With bye, Gophers get another week to savor win

Josh Katzenstein

Normally a plane delay is aggravating, but MinnesotaâÄôs interim football coach Jeff Horton didnâÄôt mind sitting around with his team for three hours after beating Illinois in Champaign, 38-34. âÄúYou couldnâÄôt have asked for a more lively room,âÄù he said. The Gophers (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten) won just their second game of the season last weekend, and with a bye this week before facing No. 20 Iowa on Nov. 27, the team will continue to celebrate. Minnesota will have a light week and had Sunday off. The Gophers also wonâÄôt practice in full pads at all this week. âÄúMentally and physically we needed a break,âÄù Horton said Tuesday. âÄúWe will practice today, tomorrow and Thursday. We wonâÄôt go real long.âÄù The Gophers are hopeful to have injured offensive linemen Ed Olson, Matt Carufel and Ryan Orton back for the Iowa game. Injured tight end Colin McGarry, who has been out since the Wisconsin game, will also return to practice, Horton said. Although it will be an easy week for the players, Horton said he anticipates having about 80 to 90 percent of his game plan for the Iowa game prepared by weekâÄôs end. Players will also have the upcoming Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. Three days after the fact, Horton still seemed more focused on the win than what lies ahead during his Big Ten teleconference. âÄúItâÄôs been a long time since Sept. 2 since weâÄôve had any celebration of any kind,âÄù he said. âÄúTo see actual smiles and laughter and tears and celebrating with the fans and in the locker room, that was a long time overdue. âÄúIt was just an awesome experience.âÄù Key to the Gophers victory was cornerback Troy Stoudermire, who earned the Big Ten special teams player of the week honors after his performance Saturday. His 90-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter led to a touchdown and helped spark the Gophers to overcome a 10-point deficit. Stoudermire also had the game-sealing interception and ran around until the clock hit triple zeros. Key Big Ten games Northwestern vs. Illinois Two teams needing a boost will face off at Wrigley Field Saturday, the first football game at the Chicago CubsâÄô ballpark since 1970. Though the Wildcats (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) stole a game late at then-No. 13 Iowa last weekend, they will be without starting quarterback and reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week Dan Persa. After leading NorthwesternâÄôs game-winning drive Saturday, Persa ruptured his AchillesâÄô tendon celebrating the score and will miss the remainder of the season. Persa led the Big Ten in completion percentage (73.5) and was second in total offense, accounting for 258.1 yards per game. Redshirt freshman Evan Watkins will start in his place. On the other side, the Illini (5-5, 3-4) will look to shake a disappointing loss to the Gophers last Saturday. Illinois needs just one win to become bowl eligible, and if the Illini canâÄôt beat the Wildcats at Wrigley, they would have to thwart Fresno State on the road to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2007. No. 9 Ohio State at No. 20 Iowa This game feels less important than it looked a week ago since Iowa (7-3, 4-2) is barely holding on to any hope of winning the Big Ten after falling to Northwestern. But the thought of looking past the Hawkeyes hasnâÄôt crossed Buckeyes coach Jim TresselâÄôs mind. âÄúIâÄôm not sure you could heighten this one any more or less. All summer long and all fall long people have circled this game,âÄù Tressel said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. âÄúThey know what this game, we know what this game is all about, so I donâÄôt expect their loss or our win the past week to have much effect on that.âÄù Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) hasnâÄôt lost to Iowa since 2004. No. 7 Wisconsin at Michigan The Badgers (9-1, 5-1) will look to stay atop the conference standings this weekend, but the Wolverines (7-3, 3-3) are still hoping to position themselves for a better bowl game. Wisconsin enters as the Big TenâÄôs third-best offense team while Michigan is the conferenceâÄôs worst defensive squad. The Wolverines are the best offensive teams in the Big Ten, though, so this has all the making of a shootout in Ann Arbor.