Minnesota keeps in close but first Big Ten win continues to elude Gophers

In a year of inconsistency however, the Gophers defense played possibly its best game of the season.

Luke Middendorf

IOWA CITY – It’s not always about which team is more talented or even who plays the best on a given day, but often it just comes down to who gets the right breaks to go their way that ultimately determines a victory.

Case in point – Minnesota and Iowa. Both of their 2007 teams are young and low on talent in comparison to previous years, and both finished the game on Saturday with similar statistics.

But someone had to gain the most important statistic: the win.

This Saturday, that someone happened to be the Hawkeyes (6-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten), who ground out the 21-16 victory in front of 70,585 at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa not only gained the win, but was also able to re-capture the highly-coveted Floyd of Rosedale trophy, a bronzed pig that goes to the annual winner of the Iowa/Minnesota border battle.

Although this game was not decided by what Gophers’ head coach Tim Brewster likes to call “explosive plays,” it was rather decided by a minor series of events that were neither flashy nor spectacular.

In a game that featured two struggling offenses that both failed to sustain many productive and lengthy drives, the result was forcibly decided by only a few plays that could have gone either way.

Unfortunately for Minnesota (1-10 overall, 0-7 Big Ten), as displayed throughout its frustrating season, the majority of those plays went the way of the home team.

“I asked them (Minnesota) after the game, ‘Who just feels like you’ve been stuck in the gut with a searing knife?'” Brewster said about his post-game speech to his team. “Everybody did. I said that’s good because that means we have a chance.”

The post-game frustration starts for the Gophers in the stat book, which indicates that they out-gained the Hawkeyes in total offensive yards, something that Minnesota has failed to do against any other opponent this season.

The most impressive statistic for the Gophers on Saturday was their ability to hold Iowa to a measly 68 yards of total offense in the second half.

For a defense that has been highly criticized all season because of ranking near the worst in the nation in many defensive statistical categories, the second-half performance from Minnesota provided hope and confidence for the future, but not a win.

The Gophers offense, led by freshman quarterback Adam Weber, put the bulk of the responsibility for not taking advantage of what was by far the best defensive performance for Minnesota all season.

“We had some bad plays and bad decisions,” Weber said. “It’s frustrating. We deserved to win this game. I feel bad for the older guys. It’s frustrating because you expect more out of yourself.”

As for those ever-important breaks that ultimately decided the game, they started falling like gifts from the sky for the Hawkeyes as early as their first offensive drive.

The first big break literally fell into Iowa’s hands as the Gophers put the Hawkeyes’ offense in a third-and-goal situation on the 8-yard line.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Christensen fired a pass over the middle which popped off of the hands of an Iowa receiver and into the air, but proceeded to land gently in the hands of Iowa’s Brandon Meyers who was standing unguarded in the end zone for the first points of the game.

When asked about the play, Brewster recognized it as luck and said that those types of plays are just “part of the game.”

“They had me covered and I just happened to look back and the ball was right there, it was luck,” Meyers said.

Minnesota had their fair share of tipped passes as well, but instead of eventually being caught they all wound up falling to the ground.

Two of those dropped balls could have been game changing plays, as Gophers seniors Desi Steib and Dominique Barber each had interception opportunities in crucial parts of the game that would have given Minnesota great field position.

Steib did grab a pick later in the game, but a good play again was undermined by an equally bad play as a dropped pass on third down during the following series by freshman receiver Tray Herndon cost Minnesota another potential scoring drive.

In the end, the game came down to a few small plays which mostly went the way of the Hawkeyes. And though the statistics might give an edge to the Gophers, sometimes it’s more beneficial to be lucky than good.

“We don’t care how many yards or points (we get),” Christensen said. “That doesn’t really matter to us. We don’t care how we win.”