Cupito is Gophers’ all-time passing leader

Zach Eisendrath

When senior quarterback Bryan Cupito found junior wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright for a 37-yard, game-changing touchdown late in the third quarter, he did more than just help the Gophers chances of playing in a bowl game, he cemented himself in program history.

With 264 yards on 16-of-28 passing, Cupito passed Cory Sauter to become Minnesota’s all-time leading passer.

After two touchdowns, he is now only five scores away from tying Asad Abdul-Khaliq’s (2000-2003) school record of 55 touchdown passes in his career.

“(Cupito’s) got great vision,” Wheelwright said. “He makes great throws and that’s why he’s a great quarterback.”

After achieving the milestone, Cupito said it was a nice honor, but was much more concerned with prolonging his collegiate career by leading his team to a bowl game.

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s a good accomplishment, but I’m happy we won. We want next week and that’s all that matters.”

Best he’s seen?

Senior tight end Matt Spaeth also holds a significant record thanks to his performance Saturday.

Spaeth, who has been banged up all year and suffered a head injury against the Spartans but quickly returned, became the Gophers’ all-time leading tight end in receiving yards.

Spaeth accomplished this feat early in the second quarter when Cupito found him wide open in the flat for a 38-yard gain.

Coach Glen Mason, who has coached his share of talented tight ends – including the Indianapolis Colts’ Ben Utecht – said Spaeth is one of the best he has coached.

“As far as putting everything together, as far as being a dominant blocker and a good ball control receiver and a tough guy, he’s the best I’ve (coached),” Mason said.

Wheelwright in motion

Junior wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright changed his number at the beginning of the season to No. 1, in part because he thought he’d feel more comfortable in his high school number.

But by his own admission, Wheelwright didn’t produce the way he would have liked early in the season.

Quote of the Game

“It’s a good accomplishment, but I’m happy we won. I’ll take next week too. If we win next week, that’s all that matters.”
– Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito on becoming Minnesota’s all-time career passing leader

However, as Minnesota continues to win, Wheelwright continues to make plays.

Last week he broke out with three catches for 116 yards. Saturday he only had one catch, but his 37-yard touchdown reception was a critical component in the Gophers’ come-from-behind win.

In the nine games prior to his breakout day against the Hoosiers, Wheelwright had only amassed 175 yards and couldn’t find the end zone.

Despite his early season struggles, Wheelwright said he has stayed motivated because he wants to help his teammates realize the bowl game opportunity that still presents itself.

“I wouldn’t call it a slow start,” Wheelwright said. “I just didn’t get out like I wanted to. I just felt like we had something to strive for because we don’t want to go home.”

Risk-taker

Saturday’s game was filled with unusual coaching decisions by Mason. Some were successful, others were not.

defining moment

Already down 9-0, with Michigan State on Minnesota’s 3-yard line, the Gophers appeared to be headed for another blowout loss. It all changed when junior free safety Dominique Barber intercepted a pass in the end zone. Minnesota went on to score and take control of the game.

His first unconventional and most widely discussed call came early when he elected to fake a punt from the Gophers’ own 13-yard line on the team’s second possession of the game.

The attempt failed, but Mason said he still thought it right to make the risky call.

“I go for it on fourth down more than any guy in college football, I think,” he said.

“Sometimes I have a lot more guts than I have brains,” he said. “But when you gamble it’s not always going to work out.”