Stretch drive slump wearing on psyche of Gophers football team

Brian Hall

Before each Minnesota football game, coach Glen Mason usually meets with the opposing coach and the two exchange pleasantries.

But, according to the sixth-year Gophers coach, the talk in recent weeks has taken a new twist.

“It’s been amazing to me,” Mason said. “All the coaches I have talked to before the game, they all have said, ‘Wow, what a long season.’ “

But there is a difference between those coaches and Minnesota’s head man. Despite the long season, those coaches are still managing to win games.

Heading into the final weekend of the Big Ten season, the past three Gophers opponents are flourishing. Iowa just finished with an undefeated conference mark. Michigan has won three in a row, and the Buckeyes are also currently undefeated.

Meanwhile, the long season and a three-game losing streak have begun to take its toll on the Gophers.

“What is exhausting is the fact that we have lost the last three games straight,” sophomore Terry Jackson II said. “We just have to continue to realize we are a good team and we can play with anybody in this league and not be exhausted about things in the past and get excited about the future.”

Minnesota must overcome its weariness quickly because it heads to Madison on Saturday to face Wisconsin in the regular season finale for both teams.

The Gophers are already bowl-eligible, but the Badgers remain one game shy of a postseason birth.

After opening the season with a 7-1 record, Minnesota (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) has lost its last three contests by an average of 24 points.

Wisconsin (6-6, 1-6) is also reeling, having been dealt three straight defeats as well.

“Both teams have been struggling,” Mason said. “Both teams are on a losing streak and trying very desperately to put an end to it. At least one of us will be happy the losing streak ends when the game is over Saturday.”

The fourth quarter might play a big part in deciding this weekend’s outcome.

The Gophers have been outscored 31-7 in the fourth quarter during each of their three straight losses, while the Badgers are on the wrong side of 10-0 deficit of the final stanza during their streak.

“It can be draining,” senior Mike Lehan said. “It can be excruciating. If you face adversity too many times in a row you start to think you are no good, when the truth of the matter is we are. We just have to remind ourselves that we are a good football team.

“The intensity in practice is going to dictate what sort of game we are going to have. It is important for us to go out and have good practices this week.”

Minnesota believes it has the perfect cure for its lethargic ways this weekend. The Gophers-Wisconsin rivalry is the oldest in Division I with 112 games played, and Minnesota would like nothing else than to bring home Paul Bunyan’s Ax.

“We know we have lost three in a row, but we also know this is a big game that we are going to get up for,” senior Jeremiah Carter said. “We want to go out and prove the beginning of the season wasn’t a fluke.

“We are playing to keep the ax and playing to get our confidence back this week.”

Brian Hall covers football and welcomes

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