Gophers face tough nonconference test

Colorado State is one of the most dangerous nonconference trips in a while for Minnesota.

Ben Goessling

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what competitive, nonconference scheduling gets you.

Instead of its usual third-weekend-in-September date with one of Conference USA or Mid-American Conference’s finest, Minnesota’s football team will walk into perhaps the first bona fide nonconference hornet’s nest of the Glen Mason era.

The Colorado State Rams are a perennial bowl-game participant, routinely ranked in the top 25 and roundly ticked about a 0-2 start that has their season on the brink of desperation.

So when the 22nd-ranked Gophers enter Hughes Stadium on Saturday night, they know exactly what they’re going to get.

“I don’t think there’s a better 0-2 team (in the nation) than them,” quarterback Bryan Cupito said. “They know they’ve got to win, and if they beat us, they still have a chance.”

The Rams began the season with a 27-24 loss to archrival Colorado – a game that ended with the ball on Colorado’s 1-yard line after Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick decided to go for the win, instead of kick a sure-fire field goal for a tie.

And last week, the Rams were whipped 49-0 by defending co-national champion Southern California, a game nobody will fault them for losing.

But if Colorado State drops its home opener to Minnesota, it will enter the Mountain West Conference season without a win to show for its brutal nonconference slate – meaning a New Year’s Day bowl is gone.

“They have to be sick about losing that game to Colorado,” Mason said. “Their record is very misleading.”

The Rams have eight new starters on a defense that the Trojans gashed for 553 yards. In that same game, new quarterback Justin Holland threw four interceptions.

The Colorado State team Mason expects to see Saturday, however, is one much more in line with Lubick’s (and Mason’s own) traditional philosophy: Run it until they stop it.

“They got behind against Colorado and had to throw it,” Mason said. “Against Southern Cal, you are overmatched there. They’re not one-dimensional by any means.”

Defensive end Darrell Reid said the Gophers spent most of this week watching film of Southern California’s defensive scheme against the Rams. The Trojans, a team Minnesota rarely sees on film, gave the Gophers more than enough to study.

“I’m glad we got to see them on film. When they turned on the tape, I was like, ‘Phew, we need to be like that,’ ” Reid said. “When the play ends, all 11 players are in view, close to the ball. Those boys are serious.”

And for the Gophers’ defense, which comes into Saturday’s game with something of its own to prove after giving up 480 yards to Division I-AA Illinois State last weekend, the Rams will be a good litmus test entering the Big Ten schedule.

Colorado State racked up 447 yards against Colorado, including 403 through the air.

Minnesota’s defense is still seen as the biggest question mark on a team with Rose Bowl aspirations. The last thing the Gophers want to do is begin the Big Ten season coming off another subpar outing.

“I think we learned some things, not so much from studying Colorado State, but seeing what USC did against them,” defensive tackle Mark Losli said. “Colorado State is a lot better than they look on film, and they’re going to be gunning

for us.”

And with the Rams’ postseason hopes essentially in limbo, Minnesota knows an effort like last Saturday will result in a loss.

“They’re trying to salvage their season,” Cupito said. “They’re 0-2, but they’ve played two really good teams. So we’ve got to be ready, and I think we will be.”