The morning was rough, the weather was worse, my timing was… terrible, per usual. Strolling into Northrop Mall at the University of Minnesota, over an hour late, wasn’t surprising. Fuck, those who know me would probably tell people it should be expected.
My early morning agitation is the farthest thing from my mind now though. It’s amazing, the power some of these necklaces hold. There are gold plated necklaces that fill important buildings all over the world. You couldn’t trade me any of those for this one, that could have been made with a used shoelace and some extra plastic you had lying around. This specific necklace has me behind the ESPN College GameDay set, snapping pictures of Kirk Herbstreit and a ridiculous on-looking Gopher crowd. This world I’ve created from my electronic devices is straight out of a fucking fairy tale. A little-kid, dreamed-up, fantasy-land fairy tale, that I’m now living out in my real-adult life, everyday.
5 minutes later, I don’t know it yet, but I’ve now stolen a cup of coffee from the Home Depot VIP lounge right behind us, that I thought was also for media members (spoiler: it wasn’t). Caleb, who is living the dream with me today, is tugging my coat and I don’t know why… “Here comes PJ”, he utters.
Here comes wh…. oh shit! After swinging my head around, fast enough to cause life-ending neck injuries, there’s no PJ… but something is clearly taking place.
‘VIEWS, ERIC. DON’T BE SELFISH OTHERS WANT TO SEE OUR SAVIOR TOO’
Phone up. This is what I’m here for. Lol, yup that’s Ryan Saunders and Pat McAfee too. What a world. What a life.
Fast forward a few hours and we are up in the TCF Bank Stadium press box, prepping for why ESPN College GameDay is here in the first place: The biggest Gopher Football game in modern day football history. All of the hype and activities surrounding this game are just that… hype and activities. I’m a fan. Sometimes I find myself in these surreal moments, surprised, because I don’t think about them that often. I think about the teams I cover and what they have at stake, because I’m following them like I always have. Now, I just have thousands of people who enjoy following along with me. The Gophers winning this game today is what I’ve been thinking about all week.
40 minutes before game time, I decided to bring that preparation, and the electric TCF Bank Stadium environment, to the people. It was lit, if the kids are still saying that.
With the snow falling harder, as we inched ever closer to game time, the keys of this game were simple. Limit Jonathan Taylor (to whatever degree a team of only human beings are capable of limiting Jonathan Taylor), grease Wisconsin’s already buttery fingers, and find a way to stay balanced on offense, no matter the weather conditions. If the Gophers could do that, this game was theirs for the taking.
And oh fuck.. did they look like they were going to take this game right from the very beginning. On the first drive of the game, Tanner Morgan dropped back and Rashad Bateman ran a beautiful deep post route. He was rewarded with a beautiful deep post throw by his beautiful quarterback. We were off to the races… or so we thought.
But then, during their 2nd drive on offense, after a dominant first defensive possession, Right Tackle, Daniel Faalele, went down with what looks like a serious leg injury. After he left the game, the Gopher offense was never the same. Suddenly, Tanner Morgan was under constant fire. It was ugly… like Sam Bradford when he played for the Vikings, ugly. He couldn’t even get through his drop back without having guys in his face. Combine that with a shotty run game… and the Gopher offense rode the struggle bus the rest of the first half.
Morgan threw a non-Tanner Morgan-like interception and they couldn’t take advantage of the 6th lost Badger fumble in their last 1.5 games. Wisconsin was able to muster 10 points, 6 of which came on this pretty ridiculous touchdown catch by (who else?) Jonathan Taylor… and the Gophers limped to halftime down 3 points, failing to put anything up after that first drive.
The second half got a lot worse, before it got better and never got better. Wisconsin scored two more touchdowns in the 3rd quarter while the Gophers could only muster a field goal (if you are here to see more Wisconsin scoring highlights, you’re in the wrong fucking blog). The game was on the verge of getting out of control after that second Badger touchdown. Now down 14 points, with just over 5 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, it was time to put up a touchdown or start packing your bags for the Citrus Bowl or Outback Bowl. And, everyone in the stadium thought the Gophers were about to.
With time running out in the 3rd, the Gophers prepared to punch back. After a big run by Mo Ibrahim and another nice catch by Rashod Bateman, the Gophers were knocking on the door from the Badger 6-yard-line…. but they couldn’t punch it in. They were unable to run or pass for a score. The game was looking over at that point. Then, this screen pass on 3rd down set the nails in the Gopher coffin, before Jonathan Taylor pounded them in for a score on the ground. Now down 31-10, this one was about over.
A few more ugly offensive plays later, combined with more Badger points… and this one got out of hand in a hurry.
The Gophers got out-coached in this game and it started from the beginning. WE PLAYED SCARED…. which I wouldn’t have expected. On our second drive of the game, with a chance to go up 14-0 early, the Gophers faced a 4th and 1.5, from the Badger 35 yard line. We have gone for it, in this situation, all season long. We didn’t vs Wisconsin today. We ran the punt team on the field, took the delay of game because we were uncomfortably close to the Wisconsin end zone, and punted. The Badgers ended up fumbling on that drive but the tone was set. From there, Wisconsin was more aggressive and looked like the more multi-dimensional offense. They were running reverses on kicks and intricate screens combined with timely end-around plays on offense. They looked like the offense that the Gophers were supposed to bring into this game.
One team is throwing bombs and running reverses on kickoffs. The other has run the ball on 3rd and 10 twice and punted on 4th and 2 from the 33.— Tyler George (@tgeorge1323) November 30, 2019
The final score was 38-17 and the result was an embarrassment in front of the entire nation. I’m going to stream the postgame press conferences, where I hope I get a chance to ask some of these questions I have, and then I’m going to go home and curl up into the fetal position, unsure when I will come out of my depression. This was a fairytale dream of a day… that suddenly turned to nightmare when the sun went down. When I collect my thoughts, I hope to come out with a blog on this team and season… that doesn’t make anyone want to drive off of I-35 on their way home.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan
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