Horton: MSU loss was a turning point

Sophomore MarQueis Gray embraces Interim Head Coach Jeff Horton on Saturday at the TCF Bank Stadium.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Sophomore MarQueis Gray embraces Interim Head Coach Jeff Horton on Saturday at the TCF Bank Stadium.

John Hageman

Going into East Lansing three weeks ago, it didnâÄôt seem like the Gophers had much to play for. Hopes for a bowl game were dashed long before Tim BrewsterâÄôs termination three weeks before their matchup with Michigan State. They were also coming off a 52-10 drubbing against Ohio State, their worst loss of the season. The Gophers fought with as much grit as they had all season defensively but still gave up three first-half touchdowns to Michigan State running back Edwin Baker, including a fourth-down score as time expired. For Minnesota interim head coach Jeff Horton, that score changed the course of his adopted teamâÄôs season. âÄúI felt that was the turning point,âÄù Horton said. âÄúWe could have gone back out and got beat 50-0 or whatever, but our kids hung in there and we battled.âÄù Although the final score was still lopsided, the Gophers kept pace with then-No. 14 Michigan State in the second half. That momentum carried over into the following week with an emotional comeback win in Illinois, their first win since the opening weekend at Middle Tennessee State. That victory propelled them to the unlikely toppling of their border rival Saturday. Senior Ryan Collado wasnâÄôt sure what turned the Gophers around in the last two weeks, but said they saved their best for last. âÄúWe were executing, and all three phases had a great game, and thatâÄôs something we had missed throughout the season,âÄù Collado said. âÄúI think today everything just clicked.âÄù For senior quarterback Adam Weber, the difference was staying calm when things started to go downhill. DeLeon Eskridge put the Gophers up by double-digits for the second time while fully extending his right arm for the pylon in the second. But Iowa sucked all of MinnesotaâÄôs momentum out of the stadium with an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seconds later. The Gophers responded with a field goal and went into halftime up by three. Late in the third, Eskridge gave the Hawkeyes new life with a fumble in Iowa territory. After an Iowa touchdown, the Gophers found themselves down for the first time all night but not out. âÄúAny time youâÄôre playing a team like Iowa you know itâÄôs going to go back and forth,âÄù Weber said. âÄúEvery guy stepped up and made plays, and thatâÄôs what we were missing earlier this season and thatâÄôs something weâÄôve been able to correct and thatâÄôs why weâÄôve won these last two weeks.âÄù âÄúTrickerationâÄù equates momentum Regardless of the situation, Horton, who coached in Nevada for 13 years, was going to roll the dice. After Eric Ellestad opened the game with a 26-yard field goal, he kept the Iowa offense on the sideline by recovering his own onside kick. But the decision wasnâÄôt spontaneous. If Iowa chose to receive to start off the game, Horton said they would have tried an onside kick right away, an idea that came from special teams coach John Butler. The Gophers took advantage of the bonus possession, scoring a touchdown on the ensuing drive to take an early 10-0 lead before the HawkeyesâÄô offense even stepped on the field. âÄúItâÄôs always good when trickeration works,âÄù Horton said. âÄúWe felt we had a good opportunity there with how they lined up.âÄù GrayâÄôs big rushing day Sophomore backup quarterback MarQueis Gray had just 39 of the GophersâÄô 216 yards rushing Saturday, but they came on some of the most pivotal plays of the game. His first rushing touchdown of his career, a 14-yard dash into the end zone, gave the Gophers a 10-0 lead. But maybe more importantly, Gray handled key third-and-short situations, converting three of four attempts when taking designed runs at quarterback. The Gophers finished 9-for-16 on third down attempts. He kept the GophersâÄô hopes of hoisting Floyd alive on the game-winning drive late in the fourth. Facing a third-and-4 from the Iowa 12, Gray fought through several tacklers to push himself to the 6-yard line. Duane Bennett put in the winning score on the next play. âÄúI was kind of pissed off they got me the third down before that where they stopped me,âÄù Gray said. âÄúI was just thinking of that in my head, and I just told them I couldnâÄôt be stopped again and IâÄôm not going to let one person tackle me so I got the first down.âÄù Extra points: Horton said he stayed up until 1:30 a.m. Saturday to watch his alma mater No. 19 Nevada upset Bowl Championship Series-hopeful Boise State. He said the win fired him up, but he downplayed its significance for the rest of the team âÄúIt was good mojo for me,âÄù Horton said. âÄúMost of our players, I donâÄôt know if they know where Nevada is.âÄù -Senior tight end Colin McGarry was a fresh target for the Gophers, making his first catch since the Sept. 25 matchup against Northern Illinois, which was his first career reception. -Freshman A.J. Barker caught his first career pass, a 17-yard strike early in the second that led to a 35-yard field goal.