The Gophers football team is off to its best start in nearly a decade. It just knocked off a Top 25 team and picked up some votes in the national polls. Public interest and player confidence are peaking.
Yet this weekend, the hype will be put on hold. Minnesota must wait to play again until Oct. 5, when it travels to face winless Purdue. To several fans and media members — even to the Boilermakers’ coach — this seems like an inopportune time for the Gophers to be reduced to couch potatoes.
“Minnesota’s gotten off to a good start — you’d probably like to keep the momentum going,” Purdue coach Jim Colletto said. “But every coach is different in that regard.”
Indeed they are. Minnesota coach Jim Wacker is giddy about the week off, as are his players. By all team accounts, it will be a good bye.
Wacker pointed to Minnesota’s schedule as a big reason for his optimism. The break comes between the conclusion of the nonconference schedule and the start of the Big Ten season. Both mentally and physically, the Gophers are using the time to get fully prepared for conference play.
“I like (the week off) at this early point in the season, it’s just a good time,” Wacker said. “We’ve basically got our preseason behind us, and now things are really going to get tough. If we can get an extra week of work in, that’s great.”
It’s not surprising the Gophers are happy about their bye week — last season they didn’t get one at all. Their opener wasn’t until Sept. 16 last year, thus giving Minnesota a week off before it had played a single game.
The late start had negative consequences. Because of NCAA rules, the Gophers couldn’t begin practicing until at least a week after most teams. There was also no time for an open week, depriving them of a chance to regroup during the season.
“The season’s an intense time, and when you have to go 11 weeks right in a row, that’s tough,” Wacker said. “With this, you can back off a little bit, and that’s nice. I think we’ll be a lot fresher when we come back for Big Ten play.”
A lot fresher, and a little healthier. Workouts were tapered off this week, with Wednesday’s practice cut short and Thursday’s canceled altogether. The coaches are hoping the lighter load will rid the players’ bodies of lingering effects from two-a-days in August.
The extra week brings other benefits. Usually Minnesota watches game film on Sunday, has Monday off, and starts practicing for its upcoming opponent on Tuesday. The bye week has already allowed the Gophers to start studying up on Purdue, and they’ll begin full-scale preparations today.
Minnesota has also been able to study up on itself. In his post-practice talks with the team this week, Wacker stressed that they need to keep getting better if they want to keep winning. So they’ve tried to get better by directly addressing their problems.
The punt snappers, for example, have gotten more attention than usual.
“We’ve gone back and looked at areas where we’ve had breakdowns in the first three games,” offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse said. “We’ve simulated those exact situations in practice. That’s a luxury we ordinarily don’t have.”
So while the bye may lessen the excitement this weekend, it could be beneficial later this year.
“This will be a good time for us to improve, because there are so many things we can still improve on,” quarterback Cory Sauter said. “This is a good time for us. I think it’ll get us ready for the Big Ten season.”