Abdul-Khaliq hopes the best win is yet to come

Brett Angel

Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Troy State, Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq jogged lightly toward the sideline, unbuttoned his chin strap and exchanged congratulatory high-fives with coaches and teammates.

Over the next several minutes, almost everyone standing near the Gophers’ bench took the time to offer their team captain a discreet handshake or pat on the helmet.

But had it not been for the Metrodome’s public address announcer and an electronic message on the stadium scoreboard, the moment would have hardly resembled anything out of the ordinary.

Minutes before, Abdul-Khaliq made history by completing a 55-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hosack. It was Abdul-Khaliq’s third touchdown pass of the season and 41st of his collegiate career – passing Cory Sauter for most on the school’s all-time list.

But the catch itself, which in replay showed Hosack crash to the ground, fumble the ball and cross the goal line simultaneously, was more dramatic than the record, raising the question of just how meaningful the record really is.

Abdul-Khaliq has had six days to digest it all.

“It’s a great honor to have a record like that but we’ll have to worry about it later,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “We’ve got a couple more games to play throughout the season.”

Minnesota co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen said he wasn’t even aware of the record before Saturday.

But being the guy to throw more touchdown passes than anybody in the history of a team that’s been around since the 1880s does say something, both about the player and the program.

A natural talent

Few have ever questioned Abdul-Khaliq’s talent as a football player.

In his senior year at Elizabeth High School in New Jersey, he led his team to a state title by throwing 20 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. He also averaged 42.3 yards per kick as the team’s punter.

One year later, Abdul-Khaliq broke Vinny Testaverde’s school record for best touchdown-to-interception ratio at Fork Union Military Academy.

Since his arrival at Minnesota in 1999, Abdul-Khaliq has shown the potential to create big gains out of broken plays.

His ability to dance in the pocket is as impressive to fans as it is frustrating to opposing defenses and he’s more than willing to put his arm strength on display by firing spirals down the field.

“He’s got the most talent of any quarterback I’ve seen in my 18 years as a head coach,” said Minnesota coach Glen Mason, who also coached at Kent State and Kansas before joining the Gophers in 1997.

In his Minnesota career, Abdul-Khaliq has thrown nearly twice as many touchdown passes (41) as interceptions (22). He has scored 13 additional times with his legs and amassed more than 800 yards rushing.

Taking criticism

Along with Mason, Abdul-Khaliq has been instrumental in turning around a football program that posted winning conference records just twice between 1973 and 1998.

But a moderately successful run of three low-profile bowl trips in the last four years hasn’t been enough to shield Abdul-Khaliq from his share of criticism.

“Last year, Asad’s bad games were in the big games against the big teams,” Petersen said. “People remember that. If you want to have the big-time year, you can’t have one of those games.”

Not that any of this has shaken the confidence Mason has in his team leader.

“What quarterback hasn’t had ups and downs,” Mason said. “I think he’s had a great career to date.”

Abdul-Khaliq has also struggled with a variety of injuries in his career, including a bad ankle that plagued him much of last season.

While those injuries have likely kept Abdul-Khaliq’s statistics from being even better, Mason said his quarterback’s willingness to play through the pain is one of his most admirable qualities.

It’s all about winning

It’s not hard to see why Abdul-Khaliq’s critics might fail to attach much significance to a school touchdown record, where one decent season will get you on the list’s top 10. Mark Carlson currently holds that spot with 17 career touchdown passes.

Sauter, the man who held the record since 1997, and arguably one of the better quarterbacks in school history, was cut by the Chicago Bears in August and has failed to generate much interest at the professional level.

But a more likely reason Abdul-Khaliq is not universally viewed as one of the best at his position ever to play at Minnesota is his inability to lead the Gophers to a real breakout season.

“I thought he could be a great quarterback when I first saw him,” Petersen said. “But the one thing about Asad is he’s never totally lived up to his potential.

“I think Asad has got to have a great year if he wants to get put up there with some of the great quarterbacks at this school or great quarterbacks in the Big Ten or whatever.”

Abdul-Khaliq agrees.

At this point in his career, individual statistics only mean so much. As a fifth-year senior in his final season, Abdul-Khaliq said he just wants to win.

“No matter how many records you hold, if you win that’s what people will remember you for,” Abdul-Khaliq said.

“Most people have to read books to find out who holds what record but they don’t have to read any books to remember if that guy won some big games.”

With 10 games left on the schedule in his final collegiate season, there’s still time to accomplish that feat. There’s still time to silence his critics – even time to break some more records.

Abdul-Khaliq needs 2,576 passing yards to pass Sauter for best all-time in that category.

But records or not, as he has learned, it’s all about winning.