College Football: Gophers motivated by lack of respect after Michigan win
By Marcus R. Fuller St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- When former Michigan star and ESPN analyst Desmond Howard said on "College Football Gameday" last weekend that Texas Christian had played a bunch of "cupcakes" leading up to the Oklahoma g...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - When former Michigan star and ESPN analyst Desmond Howard said on “College Football Gameday” last weekend that Texas Christian had played a bunch of “cupcakes” leading up to the Oklahoma game, Gophers fans immediately fired back on Twitter.
“What does that make Michigan?” several fans wrote.
Feeling disrespected, several Minnesota players tweeted that Howard was a “hater” because his Wolverines lost the Little Brown Jug.
“It definitely motivates us, because we all have a certain chip on our shoulder,” Gophers running back David Cobb said. “We all have a certain amount of confidence. When we see stuff like that, I know you don’t pay too much attention to it, but every guy knows what’s being said. It just gives you that little extra umpf that we need.”
And now’s the time for a little extra umpf.
In a game that will decide the early leader in the Big Ten West Division standings, the Gophers (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) can prove themselves Saturday against surging Northwestern (3-2, 2-0) at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Wildcats, on a three-game win streak, are coming off impressive victories over Penn State on the road and Wisconsin at home by a combined score of 49-20.
“It’s a huge game,” said Gophers coach Jerry Kill. “I told our players (Wednesday night), you’ve got to win at home. You defend your home. You take care of your house.”
Speaking of no respect, Minnesota probably is not getting the credit it deserves for crushing Michigan 30-14 in front of more than 100,000 fans at the Big House two weeks ago.
“It’s always good to beat Michigan,” Fox college football analyst Charles Davis said. “But I think we have some empirical evidence that beating Michigan isn’t what it’s cracked up to be this year.”
To beat the Wolverines for the first time since 2005 means a lot more to the Gophers’ program and the state of Minnesota than it does nationally. Big Ten newcomer Rutgers handed Michigan a third straight loss last week.
“I like what the Gophers are doing,” Davis said. “I like how they’re building their program. But I don’t see anything yet that tells me this is why I like Minnesota (as a contender).”
Last week’s bye doesn’t seem to have taken the edge off the Gophers.
“The only thing I did was watch football on TV,” senior linebacker Damien Wilson said of the bye week. “Nebraska going down. Wisconsin going down. That’s all huge motivation for everybody. That got us hungry as ever.”
It’s premature for players to think about, but fans already are looking ahead to what the Gophers could accomplish if they can pick up momentum with a win Saturday.
Minnesota most likely will be favored in its next two games - against Purdue for homecoming and on the road against an ailing Illinois team. Those teams are a combined 6-6 this season.
If the Gophers go undefeated through that stretch, they would be 7-1 overall with their first 4-0 conference start since tying for their most recent conference title, in 1967.
Winning consecutive games in the Big Ten used to be a daunting task for Minnesota. It happened only twice between 2007 and 2012. But these Gophers are built a lot like the 2013 squad that went on the program’s first four-game conference win streak since 1973.
Kill’s defense led the Big Ten in turnovers forced (15) before the bye, and it ranks 19th nationally in points allowed, at 19.
The Gophers also have a physical rushing attack led by Cobb, who is on pace to set the school’s single-season rushing record with an average of 144 yards per game.
Cobb, who made his first career start at Northwestern last season, took the 30-7 loss to TCU personally, gaining just 45 yards rushing in a rare visit to his home state.
“I haven’t won in Texas in front of my friends and family,” Cobb said about two bowl game losses in Houston. “You consider yourself one of the top backs, and when you go up against top competition, you don’t perform. It kind of wakes you up. You just want it even more.”
Cobb has topped 200 yards twice this season. He should get an opportunity to have another big game Saturday, considering Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon had 259 yards rushing in a 20-14 loss to Northwestern last week.
Sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner also is hoping to make a statement that he’s healthy and ready to lead his team on a run.
Last season, Leidner started against Northwestern but was replaced by Philip Nelson after injuring his knee in the first half.
Nelson not only led the team to a 20-17 win at Evanston, Ill., but he helped Minnesota go on a four-game win streak.
This season, Leidner was sidelined with turf toe and a medial collateral sprain as backup Chris Streveler led the Gophers to a 24-7 win over San Jose State. That fired up the Lakeville native to play arguably the best game of his career with 167 yards passing and two touchdowns against Michigan.
“That was huge motivation for me,” Leidner said. “That’s why you put in the work all year round. There are very few game days, so you want to experience every single one of them.”
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