Bobcats bowl over Minnesota

No one could have predicted Minnesota would lose to Ohio 23-17 at the Metrodome on Saturday.
No one could have seen the Gophers — of the mighty Big Ten — getting upset by the little-known Bobcats of the Mid-America Conference.
No one except maybe Balki Bartokamous from the sitcom “Perfect Strangers.”
In one classic episode, Balki, who knows very little about football, impresses his roommate Larry by successfully predicting the results of NFL games.
How does Balki accomplish this feat? He picks the team with the tougher mascot.
If Balki had wagered on the Gophers/Bobcats showdown, he would have surely put his money down on Ohio, because everyone knows Minnesota’s mascot is about as intimidating as a squirrel on Northrop Mall.
Once again, Balki would have been right. Not because of the difference in mascot toughness, but because the Bobcats of the MAC simply outplayed their foes of the more powerful Big Ten.
“It doesn’t matter what the perception is on who is going to win, that’s why you play the game,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said after the Gophers first-ever loss to a MAC team. “I thought we took a thorough whipping in every category. They out-blocked us, they out-tackled us and they out-coached us.
“We lined up and got our butts beat big time.”
What Mason called a whipping came early and often, thanks to the trickery of Ohio’s creative wishbone offense.
An offense that racked up 363 yards on the ground on 73 carries. An offense that wore down the Gophers defense by controlling the ball over 40 minutes. And an offense that used three big plays to shock Minnesota.
The first came on Ohio’s second possession when quarterback Dontrell Jackson faked a reverse, then hooked up with running back Chad Brinker on a 50-yard touchdown pass to give Ohio a 6-0 lead.
The Bobcats then pulled out more tricks on their next possession. This time, Brinker was on the passing end of a 35-yard halfback toss to wide receiver Joe Mohler, resulting in a 13-0 Ohio lead.
But of the three plays, the killer for the Gophers came on the first play of the fourth quarter. With the Bobcats up 16-14 and facing a third and three, fullback Keland Logan rolled 67-yards down the turf like an Army tank, setting up the game-winning score.
“To me that was the exclamation point,” Mason said. “When they hit that, that broke our back.”
While Ohio’s offense was unpredictable, Minnesota’s was unbearable.
Freshman quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq came out of the gate wild. On the first two Gophers possessions, Abdul-Khaliq threw incomplete passes on his first four attempts.
At the half, Abdul-Khaliq had connected on just six of 16 passes for 74 yards. His first-half wildness never allowed the Gophers to put together a drive consisting of more than two first downs.
“Throughout the game I had a lot of mental mistakes,” said Abdul-Khaliq, after noting he had no ill-effects from the concussion he suffered in the Louisiana-Monroe game. “Whatever went bad all came back to me. The offense did fine except for me.”
Abdul-Khaliq would settle down to start the second half. On the first two Minnesota possessions he hit Gophers junior wide receiver Ron Johnson for a pair of long scores (65 and 61 yards) to give Minnesota their only lead, 14-13.
Although it took the Gophers offense just 1:08 to score the pair of touchdowns, the lead would be short-lived. The Bobcats responded by putting together a 13-play drive ending in a field goal.
“No matter who you play, anytime you go up on a team you have to be done with it,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “You can’t let them hang around, because bad things will happen.”
Bad things certainly did happen, and Abdul-Khaliq was not alone.
The Gophers defense never adjusted to Ohio’s wishbone. Of the Bobcat’s 22 first downs, 20 of them were rushing.
“The way we got whipped, it’s not one guy’s fault,” Mason said.
“We gave them way to much yardage on first down. It seemed like they were always in second and five, or second and four. In the option offense that’s exactly where you want to be.”
Ohio, with an upset over a major-conference school, is exactly where they want to be. Minnesota, with one game left before Big Ten play begins, is not.
With a non-conference schedule that was supposed to give the Gophers a 3-0 record heading into the Big Ten season, Minnesota all of a sudden finds itself at 1-1.
This Saturday’s game in the Texas heat at Baylor becomes a must-win if the Gophers want to reach the six wins needed to become bowl-eligible.
But after the tough loss, Mason and his team didn’t wear looks of frustration like they did after losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State last year, but rather looks of confusion.
They weren’t talking about Baylor, but instead about what happened against Ohio.
“They have good, tough, football players,” Mason said. “Do they have more talent than we [do]? No, but they played better as a team, I promise you that.”
Added Johnson: “It was a boxing match, and they knocked us out.”

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