Gophers left with plenty of reflection time

Six weeks ago, the Gophers were talking Rose Bowl. Now, they hope for any bowl.

Ben Goessling

On Oct. 9, Minnesota entered Michigan Stadium trumpeting its Rose Bowl credentials to anyone who would listen.

Thirty-four days later, the Gophers have been reduced to begging for a trip to Detroit.

But hey, there’s some good news. As catastrophes go, at least this one was six days shorter than the great flood.

Minnesota’s tailspin was completed Saturday with a 29-27 loss to Iowa that dropped the Gophers to 6-5 overall, including 3-5 in the Big Ten, and reduced them to an afterthought on the bloated bowl schedule.

The Gophers’ likely destination is the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 27. And even that game – which could bring a rematch with season-opening victim Toledo – sounds good to Minnesota right now.

“Our goal was to go to the Rose Bowl. Now we’re just trying to get to a bowl,” quarterback Bryan Cupito said. “We just want to play again. Wherever we go, we’ll be excited. Hopefully someone takes us.”

Cupito went on to say the Gophers’ production during the second half of the Iowa game – in which Minnesota reduced a 13-point deficit to two and came within a missed field goal of winning – was a step in the right direction.

Mason agreed. “We got in situations that you’d like to be in – have the ball in your hands with enough time on the last drive to put yourself into position to score and win,” Mason said.

It’s tough to imagine the Gophers clinging to moral victories at this point, but that’s where this season has wound up.

Minnesota is currently eighth in the Big Ten, which only has seven bowl game tie-ins and looks as if it will be using them all after Michigan State ended Wisconsin’s national title hopes with a 49-14 thumping.

Assuming the conference’s only Bowl Championship Series berth is in the Rose Bowl, it’s conceivable the Gophers will be left out of the Big Ten games and looking to play elsewhere.

Meanwhile, just down the hall from Minnesota’s locker room, representatives from the Outback and Alamo Bowls – two games that have historically been out of Minnesota’s reach – were courting Iowa.

Considering the Hawkeyes were 1-10 as recently as 1999 and are 8-2 this season despite starting a walk-on at tailback, Iowa’s bowl prospects are perhaps the greatest indictment of the Gophers’ season.

“I told the guys we’re not a statistical team,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s just one of those years that we have to find a way to get the job done.”

As for Minnesota, the jobs of several coaches might be done. Athletics Director Joel Maturi has said Mason’s job is safe after a 1-5 finish, though Mason was less forthright when discussing the future of defensive coordinator Greg Hudson last week.

Minnesota’s defense gave up more than 290 yards passing in four of its five losses, and it surrendered 175 points total in the five defeats.

When asked Wednesday about Hudson’s job status, Mason said, “I don’t want to talk about it. Next question.”

The other major question for the Gophers to ponder is what becomes of their quarterback situation. Mason defended Cupito through a slump in which the first-year starter didn’t complete more than 50 percent of his passes for five straight games but wouldn’t call a passing play on the Gophers’ last drive Saturday.

On second-and-eight from Iowa’s 31-yard line, Mason called a run for Marion Barber III. Barber was stuffed for a four-yard loss, jeopardizing Minnesota’s field goal position.

Then, on third-and-12 from the 35, Barber ran a one-yard dive into the line, setting up Rhys Lloyd for a 51-yard field goal he hooked left.

Cupito, who finished the game 9-of-16 for 73 yards and three interceptions, said that he would go back and watch film of every game with quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen over the next few weeks.

And it’s safe to assume he’ll squeeze in a little soul-searching, too.

“It’s definitely not something I expected or anyone thought,” Cupito said. “That second half, we showed we could do it.

“We still feel like we’re a good team.”