U’s bowl hopes blown by Indiana

Murali Balaji

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Gophers prepared for Indiana’s freshman phenom quarterback Antwaan Randle El all week. But in the end, their bowl hopes were blind-sided by his brother, cornerback Curtis Randle El.
With a 20-19 victory over the Gophers (4-6, 1-6 Big Ten), the brothers Randle El managed to extinguish the flame that kept the Gophers’ dim bowl aspirations alive. For Minnesota, it was a game where automatics weren’t automatic and the momentum gained from a solid 19-14 halftime lead meant nothing in the game’s closing moments.
Kicker Adam Bailey, who entered the game 28-of-33 on field goal attempts inside of 40 yards in his career, missed two short kicks as well as two extra points. The missed conversions essentially cost the Gophers eight points, and more importantly, the outcome of the game.
“It’s easy to blame one or two players, but we lost as a team,” a visibly upset coach Glen Mason said after the game. “We have only ourselves to blame.”
But Bailey’s blunders were only part of the Gophers’ inability to leave Bloomington with a victory. The defense honed in on Antwaan Randle El all day but was unable to stop him, as he shredded Minnesota for a career-high 143 rushing yards and one touchdown.
“He was the difference in the game,” Gophers linebacker Parc Williams said. “He’s just such a great player.”
However, it was the other Randle El, Curtis, who came up with the two biggest defensive plays, picking off quarterback Billy Cockerham and sacking him in the game’s waning moments.
Facing fourth-and-seven from the Hoosiers’ 28 with less than three minutes remaining, the Gophers chose to go for it, taking into consideration Bailey’s missed kicks. However, Curtis Randle El blitzed around the left side untouched, sacking Cockerham and any chance of a Gophers rally.
“That’s just one of those things where you either make it or look rather foolish,” Mason said. “We didn’t make it.”
The Gophers’ offense was surprisingly the lone bright spot for the team. Throughout much of the first half, the team moved the ball very well against a suspect Indiana defense, combining a solid passing game with a steady running attack.
Cockerham had one of his strongest passing performances of the season. He threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns, but was also picked off twice.
Running back Thomas Hamner gained 93 yards on 30 carries, including a one-yard dive that gave the Gophers an early 6-0 lead. Hamner, who had struggled all season to get into a groove, consistently found holes in the line and managed to keep the Hoosiers’ defense on their heels for much of the game.
“The running game and passing game looked good in the first half,” freshman wide receiver Ron Johnson (five receptions, 49 yards, and two touchdowns) said. “We actually moved the ball real well the whole game. Billy ran the offense well and (Hamner) looked real good.”
Johnson’s two touchdown catches gave him four on the season, which broke the freshman touchdown mark held by Ryan Thelwell. The touchdowns gave Johnson and the Gophers a commanding 19-7 first-half lead midway through the second quarter.
Enter Antwaan Randle El. With just over seven minutes remaining in the first half, Randle El ran the ball outside, faked out the usually reliable safety Tyrone Carter near the sideline and raced 50 yards down the Minnesota 30. A few plays later, he found tight end Craig Osika open in the end zone for a five-yard score, making it 19-14 entering halftime.
Randle El went back to work after wide receiver Luke Leverson muffed a punt early in the third quarter. On first-and-goal from the nine, he juked two Gopher defenders and bulled Carter over for a score.
Randle El’s rushing touchdown put the Hoosiers ahead for good. The Gophers’ offense was unable to answer and the team was left searching for answers after the game.
“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to, to win,” Carter said. “We’ve got one more game left, and we’ve just got to work hard to get prepared for that one.”