Gophers cooly hold Iowa to win 25-21

by Michael Dougherty

IOWA CITY — The imposters that have commandeered the football Gophers’ uniforms were at it again Saturday.
The guys who have worn the maroon and gold for the past 13 years don’t finish the season undefeated on the road. They don’t calmly march back from an 11-point halftime deficit and stave off a last-second goal line rally.
But the new, angry Gophers do. The win moved them from 17th to 13th in the Associated Press poll.
The new guys hung on for a 25-21 win in Iowa City and ended the season 8-3, 5-3 in the Big Ten to finish with Minnesota’s best record since before defensive coordinator David Gibbs was born (the Gophers were 8-2 in 1967).
The old guys would have folded the tents at halftime and headed home.
“We were just kind of complacent out there in the first half,” linebacker Sean Hoffman said. “In the second half we realized that this game has a lot to do with where we’re going to go in a few weeks and it means a lot to us.”
Hoffman deflected a pass from Iowa quarterback Scott Mullen on fourth-and-goal from the Minnesota 3-yard line in the closing seconds to seal the win.
“A couple of years ago we probably would have folded because we haven’t gotten accustomed to knowing how to win,” strong safety Tyrone Carter said. “By losing a lot of games you get accustomed to finding ways to lose.”
Carter’s on to something. In years past, Mullen’s pass would’ve softly landed in the hands of Iowa receiver Ryan Barton. Iowa would’ve raced across the field and nabbed Floyd of Rosedale and the bronze pig would’ve spent the next year bedded down in the Hawkeyes’ trophy case.
Instead, Carter and his teammates have discovered how to win, and darn it, they like it.
Iowa had thrown three touchdown passes all season entering the game. But Mullen picked apart a Gophers secondary that lost cornerback Willie Middlebrooks to a hamstring injury early on. Mullen fired off three scores through the air to give Iowa a 21-10 lead heading into the locker room.
Time to hit the panic button right?
Not with the new guys.
First, Hoffman recovered a fumble by Mullen. Five plays later, freshman kicker Dan Nystrom kicked a 37-yard field goal. Ho-hum, 21-13.
Then, defensive end Karon Riley — who had three sacks and a fourth negated by a facemasking penalty — put pressure on mullen in the end zone and forced an intentional grounding that resulted in a safety. Yawn, 21-15.
And the nail in the coffin that is the Hawkeyes’ 1-10 season came when spotlight-grabbing Arland Bruce took a screen pass and chugged 73 yards for the go-ahead score. The pass was actually ruled a lateral so the play counted as a run.
When coach Glen Mason was leaving the interview room after the game, he met Bruce who was heading in to face the press.
Mason embraced Bruce, grabbing him by the shoulders.
He then reminded the media gathered around him that Bruce was the guy who caught the tipped pass at Penn State.
Yeah, and we need to be reminded of who this Gangelhoff lady is too, coach.
Each week the heroes for this team change, but the results remain the same. Two weeks ago it was Bruce and Nystrom joining forces to upset Penn State. Last week it was Jimmy Wyrick returning an interception 61 yards for a touchdown.
This week it was Bruce, Hoffman and Riley grabbing hold of the reins and leading the way. And the team continues to go in the right direction — south to a bowl game.
Does it make a difference which bowl game Minnesota goes to?
“I’ve never been to a bad bowl game,” Mason said. “Obviously, we’d like to go to the best possible bowl game, but I told the team, ‘I don’t know where we’re going, but wherever we go, we’re going to have a good time.
“I’m one of those coaches that believes bowl games are meant as a reward for a great season as coaches, players and fans and everybody else. We want to win the game — the Gophers always play to win — but we want to have a good time.”

Michael Dougherty covers football and basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected].