Gophers try to put last week’s stumble behind them for SDSU

Published 11:28 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Looking for a sign of progress for the Minnesota football program? Check out the huge scoreboard.

The standout feature at TCF Bank Stadium is a can’t-miss symbol of the school’s fulfilled goal of getting the sport back on campus. Alas, the first fresh-air season for the Gophers in 28 years has so far brought familiar frustrations for their success-starved fans.

The numbers and the replays shown on that giant video screen inside the brick-lined, horseshoe-shaped venue haven’t looked good enough in coach Tim Brewster’s third season. Minnesota followed a wild, emotional win over Michigan State on Halloween night with a flat, discouraging defeat to Illinois.

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That left the Gophers (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) needing to beat FCS opponent South Dakota State this Saturday to ensure eligibility for yet another low-tier bowl game and still searching for a November win under Brewster. They’re 0-7 in the final month of the regular season since he took over, and they play at No. 15-ranked Iowa on Nov. 21.

“We had our opportunities to make some very big plays, but we just missed,” quarterback Adam Weber said.

Brewster said he was “extremely proud” of the post-halftime rally that turned a 28-7 deficit into a 35-32 defeat to the Illini, but in the end the Gophers suffered arguably their biggest letdown loss of Brewster’s career.

As this group of seniors prepares for their final home game, the inability to get to a big-time bowl will again mark the legacy. These guys, though, endured drastic change and could finish with a third postseason game in four years.

“Hopefully people can just see that everything we were handed, we made the best of it,” said linebacker Lee Campbell, one of nine departing starters on defense. “Hopefully, we’ll leave behind a good defense and change the face of Minnesota football back to winning championships.”

Even since Brewster was hired, coordinators on both sides of the ball have changed several times. Kevin Cosgrove is the fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s pro-style, play-action scheme is the third system the Gophers have had in four years.

“Change has been such a big thing for us,” said backup wide receiver Ben Kuznia, another senior.

Weber’s struggles in the new system have been part of this year’s inconsistency, but he hasn’t been well-protected and took seven sacks last Saturday. The running game has been next-to-nonexistent, ranking last in the conference with 98.6 yards per game.

The Gophers rebounded with a much better second half last week, and Weber was sharp. But the overarching problem was too many incomplete deep passes, supplemented by a few curious play calls.

“We probably got a little too greedy in the first half,” said Weber, adding he believes the offense has plenty of confidence.

Special teams were responsible for a couple of bad kicks, too, and the defense isn’t off the hook either. The offense has put it in tough situations, but opponents have converted far too many third downs.

“We’ve got to make those critical plays at critical points in the game,” Brewster said.