Gophers blow past Hoosiers, lock bowl bid

Michael Dougherty

Lesson number one in Intro to a Winning Program is “How to Avoid a Letdown,” and professor Glen Mason and his class of angry Gophers passed with flying colors with Saturday’s 44-20 win against Indiana.
Mason preached all week that his pupils must clear thoughts of the Penn State upset from their minds, and fill them with ways to contain the Hoosiers’ quarterbacking Houdini, Antwaan Randle El.
Adapting to this new winning-program persona, Minnesota made a handful of freshman mistakes. Quarterback Billy Cockerham threw three interceptions and fumbled a handoff.
“It was one of those things where we would do some things and then throw an interception — do things and get a fumble,” Mason said. “It was getting to the point where you say, ‘We’re letting them hang around too long.’ Typically, when I get that feeling as a coach, bad things are on the way.”
In this case though, the pupils taught the professor as the Gophers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) overcame the mistakes and capitalized on two huge Hoosiers (4-6, 3-4) mishaps in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
The first came two minutes after Gophers kicker Dan Nystrom put Minnesota in front 27-20 with a 25-yard field goal at the 12:24 mark of the final stanza.
Randle El moved the Hoosiers to midfield when he dropped back and overthrew Versie Gaddis. Minnesota cornerback Jimmy Wyrick picked it off and ran 61 yards the other way to put the Gophers up 34-20.
On the ensuing kickoff, senior linebacker Luke Braaten forced Hoosiers return man Adam Braucher to fumble and recovered it at the Indiana 17. Three plays later Nystrom hit a 24-yard field goal that essentially ended the game.
Mason credited the win to the group of 18 seniors, who were playing in front of the 47,852 fans at the Metrodome for the last time in collegiate their careers. He said Wyrick’s play, “swung the whole game.”
“It was now you see me now you don’t,” Mason said. “It was right in front of me and I saw the receiver and I saw the ball coming and boom, Wyrick was in front and he was gone. I knew as soon as he caught it, it was over.”
Randle El and the Hoosiers offense had picked on Wyrick most of the day, so it was a bit of redemption for Wyrick, who is from De Soto, Texas.
“(Defensive coordinator David Gibbs) put us in zone coverage — cover-two — and he has this knack about knowing when something is going to happen,” Wyrick said. “It was the first time that I was able to grab one and take it to the house.”
Wyrick’s pick was the first time the Gophers were able to slap Randle El around. For a bette r part of the first three quarters, the sophomore zigged and zagged his way through the Minnesota defense leaving a trail of frustrated defenders in his wake.
His ability to escape pressure and create on the run was reminiscent of schoolyard football. On some plays he would scoot around in the pocket like a kid taking a Jet Ski for a joy ride.
But for all his electrifying elusiveness, Minnesota was able to contain the damage to just 161 yards passing on 12-of-30 passing and 64 yards rushing on 18 carries. But most importantly, Randle El accounted for no touchdowns.
Cockerham, on the other hand, put his stamp on three Gophers scores. He rumbled across the goal line for two scores on the ground and hit wide receiver Ron Johnson with another. The ninth and 10th rushing touchdowns of the season for Cockerham broke the school record for quarterback scores in a season.
Also entering the record books was fellow senior Thomas Hamner, who had 174 yards on 34 carries. It was the seventh 100-yard game for him this year, which ties a team record. He now has 1,279 yards this season which is a school record for seniors.
With 15 carries and 165 yards next week against Iowa, Hamner will break the school record for both categories.
“It’s his last year so we’re trying to get our money’s worth out of him,” Mason said.
Cockerham only completed 7-of-16 passes but ran 19 times for 111 yards. But the four turnovers are what stuck in his mind.
“He said to me right after I put (backup quarterback Andy) Persby in and took him out, ‘I didn’t play very good, but we won,'” Mason said of Cockerham. “He might have not played great but he played pretty good.”
Good enough to win — something the team learned Saturday.

Michael Dougherty covers football and welcomes comments a [email protected]