Saturday’s dramatic 37-34 win over Wisconsin was the last time Minnesota’s football team will play on the Metrodome’s traditional artificial turf.
It’s ironic that the final Gophers game on the old playing surface – which will be replaced with a new AstroPlay rubber- and sand-based surface in March – could prove to be the most costly.
Starting quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq injured his left shoulder when he was tackled by Wisconsin’s Darius Jones following a 5-yard scramble in the first half’s final minute.
Abdul-Khaliq sat out the half’s final snap and rode the motorized cart into the tunnel at halftime. He was late returning to the sideline in the third quarter because of X-rays and initial treatment on the shoulder, but he returned to spend most of the second half on the sideline with his shoulder pads removed and left arm braced against his body.
There was no official diagnosis on the shoulder immediately after the game, but coach Glen Mason said Sunday that the injury is not as bad as first thought.
Abdul-Khaliq – second in the nation in passing efficiency – said he will “most likely be able to play” in the Gophers’ season finale against Iowa this Saturday, but that he will have to wait and see. Mason said Sunday that Abdul-Khaliq was questionable for the game.
“(The Wisconsin game) is definitely a game you want to play,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “But things happen, and Benji (Kamrath) went in there and did a great job. He brought it home for all the seniors.”
Kamrath, a fifth-year senior, filled in at quarterback in Abdul-Khaliq’s absence. Kamrath completed six of 10 passes for 93 yards and led the Gophers on the game-winning drive with less than three minutes remaining.
Senior tight end Ben Utecht has played the final regular-season game of his career.
The Hastings, Minn., native made a catch early in the second quarter and got up gingerly. He strained an abdominal muscle on the play, and Mason said he is out for Saturday’s tilt with Iowa.
Justin Isom’s interception and the three-and-out forced by Minnesota in the game’s final minutes will overshadow the Gophers’ shortcomings on defense. But the team was penalized seven times for 77 yards Saturday, with five of those penalties coming against the defense.
Minnesota was flagged three times for defensive pass interference alone – the costliest coming against Ukee Dozier on a Badgers fourth-and-2 from the Minnesota 27-yard line late in the third quarter.
Wisconsin was awarded an automatic first down and tied the game at 27 two plays later.
“When you get pass interference penalties, that’s never a good thing,” Minnesota safety Eli Ward said. “But we’ll take it as long as we don’t give up the big play. If they get behind us, we’re going to do what we have to do to stop them.”
Wisconsin committed just one penalty for 5 yards in the game and was not flagged until there was 8:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Win extra cheesy for some
After the game, Minnesota players who grew up in the Badger State admitted the win was twice as nice for them.
Kamrath – a Mayville, Wis., native who was not recruited by the Badgers – got some revenge Saturday on the school for which he first wanted to play football.
“It was a dream come true for me,” Kamrath said of the outcome. “A bunch of us who are from Wisconsin have always talked about this – senior day against Wisconsin. It’s just a huge win, and I’ll finally have some bragging rights when I got back home to all my family.”
Linebacker Ben West, who hails from Appleton, Wis., echoed Kamrath’s feelings.
“I think that if you’re from Minnesota, Iowa is the biggest game,” West said. “But if you’re from Wisconsin, this is the biggest game.”
Four representatives from the top five bowl games with ties to the Big Ten were on hand Saturday to witness Minnesota’s win over Wisconsin.
Members of the bowl selection committees from the Capital One Bowl, the Outback Bowl, the Alamo Bowl and the Sun Bowl watched from the press box to evaluate Minnesota as a potential invitee.
“Minnesota obviously has an opportunity (to get invited) if they can win their final two games,” said Sean Gothier of the Capital One Bowl, the top Big Ten bowl this side of Pasadena, Calif.
The Capital One Bowl – formerly known as the Citrus Bowl – is played in Orlando, Fla., and typically selects a team with no more than two losses, meaning Minnesota will have to win its final game at Iowa on Saturday to have a chance at consideration.
The Outback Bowl – played in Tampa, Fla., – is third in the pecking order and the final Big Ten bowl game played on New Year’s Day.
After compiling 495 yards of total offense against Wisconsin, the Gophers set a single-season record with 5,444 yards of total offense. The old record of 5,149 yards was set in 2000. It is the sixth single-season team record the offense has broken this year.
Minnesota’s 37 points against the Badgers marked the 10th time in 11 games this season the Gophers have scored at least 30 points in a game. The last time a Minnesota team did this was in 1905.
Sophomore running back Marion Barber III rushed for 139 yards Saturday and now has 1,133 rushing yards this season. Barber became the 11th player in Minnesota history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season.
It was also Barber’s seventh 100-yard game of 2003, tying a school record shared by Darrell Thompson (twice), Thomas Hamner and Tellis Redmon.