Former Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi cracked a joke one day about trophies.
The recently retired Maturi quipped to The Gazette three years ago that Minnesota had the best trophy games but "we don’t have any in our trophy case right now.”
Well, the Gophers now have one trophy at TCF Bank Stadium, albeit the least meaningful. By virtue of its 24-10 victory against Penn State on Saturday, Minnesota reclaimed The Governor's Victory Bell. But before the Gophers could get the trophy into the locker room, they broke it on the field.
That's of little consequence to the Gophers, who now are 8-2 and have rattled off four straight Big Ten wins for first time in 40 years. Minnesota has an outside shot at the division title, something almost inconceivable after an 0-2 league start. Head coach Jerry Kill stepped back a month ago to concentrate on his health, which normally would crush the fledgling program. Instead, it galvanized it.
"We never threw in the towel, even after we lost our first two conference games," Minnesota interim coach Tracey Claeys said. "We were disappointed at the time but we could still see ourselves getting better. I believe people who work hard eventually get rewarded, especially if they keep fighting. We got one win and then we believed in ourselves then we won on the road and then we defeated a brand name like Nebraska. The players have worked hard every week and continued to develop. I still think we have a ways to go as we continue this success."
Minnesota beat Penn State in a variety of ways. On offense Minnesota converted 9-of-17 third-down opportunities and held the Nittany Lions to 1-of-9. The Gophers pounced on two Penn State fumbles, the first produced a field goal and the second was recovered on its 2-yard line in the fourth quarter. Minnesota also stopped Penn State twice on fourth down and ran out the final 6 minutes, 40 seconds to clinch the game.
"We played as hard as we could today and at the end of the day, that is what really matters," said Kill, who attends the games and sits in the coaches' box. "I thought we had great defensive stands at critical times. Our punter did a remarkable job today, as well as our kicker. We had a goal of getting better on kickoffs and getting better field position. Everybody is doing their part for the team; we have an unselfish group of players."
Minnesota (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) faces archrival Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) in two weeks. If the Gophers beat both the Badgers and Michigan State to end the season, they can earn the Legends Division berth -- if Nebraska knocks off Michigan State this week in Lincoln.
Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) has an even shorter path to the Big Ten title game -- just win out. The Cornhuskers ended Michigan's 19-game home winning streak with a 17-13 win. Nebraska quarterback Tommie Armstrong Jr. flipped a 5-yard pass to running back Ameer Abdullah with 2:03 left for the victory.
"That was a heck of a win and I'm proud of that group of kids in the locker room, we're a little shorthanded right now but the character on that football team showed, they just fought until the end," Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said. "The way they played, they played with passion -- and how about that defense? They stood up time after time -- I think they had three short fields in the second half and one short field to end the first half -- a lot of situations that could have changed that football game."
Michigan (6-3, 2-3) once again registered a soft effort running the football. The Wolverines rushed 36 times for minus-21 yards, one week after rushing for minus-49 yards on 29 attempts.
"I don't feel like we finished well," Michigan QB Devin Gardner said. "Whoever questions our toughness, they can shove it. I look in those guys' eyes in the huddle and they're tough guys and they're going out and fighting for me, so I don't care what any of you or whoever said that says."
Michigan State (8-1, 5-0) still is in control of the Legends Division and virtually locks up a spot in the Big Ten title game with a win against Nebraska. The Spartans didn't play on Saturday and finish with games at Northwestern and against the Gophers.
Indiana running back Tevin Coleman rushed for a career-high 215 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. ... Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory collected three sacks. ... Wisconsin LB Chris Borland totaled 13 tackles, including two sacks. ... Minnesota RB David Cobb rushed for 139 yards and caught three passes for 30 yards. ... Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase passed for 450 yards and rushed for another 45.
Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri rushed for a career-best 165 yards and one touchdown. ... Michigan tight end Devin Funchess caught six passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. ... Penn State running back Zach Zwinak rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown. ... Purdue punter Cody Webster punted six times for a 43.2-yard average.
Which Big Ten football program currently embodies the spirit of an American general?
1. Ohio State (1) 9-0 5-0
2. Wisconsin (2) 7-2 4-1
3. Michigan State (3) 8-1 5-0
4. Minnesota (4) 8-2 4-2
5. Nebraska (5) 7-2 4-1
6. Iowa (7) 6-4 3-3
7. Michigan (6) 6-3 2-3
8. Northwestern (8) 4-5 0-5
9. Indiana (9) 4-5 2-3
10. Penn State (10) 5-4 2-3
11. Illinois (11) 3-6 0-5
12. Purdue (12) 1-8 0-5