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COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE
FIRST PLACE: GAME (IMMEDIATE DEADLINE)
Gophers football coach Tim Brewster made it clear last week that he doesn't think his team should be playing North Dakota State.
Given what transpired Saturday, that's probably a good idea.
In what will go down as one of the lowest points in program history, the Gophers were dominated in every way, shape and form by the Bison, who avenged a heartbreaking loss here last season with a 27-21 victory before an announced crowd of 63,088 at the Metrodome.
The Gophers were overpowered by a team that is a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA), has 22 fewer scholarship players, does not have one player who was offered a scholarship to Minnesota and was 0-6 all-time against the Gophers.
It didn't matter. The Bison (7-0 and ranked No. 1 in the FCS) stormed into town with a huge following of fans, took the Gophers' money ($300,000 payout) and used a punishing running game to hand Minnesota its sixth consecutive loss.
The defeat also made official what had become obvious: The Gophers (1-7) can't qualify for a bowl game. They will be home for the holidays for the first time since 2001.
This is as bad as it gets.
"This is very, very frustrating," Gophers linebacker Steve Davis said. "Most of us have never been a part of a losing team. This year has come as a huge surprise. It's disappointing, but we've got four more games."
Which means things could really spiral downward for this team, starting next week at Michigan. The Gophers were so physically dominated and emotionally deflated that a one-victory season is looking more like a reality at this point.
Most Gophers fans expected growing pains under the new regime this season, but Saturday's performance felt like something else entirely.
"It seems like we're in every game but we just don't have the killer instinct to put a team away or jump out on them," senior center Tony Brinkhaus said.
The Bison certainly do. NDSU rushed for 394 yards (including a school-record 263 by Tyler Roehl), rolled up 585 total yards and had an edge in time of possession of nearly 14 minutes.
The final score could have been even worse if not for two missed field goals, a turnover that led to a touchdown and a roughing-the-passer penalty that led to another touchdown.
"Today didn't happen by chance," Bison coach Craig Bohl said. "It was no fluke."
He's right. A year ago, the Gophers underestimated the Bison but escaped with a 10-9 victory despite being outplayed. The Gophers knew what to expect this time and still got steamrolled by NDSU's running game.
"We just weren't good enough," Brewster said. "They were just more physical than we were."
The Gophers thought they had one final chance at a victory, but senior Dominique Barber was called for roughing the punter with 1 minute, 48 seconds left. The Bison kept the ball and ran out the clock.
Afterward, nobody from either team viewed it as an upset.
"Certainly a lot of people thought we had the short end of the stick as far as our resources," Bohl said. "But we were pleased with how we played."
For good reason. Facing a team that ranks last nationally in pass defense, the Bison used an old-school approach and ran it down the Gophers' throat.
Roehl powered his way for 263 yards on 22 carries, including a 77-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. With the score tied 14-14 and NDSU pinned at its 7 with 34 seconds left until halftime, Roehl went up the middle for 68 yards. That led to a 37-yard field by Shawn Bibeau at the horn.
Pat Paschall added 87 rushing yards on 12 carries. As a team, the Bison averaged a whopping 8.0 yards on 49 carries.
"Mistakes," Davis said when asked why NDSU rushed for nearly 400 yards.
"We struggled to tackle," Brewster said. "It's been an issue for us all season long. It's evident."
The Gophers offense didn't help the cause. Freshman quarterback Adam Weber completed only 10 of 22 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown. The Gophers managed only 125 rushing yards on 30 carries, lost starting tailback Jay Thomas to a knee injury and had four three-and-out series.
"When you have a combination of bad things going on, it's hard to win," Weber said.
That was never more evident than Saturday.
Comment of the judge, Gene Duffey: Excellent lead with a touch of humor, playing off coach's prior statement. Delivered the facts quickly, such as North Dakota State having 22 fewer scholarships and Minnesota's sixth loss in a row. Liked the way the monetary guarantee for the game was delivered. Good job using meaningful quotes from players first instead of a routine coach's quote. Good quote from North Dakota State coach, telling both sides of story.
• Second place: Stewart Mandel, si.com
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