High hopes persist

Despite a poor game Saturday, expectations remain as high as ever for the Gophers.

Dan Miller

Minnesota’s 22nd-ranked football team has shown both sides of its coin in the young 2004 season.

On one side, the Gophers dominated a supposedly tough Toledo team, gaining more than 700 yards of offense and crushing the Rockets 63-21.

The other side was seen Saturday, as the Gophers won ugly 37-21 at home against Division I-AA Illinois State.

The Gophers allowed the Redbirds 480 yards of offense, including 372 yards passing. The Gophers committed 12 penalties in the game, including four pass interference calls.

“If we play like that again, we’ll get beat, or maybe we’re not as good as we think we are,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said Sunday.

On the bright side, the Gophers are still unblemished in the loss column at 2-0. And a season after winning 10 games for the first time since 1905, they might be able to realistically start thinking about a Big Ten title or even the Bowl Championship Series.

Conference frontrunners Ohio State and Michigan have struggled early, with the Wolverines losing to Notre Dame and the Buckeyes escaping Marshall with a 55-yard Mike Nugent field goal as the clock expired Saturday.

That could open the door for the Gophers, who have their highly-touted running game on track with more than 300 yards in each of their first two games.

Their top running backs, junior Marion Barber III and sophomore Laurence Maroney, combined for 2,378 yards on the ground last year and haven’t broken stride.

After Saturday’s game, Maroney is 13th in the nation in rushing, averaging 124 yards per game and 7.8 yards per carry. Barber is 22nd in the nation in rushing, with 113 yards per game and 7.1 yards per carry.

New quarterback Bryan Cupito, who had barely thrown a pass before the season began, has shown two sides as well. The sophomore impressed in his debut against Toledo, but struggled Saturday against the Redbirds.

Cupito said after Saturday’s game that he takes much of the responsibility for the Gophers’ sputtering performance.

“From the quarterback spot, I can say I made a lot of dumb decisions and didn’t play very well,” Cupito said.

Minnesota defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said the Gophers are looking to rebound after Saturday’s dismal performance.

“We need to get our mind right,” he said.

The defense handled Toledo, holding them to seven points well into the fourth quarter, but Saturday was a wake-up call.

The Gophers travel to Colorado State next Saturday, looking for a performance more like their polished showing in the Toledo game.

Mason has said since fall practices started that his team has been prepared, and Saturday was no exception.

“We practiced well,” he said. “We just didn’t play well.”