain cornerback Michael Lehan started for the first time in five games against Michigan, only to be knocked out yet again in the third quarter. Mason said Sunday Lehan should be “fine.”

Lehan suffered a mysterious leg injury before the Oct. 3 game against Illinois and made his return last weekend in Columbus, Ohio. His right knee was iced after coming out Saturday and he did not return.

Meanwhile, Michigan starting linebacker Zach Kaufman suffered a knee injury Saturday and is out for the season.

ESPN again

Saturday’s game against Iowa will be aired on ESPN at 11:05 a.m.


Brian Stensaas covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]