Column: Gophers can take positives from loss, ya feel me?

Samuel Gordon

A record crowd packed TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, and for a couple minutes, it was as raucous as any crowd in stadium history.

That in itself is a victory of sorts.

No, the Gophers didn’t beat Wisconsin, but they made the Badgers sweat for a few minutes, and that seemed unfathomable a few years ago.

Though Wisconsin claimed Paul Bunyan’s Axe for a 10th straight year, Saturday’s game was yet another sign of the progress for Minnesota’s football program. Nobody expected Wisconsin to come to the Bank and lose, but in some respects, the Gophers played well enough to make that a realistic possibility.

The Badgers didn’t physically manhandle the Gophers like they did last season. And for what it’s worth, Minnesota did cover the point spread.

“I think we’re catching up,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Minnesota’s defense picked the perfect time to play its best game of the season, and the unit definitely played well enough to win. The offense, on the other hand, struggled to move the ball with any consistency and had a trio of untimely turnovers.

Still, the defense never backed down.

It flustered Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave all afternoon and held the Badgers’ vaunted running attack in check. Aaron Hill’s pick-six was as exciting as any play this team and fan base has experienced in the last few years.

Because of the defense’s effort, the Gophers were competitive until the last few minutes of the fourth quarter — uncharted territory against Wisconsin.

In turn, most of the announced crowd of 53,090 stayed until the end of the game, and that’s a testament to this season’s culture change. Minnesota had trouble filling the stadium earlier in the season — even in the meat of the Big Ten schedule — but that wasn’t the case Saturday.

While there’s obvious progress being made, the gap between the two programs is still significant. Minnesota’s not at the point where it can make mistakes and still beat quality opponents.

Wisconsin is.

Stave shook off the early interception and made throws when necessary. And the Wisconsin running game, though stymied, was vital in controlling the clock.

After the game, Kill said there is no such thing as a moral victory. There are, however, moral defeats. And this wasn’t one of them.

“We’re definitely closer,” senior defensive back Brock Vereen said. “I know when I come back, however many years down the road, we’ll definitely have the axe.”

A couple years ago, that seemed farfetched. Not anymore.

Ya feel me?