Saturday’s collapse nothing new

Though Minnesota’s loss to Wisconsin was crushing, it’s old news for the Gophers.

David McCoy

There is no denying that what happened Saturday at the Metrodome was shocking.

It seems almost inconceivable that a game so surely in Minnesota’s football team’s hands could slip away so quickly.

After getting a seven minute, 48 second breather thanks to a 19-play, 80-yard drive that put Minnesota ahead 34-24, Minnesota’s defense let that lead slip to three just one minute, 17 seconds later.

A personal foul, botched onside kick recovery, three and out, dropped snap, blocked kick, winning touchdown and fumbled kickoff later, Minnesota was a 38-34 loser.

“I really feel for my team right now,” coach Glen Mason said. “It almost hurts worse to lose like this than when you get killed.”

But after further review of the game, it is remarkable how similarly Saturday’s stunning loss compares to past great Gophers collapses.

Going back to 2000, Minnesota led 35-14 late in the third quarter at home against Northwestern.

But Wildcats quarterback Zak Kustok’s 45-yard Hail Mary to Sam Simmons as time expired gave Northwestern a 41-35 comeback win over the Gophers.

In that game, Minnesota outpassed Northwestern 316 yards to 209 yards.

In 2001 at home against Purdue, the Gophers were ahead 28-17 late in the fourth quarter before allowing Boilermakers to score a touchdown and complete the two-point conversion with 4:03 remaining to cut the score to 28-25.

Minnesota punted the ball with 19 seconds left in the game. A controversial call allowed the Boilermakers to kick the tying field goal as time expired and eventually win in overtime.

In that game, Minnesota outrushed Purdue 216 yards to 151.

Skip ahead to 2003, when Minnesota was leading Michigan 28-7 at home going into the fourth quarter.

Minnesota proceeded to surrender four fourth quarter touchdowns and a 33-yard game-winning field goal with 47 seconds left to give the Wolverines the win.

In that game, Minnesota outrushed Michigan 424 to 94.

And finally, in 2004, Minnesota led Michigan 24-17 early in the fourth quarter before eventually losing on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Tyler Ecker with 1:57 left.

Minnesota lost the statistical battle in that game, but in another heartbreaker later last season, the Gophers didn’t blow a lead – but rather an opportunity – outrushing Iowa 337 to 6 but losing 29-27 at the Metrodome.

All of these games carry common themes – winning yardage battles, time-of-possession battles and blowing big leads.

On Saturday, the Gophers outrushed the Badgers 411 to 131 and controlled the ball for almost 11 minutes longer.

“One more play here and there and a couple more inches, and the outcome would have been different,” Mason said. “While our individual accomplishments were impressive today, the most important thing is getting the victory, and we weren’t able to do that.”

In the 2003 Michigan game, 2004 Iowa game and 2005 Wisconsin game, Minnesota outrushed its opponents by a combined total of 1,172 yards to 231 yards. But more important is the 0-3 record in those games.

The late choke is something Gophers fans have grown all too familiar with in the Mason era, showing that perhaps the team does not know how to handle success.

This has also led many to question whether Mason deserves a contract extension, an issue that needs to be resolved before his current inking expires on Dec. 31, 2006.

Some say he deserves credit for getting the program back to respectability but needs to be replaced for the program to jump to the next tier.

Others say Mason is doing the best he can with his current situation: no on-campus stadium, low football budget, subpar home recruiting area and lack of fan and alumni support.

That opens a whole new discussion.

Instead, Mason has other concerns, such as escaping the season with at least one more win.

As Mason said earlier this season about getting his team to the upper echelon of the Big Ten, along with teams such as Michigan:

“I don’t want to get into that,” he said. “I have to figure out how to block and tackle.”

Game time set

The Big Ten announced on Monday that Minnesota’s home game against Ohio State on Oct. 29 will kick off at 11 a.m. The game will be televised on ABC.

BCS standings released

The Bowl Championship Series released its standings of the season on Monday. Southern California occupies the top spot followed by Texas and Virginia Tech.

Penn State is the top-ranked Big Ten team, at 10th. Wisconsin is 14th, and Ohio State rounds out the top 15.