Bowl game collapse similar to entire season for Gophers

Mark Remme

.TEMPE, Ariz. – Unprecedented. Unpredictable. Unbelievable.

Pick an adjective. Any one of the lot describes the 2006 Insight Bowl perfectly.

And for Minnesota’s football team, the Insight Bowl symbolizes a tumultuous year that saw highs, lows and come-to-be-expected, mind-boggling meltdowns.

The Gophers proved in their 44-41 overtime loss to Texas Tech that coming out to play after halftime is essential to winning a game no matter how big the lead is. The 31-point meltdown in the second half is the largest blown lead in NCAA bowl history.

“Everybody was on cloud nine and a lot of people thought we couldn’t be stopped,” junior linebacker Mike Sherels said of the team’s demeanor at halftime.

The numbers didn’t disagree.

Minnesota (6-7 overall) had a 35-7 lead at the half, 330 yards of total offense, had yet to punt and forced three turnovers.

But complacency set in – a sight familiar to Gophers’ football fans – and the Red Raiders (8-5) took full advantage.

Texas Tech, without forcing a single turnover in the second half, stifled Minnesota’s red-hot offensive attack time and again in the third and fourth quarters, forcing two crucial three-and-outs in the fourth that ultimately set up a game-tying, 52-yard field goal by Red Raiders junior kicker Alex Trlica.

“We knew we needed to make sure their drives were quick,” Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said. “Our defensive front played better in the second half.”

The game’s results will go down in bowl history, but only the Gophers’ faithful followers will truly understand the shaky road the 2006 season brought to the table.

Minnesota began the season 2-5, defeating two teams that ultimately did not qualify for bowl bids in Kent State and Temple.

Its third victory came against Division I-AA North Dakota State thanks to a last-second missed field goal by the Bison. The Gophers were then thoroughly dismantled by No. 1 Ohio State at the Horseshoe, 44-0.

But facing the prospect of postseason elimination, Minnesota picked up the pieces of its battered team and won its final three Big Ten games despite suffering injuries on both sides of the ball. The result was a trip to Tempe.

In retrospect, the Gophers’ season was a mirror image of its final game. While Minnesota fought back in the second half of its season, it floundered – and ultimately gave away – the second half of its bowl game.

Coach Glen Mason said it’s as simple as splitting the game in two.

“That game was a game of two halves,” Mason said. “We had good defense and unstoppable offense in the first and all the breaks went our way.”

In the end, what looked to be a lost season ended in significant gain. The 2006 season yielded the seventh bowl bid in eight years.

But the Insight Bowl emphasized a major flaw in Minnesota’s football program. The Gophers cannot close out a meaningful game.

Ultimately, if Minnesota wants to achieve elite status in the Big Ten and the nation, they will have to change.

How its luck will change is up to the coaching staff.

“Some days you just can’t buy a break, and sometimes it seems like the ball bounces your way all the time,” Mason said.

In the Gophers’ bowl game and in its season, Mason’s words describe Minnesota perfectly.