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!
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.