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Win on Saturday changes a lot of things

It’s a daunting task for Mason to extricate even two victories from (the remaining schedule).”

I wrote that about Minnesota’s football team last week in this space. And that was the part when I treated the Gophers with kid gloves. It got worse from there.

This week? Well, after Saturday’s win at Michigan, that looks pretty reactionary and stupid.

However, it seemed completely reasonable at the time. The Oct. 1 loss at Penn State was that bad. The Gophers looked terrible.

This season was going to follow the same script that previous years had: fatten up the win count on nonconference jokes; win an early Big Ten game or two; endure a cataclysmic game (2003 and 2004 Michigan losses, this season a Purdue win); then go in the tank.

But then came Saturday and everything changed.

Laurence Maroney had no room to run early, and Michigan was capitalizing on early chances to build a 13-3 lead that looked like it would only mushroom from there.

Then something crazy happened: Minnesota started answering back.

Bryan Cupito led a drive at the end of the half to pull the Gophers within three.

Minnesota went out and tied the game at the start of the second half.

After Michigan had a seemingly game-breaking kickoff return for a touchdown, the Gophers marched 61 yards in a little more than six minutes for a tying score.

Finally, Minnesota made one play more than Michigan. With its backup quarterback under center, Gary Russell scampered 61 yards down the sideline in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning field goal by Jason Giannini.

Game won, Little Brown Jug in the Twin Cities for the first time since 1986, and the complexion of the season completely changed.

A week ago, Bryan Cupito couldn’t lead the U.S. Army to a victory over Switzerland, Minnesota couldn’t run the ball against a good defense, the defense couldn’t stop a runaway shopping cart, let alone a Big Ten offense, and Glen Mason couldn’t turn the corner this season with a team facing a formidable Big Ten schedule.

But 60 minutes in Ann Arbor, Mich., changed those couldn’ts into cans.

Bryan Cupito kept his team in the game in the first half and made clutch third-down completion after clutch third-down completion.

After early trouble running the ball, Minnesota ended the afternoon rushing for 264 yards against the Wolverines.

The defense – missing two starters and featuring three players at positions different from the ones at which they started the year – allowed just 249 yards of total offense to a Michigan team that rolled up 488 yards the week before at No. 16 Michigan State.

And if Minnesota can win a game at Michigan where the team was trailing by 10 points, then why can’t this be the year the Gophers take the next step as a program?

After what happened in the Big Ten on Saturday, the loss at Penn State doesn’t look so bad, Wisconsin is by no means unbeatable and neither is Michigan State.

Here’s the point: It’s been year after year of the same song and dance from Minnesota; this past Saturday’s game makes the step and the tune of this season different.

Maybe this team can’t deal with success (read: their performance after Sept. 24’s win over Purdue). But thanks to this past Saturday, it won’t feel like the last five chapters of the season are going to read the same way they always do.

Matt Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected].

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