Minnesota searching for pivotal win in Evanston

Anthony Maggio

Besides a change of venue, comparing the game between Northwestern and Minnesota with last seasons meeting is like looking in a mirror.

Last year, the Wildcats spoiled homecoming for the Gophers, winning 41-35 in dramatic fashion. This season, Minnesota travels to Evanston for Northwestern’s homecoming.

And this time, a touch of revenge has been added.

Coach Glen Mason said he never refers to past games, no matter what the outcome. But last year’s lost is still something he thinks about.

“I shouldn’t have watched that damn film because I went home and couldn’t sleep,” Mason said. “I think the average person, the average fans, they remember only the one last play.”

In case Gophers fans have forgotten, Northwestern (3-1, 1-1 Big Ten) came back from a 21-point deficit late in the third quarter, then spoiled Minnesota’s homecoming on a 45-yard Hail Mary pass.

Also spoiled were any lingering hopes the Gophers had of getting to Rose Bowl.

Although Minnesota’s (1-3, 0-2) coaches and players don’t talk much about last year’s homecoming debacle, it certainly lingers in the back of their minds and has affected their preparation this week.

“It’s a little different,” quarterback Travis Cole said. “You always want revenge.

“When a team beats us the year before, you always want to come back and beat them at their place and silence their crowd.”

Last season, the Gophers were a game away from a bowl berth heading into the homecoming matchup with the Wildcats.

This year, Northwestern is locked in a five-way tie for fourth in the Big Ten with two conference games under its belt.

In last year’s matchup, the dynamic duo of Heisman Trophy candidate Damien Anderson and quarterback Zak Kustok led the way. Anderson rushed for 230 yards while Kustok picked up 90 of his own. Kustok also passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

“They’ve got a lot of talent in the backfield without a doubt,” cornerback Mike Lehan said. “They’re definitely a very good one-two punch.”

Arguably the most dangerous duo in the conference leads the way again for the Wildcats, a team ranked second in scoring and rushing offense in the Big Ten, and first in total offense.

Meanwhile, the Gophers go into Saturday’s game with the second-worst scoring, rushing, and total defense.

Still, Northwestern coach Randy Walker isn’t planning a celebration just yet.

“We’re going to play a team I know is getting better and better,” Walker said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us on Saturday.”

Minnesota better improve quickly, because a 5-2 record over its final seven games is needed to make a bowl game.

And no matter how mum the team keeps about last year’s Northwestern game, the importance of this week speaks loud and clear to Minnesota.

“We need a big win, it’s as simple as that,” Cole said. “We’re going down on Friday and we’re going to try to whoop some Wildcats.”

 

Anthony Maggio covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]