Minnesota’s search for identity will commence Saturday in Madison

Even outspoken senior Darrell Reid is taking a different approach to this game.

Dan Miller

There was something wrong with Darrell Reid during Minnesota’s football practice Tuesday.

First, he wasn’t feeling very well. But more interestingly, he didn’t talk much.

Gophers players and coaches have grown used to hearing the upbeat senior defensive tackle yelling out players’ names such as, “Where you at, Maroney?”

But Tuesday, players had to yell, “Where are you at, Reid?”

“I don’t think it’s a matter of getting guys fired up this week,” Reid said after the practice. “The guys know what they have to do. They just have to go out and execute.”

Reid’s uncharacteristically somber temperament and the senior captain’s attitude with his teammates spoke volumes to what’s going on inside Minnesota’s football program.

“We’re really soul-searching for an identity for this team,” Reid said.

The Gophers (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) find themselves with a lot of questions and few answers after losing their third game in four weeks Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., to Indiana.

This melancholy situation preludes Saturday’s game against fifth-ranked and undefeated rival Wisconsin. The border-battle game could either be the Gophers’ final blow, or a rejuvenating and defining moment.

“I think the best way to describe my feeling after the Indiana game and through this season to date is that it has been a frustrating year,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “I think we should be performing better; we lack consistency and, as of late, we are having trouble making plays when we need to make them. And that’s what we are trying to work out.”

The team has reached desperation mode, and it’s chalking that up to its advantage Saturday.

But that’s one of its only advantages.

“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito said. “We’re just going to go over there and do our thing, and hopefully it works out.”

With many fans wondering how a team that started 5-0 and was once No. 13 in the nation could have taken such a downward turn, the Gophers said they are trying to find a path to some sort of redemption.

“More than the outside world, we’ve got things to prove to ourselves,” Reid said. “We’re trying to establish ourselves and prove to ourselves that we are a good team.”

But would beating Wisconsin be a quick fix? The answer is obvious inside the Gophers’ ranks.

“(A win in Wisconsin) could really prove wrong a lot of critics, and we would regain the confidence we had at the beginning of the season, when we were winning all the time,” senior cornerback Ukee Dozier said.

But even if the Gophers can upset a Wisconsin team ranked fourth in the BCS and return to Minneapolis with the Paul Bunyan axe in tow, their frustrating season will still be clouded with what-ifs.

“If we beat this Wisconsin team, regardless of the losses we’ve had so far, people will say, ‘Well, they played Michigan close, they beat Wisconsin and they kinda lost to two teams they shouldn’t have lost to.’ ” Reid said. “So I think people would look at us in another light.”

Right now, any light would help.