Russell powers Gophers to win

Matt Anderson

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Minnesota’s football team scored 27 unanswered points to open the second half and turn a 14-7 halftime deficit into an eventual 42-21 win at Indiana on Saturday.

Sophomore running back Gary Russell led the Gophers’ comeback with two third-quarter touchdowns, ending the game with 28 carries for 188 yards and three scores, all of which were career highs.

After junior running back Laurence Maroney bruised his ankle in the first quarter, the burden of the running game was placed upon Russell. And it was a burden with which he thrived.

Russell’s second-half scores moved him into second place on Minnesota’s single season rushing touchdown list with 15, passing Darrell Thompson and Jim Perkins.

“I wasn’t surprised by Gary’s performance,” coach Glen Mason said after the Gophers’ first win at Indiana since 1985.

It was the seventh time this season Russell found the end zone twice in a game. He has only been held scoreless at Penn State and Michigan.

The Gophers won their sixth game of the year, securing bowl eligibility for the sixth time in seven seasons.

But the first half didn’t go well for the Gophers, including a missed opportunity at the end of the second quarter to get some points on the board.

With five seconds remaining in the half, Minnesota had a first-and-goal from the Hoosiers’ two-yard line after an Indiana pass interference.

Mason elected to run one more play before trying a field goal, and after quarterback Bryan Cupito moved around in the pocket and fired an incompletion short of Russell in the end zone, the second-quarter clock expired with the Gophers still down seven.

And it definitely had Minnesota down.

“It seemed like everything that could go their way (in the first half) did,” senior center Greg Eslinger said.

“But we came out in the third quarter with a lot of fire and intensity.”

That intensity and fire was amplified on their first offensive possession of the second half.

It took just five plays, all of which were runs, and 1:25 of the clock for the Gophers to drive 65 yards. The drive was capped by a Maroney touchdown run from six yards out to pull the team within one.

But kicker Jason Giannini missed the extra point, his first of two missed extra points in the game. Saturday was also his third consecutive game with a missed field goal on the Gophers’ opening offensive possession.

Giannini’s mishaps in the kicking game were enough to make Mason admit he is “very worried about it.”

But Russell’s performance saved the kicking game struggles from being the focal point.

The Gophers converted a pair of two-point conversions to make up for the missed extra points, including a Russell halfback pass to tight end Matt Spaeth in the fourth quarter, just after Russell scored his third touchdown on a one-yard dive.

With all the adrenaline rushing through his body at time, Russell said he knew he would succed on the conversion.

“I knew I had to either throw the ball away or make the pass,” Russell said. “Luckily, I made the pass.”

With his Saturday performance as strong evidence, Russell has emerged this season as more than just a backup to Maroney, but rather his sidekick, much like Marion Barber III was the past two seasons.

“(Russell and Maroney’s) running styles are so different, but they get the job done,” Mason said. “I mean that’s as good as you can get.”