With clock nearing zero, time to produce

Matt Anderson

After the disaster that was Saturday’s game at Penn State, Minnesota’s football team is in crisis condition.

There were multiple flaws exposed in the Gophers after they were systematically drubbed by a score of 44-14, from poor tackling to an exposure of their inability to function offensively when they can’t run the ball.

A seemingly big win the week prior against Purdue was diminished after the Boilermakers were dismantled 49-21 at the hands of Notre Dame.

And now comes the really ominous part: Minnesota plays four of its next five games against teams in the top 25.

This is coach Glen Mason’s chance to prove he truly deserves a contract extension. He has one year left after this year, and if he can’t get at least two more wins to secure bowl eligibility, he doesn’t deserve to continue working at Minnesota.

Is the schedule tougher than last year? Absolutely. But good coaches make teams better. And after what’s transpired through five games, this team might not be better than last year’s edition.

Bryan Cupito still hasn’t shown he can consistently lead a team to points without a running game. He hasn’t even proved effective enough to keep teams from overloading the box to stop Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell.

The defense, despite a new, simpler, more aggressive scheme, still misses tackles at the opposing offense’s will. After Penn State carded an unfathomable 35 first downs Saturday, it doesn’t look like the third down defense is that much better than last year.

Now here comes No. 21 Michigan, No. 14 Wisconsin, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 19 Michigan State over the next five weeks.

A road game against Indiana on Nov. 5 should add another tally to the win column, but in their 11th game, at Iowa, Gophers could struggle to win.

It’s a daunting task for Mason to extricate even two victories from that morass. But coaching a college football team back to national prominence is nothing but a daunting task.

Mason has lifted the program one notch. By getting to a bowl game in 1999, he moved the program past the disastrous Jim Wacker tenure. And bowl appearances in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004 have proved the step up is no fluke.

But those seasons also illustrate the plateau Mason has reached with the Minnesota program. He hasn’t taken the Gophers to a New Year’s Day bowl game, and has, since bringing the program back over .500 in the Big Ten with five wins in 1999, posted Big Ten successive win totals of four, two, three, five and three.

Mason deserves credit for getting the Gophers to a point where they can expect to make bowl games each year; but he hasn’t gotten past that level in six years.

If he can get two more wins, he’ll show he is capable of getting multiple conference victories against quality opponents.

But miss a bowl game and Mason will show he just can’t lift the program any higher.

There are coaches out there who can.

No bowl game this year, and Athletics Director Joel Maturi should start looking for one of them.

– Matt Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]