Bigger games on the horizon

Matt Anderson

Two years ago, Minnesota’s undefeated season disintegrated at the hands of Michigan seniors Chris Perry and John Navarre.

Last year it was Michigan tight end Tyler Ecker slipping tackles from John Pawielski and Brandon Owens on his 31-yard catch and run to the end zone in Michigan.

But those weren’t the defining plays of their respective seasons.

2003 saw Jared Posthumus fumble the opening kickoff the week after Michigan, and the Gophers battled uphill the rest of the afternoon, losing to an inferior Michigan State team by a score of 44-38.

In 2004, it was a 43-yard first quarter touchdown run by Spartans running back Jason Teague that put Michigan State up 21-3 in a 51-17 loss that sent Minnesota’s season into a spiral.

Although Saturday’s win over then-No. 11 Purdue at the Metrodome was momentous – and the biggest home win of Glen Mason’s Minnesota tenure – it won’t define the Gophers’ season.

There’s no doubt it’s a huge first step to a possibly program-defining season. But the toughest tests lie ahead for Minnesota:

At undefeated Penn State this coming Saturday; at perennial bugaboo Michigan Oct. 8; home against undefeated Wisconsin Oct. 15; home on Oct. 29 for No. 8 Ohio State, the class of the Big Ten; home on Nov. 12 against undefeated and No. 11 Michigan State; and at Iowa on Nov. 19, a team Minnesota hasn’t beaten since 2000.

Those are the games that will define the Gophers’ season. A key win is nice, but it takes a season full of big wins to make the year an arrival.

However, the comeback win over the Boilermakers has already given a difference to this season from the past two years.

The indelible moment from the Gophers’ first big game of the season this year is a Logan Payne touchdown pass. Not the heartache of a potentially game-sealing interception by Purdue linebacker Dan Bick.

The keynote moments in Minnesota’s first big games each of the past two years meant season-dismantling defeat.

It’s with the momentum of a heart-stopping victory against a top-15 team that Minnesota enters the October portion of its schedule.

And Payne said the team won’t be dwelling on Saturday’s win next week in State College.

“I don’t think there will be hangover effect,” he said “We’re going to come out, and prepare just like we did this week.”

If that truly is the approach Payne and the Gophers take to the rest of the season, then playing on New Year’s Day is well within Minnesota’s reach.

– Matt Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]