Gophers on the road to recovery

Dan Miller

If you’re familiar with a Minnesota goodbye, you’d know Gophers football coach Glen Mason is in a better mood than he has been the last two weekends.

But even while joking Sunday with reporters in the doorway of his office, not completely wanting to say goodbye, Mason made it clear everything wasn’t yet back to normal.

“You don’t get well overnight,” Mason said a day after his No. 24 Gophers shut out Illinois 45-0. “It was a step in the right direction.”

The damage inflicted by Michigan and Michigan State to the Gophers’ lofty expectations won’t heal after one game – even if it was Minnesota’s most lopsided win.

Mason rejected any talk of a complete rebound from some of the naked truths that were exposed after Minnesota’s 51-17 loss to the Spartans on Oct. 16.

“Under that situation (losing to Michigan State), you have doubt in all areas,” Mason said. “How could you not doubt? You start wondering, ‘Did we overestimate some kids? Are they playing as bad as we think? Are they not capable? What’s the problem?’ “

Undoubtedly, Minnesota’s defense played better Saturday. And if Mason was talking about some defenders being overrated, several of them made a statement Saturday.

Middle linebacker Kyle McKenzie, for example, struggled against Michigan State, but had a career game Saturday. The junior linebacker earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors after a 12-tackle, 2.5-sack performance.

“I needed to rebound, and the team needed to rebound,” McKenzie said after the game.

Numerous Gophers, including McKenzie, said after the game that the players-only meetings during the past week helped the team get back on track.

Darrell Reid called a player meeting Oct. 17 and weighed in on another meeting Thursday called by defensive coordinator Greg Hudson.

“It is a necessary thing to get on the same page,” Reid said. “We know we’re not going to the Rose Bowl, but we still have a lot to play for.”

Mason said the Gophers will continue to evaluate players – as they did last week – as the road toward repair continues.

“Our whole program was embarrassed,” Mason said of the Gophers’ loss to the Spartans. “I think winning a game helped. Playing good on defense and getting a shutout helped. Those things don’t come very often. That was a big accomplishment for them.”

Time will decide if the scars will be healed.

Barber also honored

Running back Marion Barber III also received Big Ten honors Monday. The junior was named the conference’s offensive player of the week after an 11-carry, 138-yard performance against Illinois – his first 100-yard game since Sept. 18 against Colorado State. He scored two touchdowns and threw for another in Saturday’s win.

Gophers bowl-eligible

By beating Illinois and moving to 6-2, the Gophers became bowl-eligible for the third straight year.

The Gophers also moved back into the polls with their victory. They are ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll and 23rd in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.

Minnesota also climbed into the 25th spot of the season’s second Bowl Championship Series poll.

The Gophers joined No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 12 Michigan among bowl-eligible Big Ten teams.

Mason wins 50th

With the win over Illinois, Mason becomes only the fourth 50-win coach in school history, improving to 50-42 in his eighth season.

Mason joins Henry Williams (136 wins from 1900-21), Bernie Bierman (93 wins from 1932-50) and Murray Warmath (87 from 1954-71) in the record books.

Madison game time set

The Gophers’ game with No. 6 Wisconsin will begin at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. It will be televised by ABC.