Big game after big win

After beating then-No. 11 Purdue Saturday, Minnesota faces potential letdown at Penn State.

David McCoy

You’ve probably heard this before:

In 1999, an unranked Minnesota football team upset an undefeated, second-ranked Penn State team 24-23 on the road with a late field goal.

“They had like five first round NFL picks on that team,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “We made a couple of plays, but all of a sudden we had the ball at the end of the game and had a chance.”

That was in Mason’s third year, and at the time, it looked like it would be a defining moment in his career, perhaps turning a corner for Minnesota after years of struggle for the program.

It wasn’t. The rest of the year, the Gophers were able to beat only two, second-rate teams in Indiana and Iowa, which went 4-7 and 1-10 that season, respectively.

The next season, Minnesota earned another huge, 29-14 upset over No. 6 Ohio State, but then lost the rest of its games except for Iowa.

Saturday’s win over then-No. 11 Purdue doesn’t quite stack up with those momentous wins in Gophers history. But as the third-highest ranked opponent Mason has ever beaten, it’s awfully close.

So on Saturday, as the 18th-ranked Gophers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) travel back to the place where it all began to take on Penn State in State College, Penn., they’re hoping to make this season more than just their usual one-and-done.

“Hopefully it’s the start of being more consistent,” Cupito said. “If we lose this week I’d imagine most people around here would probably say, ‘Oh, they’re not for real, they just got a lucky win’ and stuff like that so we’ve got to keep winning and then go from there.”

Saturday’s game against the unranked Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0) would obviously not be as big a win for Minnesota as the ones previously mentioned.

But the big win over the Boilermakers would be little but history repeating itself if the Gophers don’t stay undefeated going into the toughest stretch of their schedule.

In the coming weeks, Minnesota will face Michigan on the road and then No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 8 Ohio State and No. 11 Michigan State.

But Penn State isn’t exactly the 1999 Hawkeyes either.

The Nittany Lions are coming off an emotional come-from-behind 34-29 win over Northwestern on Saturday.

Penn State also beat South Florida 23-13 in its first game of the year. Nobody thought it was a big deal until the Bulls dismantled No. 9 Louisville this past Saturday.

“Besides Alabama in the bowl game, I’d say Penn State played us the toughest last year,” Laurence Maroney said of the Nittany Lions defense, echoing what Mason had said earlier at his Tuesday news conference. “They’re defense has always been good and they’re just all-around good. So it’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”

And this one’s on the road, where the Gophers lost all four Big Ten games last year.

“This will hopefully be our first Big Ten road win in a while,” Cupito said. “And (then we can) carry that into the week after that and then keep going from there.”