Column: Road win could turn around season, ya feel me?

Samuel Gordon

Ball security. A power running game. A smothering defense.

That’s the blueprint Gophers players and coaches have been pursuing all season, and on Saturday, it couldn’t have worked more perfectly.

Minnesota dominated Northwestern in every respect en route to a relatively easy win — a win it desperately needed.

It’s the Gophers’ first win in a month, first in the Big Ten and first over a legitimate opponent this season.

That’s huge for a team that returns to TCF Bank Stadium next week to play its first home game since the homecoming drubbing from Iowa.

It’s impossible to overlook that the Wildcats were without their two best players, but this was still a major breakthrough for this year’s squad.

Under Jerry Kill and his staff, Minnesota has recorded a mere four road wins in two-plus seasons — two in conference play.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to [win] on the road in the Big Ten and really perform well and win the game,” defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys said at a press conference Saturday.

It wasn’t just about the victory itself. It was about how the Gophers won.

Senior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman looked like the first-round NFL draft pick experts nationwide have pegged him to be.

Senior linebacker James Manuel flew around, making plays all over the field, and his pick six was the biggest play of the game.

And sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson came off the bench in the second quarter and helped his team dominate time of possession.

For a team with limited offensive firepower, a stout defense and ball control are essential.

Now with five conference games left, the Gophers need just one more victory to be bowl-eligible.

Three of those games will be at home.

There are a couple more Big Ten wins to be had if the Gophers can play within themselves like they did on Saturday.

“We see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hageman said at Saturday’s press conference. “But you can’t go out there and wait for it to happen. You’ve got to go out there and make plays.”

Saturday’s victory didn’t make the Gophers’ season, but it’s a reason for Minnesota fans to be optimistic that another win or two may be on the horizon.

Ya feel me?