Gophers, Horton felt less pressure Saturday

Josh Katzenstein

The Minnesota football team hasnâÄôt won since Sept. 2, so the players should have felt more urgency than ever before to take down Penn State and win the GovernorâÄôs Victory Bell on Saturday, right?

Well, not exactly.

âÄúIt wasnâÄôt too much pressure,âÄù said running back DeLeon Eskridge, who ran for 111 yards on 26 carries in the loss. âÄúEven though we were playing for a trophy everybody was loose. It felt good to be loose.âÄù

Eskridge didnâÄôt attribute the new feeling to the departure of Tim Brewster, who was fired last Sunday after weeks of speculation about his job status. But others did.

âÄúToday there was some weight off our shoulders knowing that the administration has made a decision,âÄù quarterback Adam Weber said. âÄúWeâÄôre moving in a different direction and coach [Jeff] HortonâÄôs going to be our coach for the last five games.âÄù

The game was just as different for Horton, who had to leave his play-calling booth, go down to the field and lead a football team for the first time since 1998 (UNLV). Horton was âÄústokedâÄù to be the head coach Saturday, and besides having to eat his pregame meal alone âÄî he said he used to be the âÄúlife of the partyâÄù âÄî he said it was an exciting experience.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, rejuvenation doesnâÄôt result directly in wins.

âÄúI think we played really good,âÄù Eskridge said. âÄúOnce again, weâÄôve got to finish.âÄù

Another milestone for Weber

With 6:14 remaining in the second quarter, Weber hit tight end Eric Lair for a six-yard pass to become just the fifth player in Big Ten history to eclipse 10,000 yard passing for his career.

After going 26-for-49 for 299 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, Weber now has 10,199 career yards. He trails just Drew Brees (Purdue), Curtis Painter (Purdue), Brett Basanez (Northwestern) and Chuck Long (Iowa) in the Big Ten record book.

But the loss made the moment bittersweet for Weber.

âÄúIt doesnâÄôt really mean anything,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôll keep the ball. We lost. It sucks.âÄù

All day DaâÄôJon

With another monstrous performance, junior wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight is closing in on a record even Eric Decker didnâÄôt reach.

McKnightâÄôs three touchdown catches Saturday give him nine on the season, just two shy of the single-season team record of 11 held by Ron Johnson and Omar Douglas.

Decker never had more than nine in a season, and McKnight has four more games to play this season.

âÄúIâÄôm just trying to help my team win,âÄù McKnight said. âÄúIâÄôm just going out there and playing my hardest, obviously not coming out with the win, so IâÄôve got to try harder in practice and in games to make this team better.âÄù

Injury update

After converting a fourth-and-two with a six-yard run, senior fullback Jon Hoese left the game with a âÄúshotâÄù hamstring.

Hoese is a big part of the offensive scheme, so in his absence the Gophers went with more two tight end packages. As a result, Lair had just three catches for 37 yards, his lowest output since the Sept. 18 game against USC.

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ed Olson also left the game with an ankle injury, so senior Dominic Alford saw his most extensive time this year.

Sophomore linebacker Mike Rallis returned Saturday after missing three games with an abdominal injury. He finished with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He also had a devastating hit on Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden that took him out of the game with concussion-like symptoms.

âÄòWhen we win, theyâÄôll comeâÄô

The announced attendance for SaturdayâÄôs game was 48,479, but the number of tickets sold didnâÄôt accurately represent how many people showed up.

President Barack ObamaâÄôs speech just two blocks away drew some fans away, but the student section never looked more than half full.

âÄúWe come in knowing that weâÄôre [1-6] so our fans arenâÄôt probably happy with us, and thatâÄôs one thing we try to change,âÄù senior safety Kyle Theret said. âÄúI want the fans there. When we win, theyâÄôll come. Bottom line.âÄù