The Minnesota Golden Gophers might be the most dangerous team in the Big Ten in Week 12.
They have interim head coach Jeff Horton, who’s wiped away the hangdog mentality that hung over the program while everyone Gopher waited for the ax to fall on former coach Tim Brewster. The ax fell Oct. 17, after the Gophers fell to 1-6 with a loss at Purdue.
Horton has infused the program with a lighthearted touch.
After Minnesota upset Illinois, 38-34, on Nov. 13, Horton, who snapped a 19-game losing streak as a head coach, finished his opening statement with “the line I’ve been waiting to say: ‘I might just be the interim coach, but last night, I got to sleep at the Holiday Inn.’”
The line bombed, but the Gophers snapped a nine-game losing streak and let loose a ton of pent-up emotion.
While No. 24 Iowa (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) has been in white-knuckle ride mode the last three weeks, Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) has been getting to know its new coach and is now coming off an idle week.
“I just think there comes a point in time where you say enough is enough,” Horton said. “Enough is enough. Enough heartache, enough setbacks.”
It’s not like the Gophers have been getting rolled this season. Yes, they did take poundings against Wisconsin (41-23) and Ohio State (52-10), but they do have a 2-2 record in games decided by a TD or less, with victories over Illinois and Middle Tennessee State. The Gophers lost by a point to Northwestern and by three points to South Dakota, maybe the biggest nail in Brewster’s coffin.
The Gophers have quarterback Adam Weber. He’ll make the 50th start of his career this week. He’s the fifth quarterback in Big Ten history to pass for more than 10,000 career yards. Iowa’s Chuck Long (10,461), Northwestern’s Brett Basanez (10,580), Purdue’s Curtis Painter (11,163) and Purdue’s Drew Brees (11,792) are on that list.
He has 50 career starts at Minnesota, so you know he’s the Big Ten’s career leader in “hanging in there.”
“The hardest thing is trying to separate each week,” Weber said. “But you have to. If you go in there thinking, ‘We’re a 1-9 team,’ then you’re not going to compete.
“We go into every single week putting the past behind us.”
And here’s the big “uh oh” for the Hawkeyes.The Gophers have Troy Stoudermire, maybe the most versatile performer in the Big Ten.He holds the Big Ten record with 2,920 career kickoff return yards and ranks second with 114 returns.Against Iowa in 2008, Stoudermire set the single-game UM record with 283 return yards.
Iowa is No. 86 in the nation in kick coverage, allowing 22.47 yards per return.
The Gophers have enough pieces to worry the Iowa defense, which is an astounding 110th in the nation in tackles for loss (4.45 a game).
The Gophers haven’t won in TCF Bank Stadium this season. They have a coach who knows he won’t be asked to return. They have a quarterback who’s invested in hanging in. They haven’t touched the Floyd of Rosedale since 2006.
“This has been the toughest season I’ve ever had to go through, mentally and physically,” Weber told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after Illinois, “and always what keeps you coming back, what keeps you coming in on Sunday morning to lift and get ready for next week, is this moment.”
They’ve got everything and nothing to play for this week. Fear the Goph.