Miscues haunt Minnesota all season long

Be it an untimely fumble or a mishandled punt, the Gophers have seen and been hurt by it all.

by Nick Gerhardt

The best way to describe the season for Minnesota might just be the simple fact that they won one game and did not win a single Big Ten matchup.

This season, marred from the beginning, ended with a relative thud as the Gophers finished the season without a conference win for the first time since 1983.

Minnesota stopped the Wisconsin offense with six minutes left in the game but mental mistakes continued to haunt the team.

Freshman punt returner Harold Howell was set to receive the punt, but the ball sailed behind him and he was forced to turn 180 degrees to corral it. Instead of catching the ball however, he dropped it and the Badgers recovered at the Gophers’ 15-yard line.

The turnover proved costly as Wisconsin running back Zach Brown punched it in from the 4-yard line to make the game 41-27 and out of reach for Minnesota with just a little more than five minutes remaining in the game.

The Gophers did add another touchdown when a tipped ball landed into the hands of freshman wide receiver Ralph Spry, who ran 71 yards for a touchdown to draw the game to 41-34, but the season-long inability to avoid mistakes at a critical time plagued Minnesota.

Quote of the Game

“I couldn’t be more proud of our 16 seniors. I couldn’t be more proud of our football team. We’re going to be a much-improved football team next season. The vision and direction of this program is in excellent shape and the potential of where we’re going to go excites me greatly.”
-Tim Brewster

“We had a couple of mental errors, but overall it was a good game,” senior wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright said.

On the final possession for the Gophers, freshman quarterback Adam Weber tried to find senior tight end Jack Simmons, but his pass was intercepted and Wisconsin ran the clock out to end the game.

“You go through ups and downs in college football,” senior safety Dominique Barber said. “You have to keep your head up.”

Defining Moment

After Minnesota’s defense forced the Badgers to punt and Wisconsin led 34-27 with about six minutes left, the Gophers were in good position to tie the game with a successful scoring drive. But freshman Harold Howell misjudged the length of the punt, resulting in a fumble, which was recovered by the Badgers. Wisconsin followed by scoring a touchdown and thwarted a Minnesota comeback.

—Luke Middendorf

Coach Tim Brewster has said throughout the season that change is a process and that his team is going through the tough part this season.

“We did some really good things but we didn’t win a football game and that’s what we’re here to do,” Brewster said. “Change is hard. It’s a long, tough process.”

The positives Minnesota can take away from this season are that they are young and they played very well in their last game of the season.

“We played tough every game. There were times we could have packed it in,” Weber said.

Player of the Game

Zach Brown No. 30 freshman running back
• With regular starter P.J. Hill out with an injury, freshman Zach Brown more than filled in, carrying the ball 29 times for a career-high 250 yards. Brown’s physical style of running helped him plow through the Gophers front line and break out for runs of 64 and 60 yards.

The Gophers didn’t quit in their final game and showed they just might have the ability to play against Big Ten opponents.

“We know the potential we have and we kind of showed it in spurts today,” Weber said.

Minnesota took advantage of their opportunities Saturday despite being plagued by errors.

The Badgers missed two field goals in the first half and the Gophers held a 13-10 lead.

Minnesota scored a field goal off an interception but could not convert any of the missed field goals into points, as an interception in the second quarter ended the chances of the Gophers taking a bigger lead.

Mistakes have hurt this team and its opportunity to win games this season, but miscues are usually expected with a team as inexperienced as the Gophers.

“We have to continue to be consistent,” Brewster said.

The final game of the season, Minnesota showed if it can limit its mistakes and that it can play with a top conference foe like Wisconsin.

The question becomes whether it can sustain a consistent effort needed to win a game next season.

“This is a great group of kids. They haven’t quit one snap all season long,” Brewster said. “The potential of where we’re going to go excites me greatly.”