Minnesota: Recent Historical Context

It’s been quite a wild ride at Minnesota this year. The Gophers started 0-fer the season (0-2) and gained national attention due to the unfortunate downside of new head coach Jerry Kill’s health in week four. His seizure on the sideline in the waning moments of the home loss to New Mexico State had players and fans visibly and understandably shaken.  As the Gophers went on to lose six of seven and Jerry Kill received a contract extension from “the U” which was a not-so-subtle statement by the school that they believe in Kill despite the uncertainty caused by his health issues.

Whether it was a coincidence or not, Minnesota started playing much more competitive football on the field. LTP has been known to be alarmist about MarQueis Gray and the QB has proven, in recent weeks, to validate the concern. We’ll get more in-depth on the Gophers tomorrow and Thursday, but today we’ll frame-up this series.

Jerry Kill is no stranger around these parts as most of you are already familiar with the man who is coming off a record wins (11) year at Northern Illinois. Oh by the way, he was hired by none other than Jim Phillips when he was the NIU AD. Kill is a good ol’ fashioned ball coach and has that tough as nails, no frills approach. He’s already made some friends of fans by calling out Minnesota’s players for being soft and in terrible shape and has achieved priority one of changing the culture in Minnesota. Academic issues? Gone. Attitude problems? Bye-bye. There is a new sheriff in town and new culture and despite the 2-7 record to date, it’s clear the players have bought in to the new world order.

Minnesota is one of three or four teams (along with Indiana, Illinois and Purdue) in the Big Ten whose respective fanases chalk up as a win every single year. Minnesota fans look at the schedule and are programmed to think “w”, Northwestern fans look at the November 19 home date and say “w”. As I mentioned last year the week we played them, most Wildcat fans would’ve failed the “since 1995” test as we were just 6-5 against the Gophers heading in to last year’s game. You also didn’t see Northwestern fans enter the pile on Minnesota conversations during the Brewster era as we sweat out every single game with them. It took everything we had to escape TCF Bank Stadium with a “w” last year in the classic cardiac ‘Cat 29-28 Big Ten opening win. In 2009 Eric Decker put on a clinic to beat Northwestern at Ryan Field. In ’08 we saw one of the more memorable performances with Mike Kafka’s rushing clinic and of course the Brendan Smith pick “6” to win the game and in ’07 we needed 2OTs to stave off the Gophers. Yes, 3-1 against Brewster, who went 6-21 in Big Ten play, but not exactly the games that give you a lot to brag about. We’re now 8-7 against Minnesota since 1990 and 7-5 since 1995. We’re 6-1 in games decided by 7 points or fewer vs Minnesota since 1995, making them, winning percentage-wise the most cardiac opponent during that stretch.

Let’s take a look back at some of the memorable games in a series that has produced more than its fair share of nailbiting drama:
Quick Hits on Minnesota Series
Alltime Series:
Minnesota leads 50-31-5
Series Since 1995: NU leads 7-5
Series Since 1990: NU leads 8-7
Did (N)U Know? NU is 6-1 against Minnesota since 1995 in games decided by 7 points or less (’95, ’96, ’00, ’01, ’07, ’08,’10). Also, the road team has won this game the last three meetings.

Games To Remember:
There have been several Cardiac ‘Cats entrants in this series along with some heartbreak moments. Below are some fond memories of the clashes with the maroon and gold:

2010 – NU 29 MN 28

The ‘Cats first ever appearance at TCF Bank Stadium was one of the final nails in the coffin for Tim Brewster. The Gophers had their way on offense for three quarters and held a 28-20 lead in the fourth in the Big Ten opener. However, Dan Persa scrambled on third and long and tossed up a prayer towards the end zone when Jeremy Ebert made an incredibly athletic play, winning a jump ball for a TD. The ‘Cats “D” finally held and Persa led one of his time-consuming methodical drives highlighted by a 22-yard scamper on third down. Eventually Stefan Demos would nail a bad angle 27-yard FG to give NU the lead and the “D” came up big when it had to as Ben Johnson picked off Adam Weber on the potential game-winning drive and as you remember, wisely slid to the ground in what looked to be a likely “pick 6”. The win would move NU to 5-0 and earn them a very brief ranking at #25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

2008 – NU 24 (#20) MN 17

The final game for the ‘Cats at the Metrodome was the 2nd most memorable. Mike Kafka went nuts on the ground setting a Big Ten rushing record for QBs with 217 rushing yards. He had a very bad pick, but a gorgeous TD pass to Jeremy Ebert as well that saw both teams seemingly headed for a shootout with a 17-17 deadlock at halftime. It appeared we were headed for a second straight season of OT with Minnesota, but Brendan Smith picked off a bomb intended for the gimpy Erik Decker and Smith weaved his way for an improbable “pick 6” that won the game with :12 left.

2007 – NU 49 MN 48 (2OT)

Fresh off an NU record 520 yard passing game at Michigan State and an OT thrilling win, CJ picked up where he left off, scorching a very porous Gopher D for 470 yards and the 3rd most single game yards in NU history. One slight problem – our D was equally as bad and we could not stop freshman QB Adam Weber. Tim Brewster knew wins were tough to come by so he decided to go for 2 points in the second OT which we were able to bat away to seal the win. The Gophers would end up a pathetic 1-11 and we were lucky to escape. Seemingly we had used up our annual quota of losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to!

2001 – (#14) NU 23 (#21) MN 17
This game is the only one in which we were both ranked by the AP heading into the match-up. The ‘Cats were rolling as we were 3-1 on the heels of our Big Ten title 2000 season with our only blemish a loss at the ‘Shoe. Zak Kustok was our man and all signs pointed to this game being a dogfight, with the potential for emerging with a win setting us down the path of a January 1 bowl. The ‘Cats marched out to a 13-3 lead as Sam Simmons stole the day with a 71-yard PR TD and a 29-yd TD on a screen pass. The ‘Cats would lead 23-10 and were in control most of the day as Tellis Redmon scorched NU for 143 rushing yards but it wasn’t enough.

2000 – (#23) NU 41 MN 35 – “Victory Right”

This one needs no explanation. It is simply known as Victory Right. Zak Kustok’s Hail Mary that was tipped to Sam Simmons for the game-winner as time expired is the most exciting and improbable single play I’ve seen in all my years following NU. When you go back and watch the comeback by the ‘Cats there is play after play of “I can’t believe that!” Zak delivered on a slew of 4th and longs throughout the drive that brought the ‘Cats back. Napoleon Harris also made a game-saving tackle on a sure MN TD that you need to see to believe.
1996 – (#15) NU 26 MN 24
A classic letdown game, NU entered this home date on the heels of the amazing 17-16 Brian Gowins “It’s Gooooood!!!” win over Michigan. However, NU came out of the gates and exploded with two TDs in the first eight minutes and jumped out to a 23-0 halftime lead outgaining the Gophers in the half 332 to 63! Not unlike last week’s Central Michigan team, the Gophers retaliated with a furious comeback that would fall just short as Minnesota failed on a late 2-point conversion. Darnell had a career high in carries (41) for 189 yards and NU won its 11th straight Big Ten game. Uh, repeat that last sentence – 11th straight Big Ten game!

Heartbreak Holes
1993 – Minnesota 28 Northwestern 26
It’s rare that I dealve in to a pre-1995 game, but this one still stings. The ‘Cats were down 2 in the final minute when Len Williams led a furious march downfield with no timeouts remaining. The ‘Cats got in FG formation as quickly as possible and as Sam Valensizi’s FG flew through the uprights, the officials waved off the kick claiming time had expired. I remember a similar last second FG against Michigan State when Sam booted one way over the upright – a total 50/50 judgment call and the refs stared at one another before finally saying no good. On both of those I remember saying out loud – a winning program gets that call.
2002 – Minnesota 45 Northwestern 42
This one is somehow erased from the memory banks. Just two years after Victory Right, NU nearly replicated the improbable. Neither team could stop the other from running at will as the ‘Cats posted 306 rushing yards thanks to Jason Wright and Noah Herron. However Minnesota exploded for 415 rushing yards on the backs of mostly forgotten Terry Jackson II and Thomas Tapeh. The ‘Cats were down 45-21 entering the 4th before they kicked it in to Cardiac mode. Brett Basanez, as a true freshman proceeded to lead NU on 3 straight TD drives. A 37-yarder to Jon Schweighardt, a fumble recovery that led to a 71-yard TD drive and a 4th down stop the ‘Cats promptly converted in to 7 points and with 4 minutes to go they were down only three. But as so often happened in the Randy Walker era, the D couldn’t stop Minnesota and the Gophers ran out the clock. This marks the only game since 1995 the ‘Cats have lost when the score was 7 points or less.


  • zeek

    I just can’t think this will be an easy game even with the massive spread. Minnesota has played us hard every game this past decade and we’ve split the series over that period of time.

    As long as the defense continues to play as it has the past two weeks, we should win this, but I’ll be nervous until I see our defense out there getting stops.

    Either way, this is a big opportunity for us, and you have to think that a senior-laden squad with guys like Persa and Ebert will be up to the challenge.

    • Lake The Posts

      Indeed, I’m with you. Truth be told, I was the same way on Indiana, so who knows. I’d be surprised, even moreso than Indiana, if we covered the spread. All I care about is a “w”.

      Gotta love the Ebert highlights spread throughout including the poor BTN announcer who called him “Eh-bert” in 2007.

      • Moo, So?

        Can one of the poll choices be “I have no clue how they will finish”?

    • Stan

      Unfortunately I’m in Vegas this weekend, meaning I have to bet NU with this ridiculous spread. Wish me luck…

      • cibercat

        16 and a tiny does seem liberal…Mn. has looked much better as of recent…but this is the type of team we have had luck with…they are a run first O and pass off of play action.. Stop the run and don’t give up big plays and we should be ok……go to alot of NIU games also and know Kill is a gambler when put in a corner…..sure he has a few trick plays which sadly will work…hope we are ready !! go cats !

  • ‘Catatonic Tim

    Another heartbreaker was the ’89 Homecoming game, which turned out to be our best chance for a victory in our final winless season. ‘Cats drove in the final minute to set up a game winning field goal. But Ira Adler’s 29 yard chippy was blocked and Minnesota held on for a 20-18 victory. We lost another close game the next week in Madison and never threatened again.

  • Narcissus Smith

    What’s the deal with Tony Jones? I almost forgot he was on the team. Is he hurt? Have Demetrius and Christian just pushed him back?

    He looks good in those clips.

  • david

    I am going to assume that the absenses for Victory Right from the memorable games is not a matter of memory loss. Should we be expecting a post with Zack, Sam and Kunle recounting their memories of that ending.

    • PBR Cat

      Video clips of the 2000 “Victory Right” game are included in the text.

      • David

        Ohhhhhh…I was looking at the story on my phone….I missed it.

        • PBR Cat

          One of the things that struck me after replaying this video clip was how ugly the artificial turf was at the Metrodome. Someday soon, this particular stadium may be demolished.

          “Victory Right” is a justly celebrated play, but the Northwestern offense really battled back in that game. So many critical conversions on fourth down.

  • 84 Grad

    One of my favorite Minnesota games was back in the “Dark Ages,” October of 1983, when we beat the Gophers 19-8 on Homecoming. What made that victory so sweet was we didn’t win much back then. That year, the ‘Cats were 2-9 (and some of those 9 losses were blowouts). The year before marked the end of the 34-game losing streak. And Minnesota’s coach? None other than Lou Holtz. While we didn’t win much in those days, when we did win, it was glorious!

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