Column: Stop citing moral victories after another fourth quarter bowl game collapse

Jack Satzinger

As the dust settled following a brutal 33-17 loss to Missouri in the Citrus Bowl on Thursday afternoon, Gophers fans took to social media to sound off as a season of growth came to a sour conclusion:

“So proud of all the #GopherFans who came out to the #CitrusBowl to cheer on the #Gophers! We out numbered Mizzou by over 2-1! #UMNProud #UMNAlumni #Jerrysota #BrickbyBrick.”

“So proud of @GopherFootball. They made me happy to be here.”

“Great season #Gophers #InKillWeTrust.”

Huh? Gophers fans need to stop being so Minnesota nice.

While the Gophers have taken undeniable steps forward in every season since Jerry Kill took over the helm, they’re now 0-3 in bowl games under the popular head coach. And Minnesota, a program that prides itself on a hard-nosed brand of football, was thoroughly outplayed down the stretch in each of those contests. 

Here’s a refresher:

2012: Minnesota led Texas Tech 31-24 with 3:24 left in the Texas Bowl before the Red Raiders rattled off 10-straight points to win 34-31.

2013: Up 17-14 with less than two minutes remaining in the Texas Bowl, the Gophers gave up a 70-yard punt return to Syracuse before quarterback Terrel Hunt scrambled into the end zone to ice the game.

2014: Trailing 19-17 with seconds left in the third quarter, Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner fumbled, Missouri recovered and finished the game off with 14 unanswered fourth quarter points.

Where’s the toughness?

In Kill’s first season, the team pulled out a gutty 1-point win over heavily favored Iowa. In 2012, the Gophers won at Illinois to become bowl-eligible. In 2013, they upset a ranked Nebraska team. In 2014, they beat both Nebraska and Michigan on the road and throttled rival Iowa at home.

Minnesota has been competitive in Big Ten play for the past two years despite its anemic passing game because of its strong defense, its dominant run game and its superb special teams unit. But come bowl season, Minnesota doesn’t look like the same team.

Minnesota’s single-season rushing record holder, David Cobb, was held to just 81 yards on 21 attempts against Missouri, its defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed up front as it was thrashed for 337 rushing yards, and after the game Kill told reporters his team also lost the kicking battle.

“Those stats came against the No. 16 team in the country, though! That team was the SEC runner up,” Gophers fans searching for moral victories might reply.

Sure, Missouri is no slouch. That said the Tigers never would have been ranked so high or in the SEC Championship Game — which they lost 42-13 to Alabama — in the first place had it not been for a soft SEC schedule.

Here’s the simple fact: If Minnesota can beat Nebraska in back-to-back seasons, silence more than 100,000 fans at The Big House, and embarrass rival Iowa by 37 points, it should certainly be able to get past Missouri on a neutral field in the same season. 

So stop spouting off about how, even though Minnesota lost, there were more Gophers fans in attendance. Stop saying you’re happy to be there. Stop being content with mediocrity when you know your team can do better.

Appreciate the rushing success Cobb had under Kill. Admire the stout defense Tracy Claeys built. Respect the added attention Minnesota puts toward special teams preparation.  

But don’t cheer when all of those things come apart in the fourth quarter of a bowl game for the third-straight season.