Last week I waxed nostalgic about an Indiana win over my beloved Gophers in the year 2000. Antwan Randle-El absolutely destroyed the Gophers on that day and cemented himself in Gopher lore as a hated opposing player. While this Indiana win had a lot to do with Randle-El’s performance, it also had a lot to do with a clear lack of a defensive game plan for the Hoosiers best offensive talent. Poor coaching.
Some people may think that I’m a bit self-centered when it comes to these stories, and the fact that they always involve the Gophers. But can I help the unfortunate fact that my memories of every Big Ten football program not based in Minneapolis involve their specific performances against my favorite squad?
Gophers v Michigan, 2003, was another such game in which the Gophers lost because of a poor defensive game plan, or perhaps it could better be described as poor defensive adjustments. And, in fact, would probably best be described as NO defensive adjustments.
When the Wolverines stormed the Metrodome on Friday night (the game was moved due to Friday night a MN Twins playoff game), October 10th, 2003, they were the 20th ranked team in the country. But the bigger story was the fact that the Gophers were the 17th ranked team in the country, and were riding high on a 6-0 season start.
The Gophers, ranked higher than the Wolverines, also came out playing like a team that was ready to have a program defining type of season. Doing what they did best in those days, running behind Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber, the Gophers had a 14-0 halftime lead.
I can remember sitting in the lower deck endzone of the Metrodome that night and feeling like maybe, just maybe, things were looking up. As a true Minnesota fan, despite the fact that past performance is the best indicator of future results, I was willing to suspend my reality in favor of the dream of greener pastures.
The 3rd quarter continued to feed my greener pastures dream as the Gophers continued their ground dominance en-route to a 28-7 lead heading into the 4th quarter. As Gopher fans, we allowed ourselves to begin to revel in the moment.
What happened next is a blur. I know that it happened because I’ve since watched the replay of the game (which was stupid and painful), but to actually remember all of the actual events of what happened during that 4th quarter is impossible.
I do, however, recall being there with my friend Dan, both of us standing up and screaming during the duration of the 4th quarter. What was unfolding before our eyes was unbelievable. Michigan scored a staggering 31 points in that 4th quarter, while the Gophers could only muster another 7.
You see, what Dan and I were yelling about was the fact that the Gophers went into hibernation mode in that 4th quarter. Storing up what they already had gathered, and not bothering to keep those who might be preying on them at bay, the Gophers rushed Michigan’s John Navarre with no more than 4 defenders, and usually just 3, the entire 4th quarter. They allowed the Wolverines to crawl back from a 21-point deficit to ultimately win the game.
I’m not here to take anything away from the Wolverines, because they clearly did what they had to do to win that game. But make no mistake: the outcome of that game has far more to do with the complete collapse of the Gopher defense, and the coaching staff’s inability, or unwillingness to make adjustments, than it has to do with Michigan’s offense.
This game was in the top 10 most painful experiences of my life, and easily makes my top 3 in terms of sports related painful experiences.