Gophers get back on track in Texas

WACO, Texas — Late in the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s 34-9 rout of Baylor on Saturday, Gophers quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq sat relaxed on the bench near the far sidelines. The hot Texas sun beat down on his head as he enjoyed the breeze from a fan and congratulations from several teammates.
Meanwhile, Baylor quarterback Greg Cicero stood in street clothes on his team’s sideline, wearing a blue brace on his arm. Cicero was receiving an equal amount of attention, but it wasn’t coming from teammates. It was coming from trainers, coaches and his father, Robert.
Although both young men wore smiles on their faces, they had totally different thoughts racing through their minds.
Abdul-Khaliq was surely thinking about the strong play of the Gophers. Minnesota racked up 461 yards of total offense, holding the Bears to just 179 yards.
Cicero, on the other hand, was probably thinking back to the hit he took from Karon Riley, breaking Cicero’s collar bone on just the second Baylor series.
Despite different thoughts, the result was the same — a convincing win for Minnesota. The win the Gophers needed after being upset last weekend against Ohio.
“We rebounded OK,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.
“But are we where we need to be? No. When the truck is rolling downhill, you better put on the brakes and stop it before you can get it going uphill.”
The one-game skid is over for the Gophers. But, more importantly, Minnesota got back to the fundamentals that eluded them last week.
The Minnesota defense, which was supposed to be the backbone for this team, had their best performance of the year, shutting down both the Bears rushing and passing attacks.
On the ground, Baylor gained only 56 yards on 26 carries. The pass offense was no better. The Bears, who used three quarterbacks, completed just 15 of 40 passes for 123 yards.
“We talked about our foxhole mentality where everybody has their own gap on defense,” senior linebacker Sean Hoffman said. “We took care of that, and it showed.”
At the half, Baylor had just 71 yards of offense and three points.
“For all purposes, (our defense) pitched a shutout in the first half,” Mason said. “They had three points, but that was because we had a punt blocked, which is a cardinal sin. But let’s face it — Baylor losing a quarterback sure helped.”
Losing their leader did hurt the Bears. Cicero, the team’s starting signal caller, was 2 of 2 passing before sustaining the injury. His replacements, Michael Odum and Guy Tomcheck, were 13 of 38 and threw back-to-back completions just once.
Riley said he didn’t know the junior was injured. But Riley did know when the Bears lost their starting quarterback, they lost the game.
“They lost their edge when he went out,” Riley said. “I just missed getting a sack; he got rid of it right before I got to him. I scooped him up and did what I do best.”
Cicero will be out for the season.
Losing Cicero wasn’t the only break Minnesota received in Texas. The much-anticipated heat never reached 90. Mason jokingly compared the weather to any September day in Minnesota.
Feeling right at home, the Gophers found their long-lost running game in Texas, collecting 289 yards on the ground — 183 from redshirt freshman Thomas Tapeh, who carried the ball 32 times.
After the game, most of the credit for the ground attack went to All-America center Ben Hamilton and the Gophers offensive line.
“Our linemen came up big,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “Every time we ran the ball, we got something positive.”
Tapeh led the Gopher scoring with a pair of touchdowns. Fellow running backs Tellis Redmon and Renato Fitzpatrick each had a score as well.
With a 2-1 nonconference record, the Gophers now prepare for the Big Ten season. Minnesota travels to West Lafayette, Ind., this Saturday to take on Drew Brees and the Boilermakers. Mason said the Gophers won’t be able to revel in their Texas win too long.
“I told (the players) to celebrate this victory all the way until this plane touches down in Minneapolis,” Mason said. “Then we better get our focus on Purdue.”

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]