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Top Five: Worst Losses In Gopher Football History

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So, unless you missed it this past weekend, the Gophers suffered what we at SBNation Minnesota charitably described as a humiliating loss to the Coyotes of the University of South Dakota by a final score of 41-38.  A football team from a Division I-AA Football Championship Subdivision school not only beat the Golden Gophers, but they did so at TCF Bank Stadium in front of the entire student body and all five people that get the Big Ten Network that watched it at home.  The loss was an embarrassing one, to be sure. . .but is it the worst loss in Gopher history?

Here, in the opinion of your humble writer here, are the five worst losses suffered by the University of Minnesota football team.  I'll preface this by saying that this is, mostly, off the top of my head. . .well, the games are off the top of my head, but there was research done to make sure I got the details correct. . .so if there were losses that happened way back when that you think should be included, feel free to discuss them in our comments section.

And away we go!

5) South Dakota 41, Minnesota 38 - 11 September 2010

See, it's not the fact that Minnesota lost to South Dakota.  After all, on the very same day, a Virginia Tech team that started the season ranked in the nation's Top Ten lost a game to a school named after a President (James Madison), so a loss to a team that's not a FBS school isn't entirely unheard of.  But it's the way they lost this game that makes it one of the worst.  The Golden Gopher defense simply did not show up against the Coyotes, allowing South Dakota quarterback Dante Warren to rack up 433 yards of total offense and five touchdowns, including a 36-yard run on a bootleg on fourth-and-one that iced the game for the Gophers.  When it was all said and done, the Gopher defense had allowed 444 yards of offense. . .yes, Warren literally was the offense for South Dakota in this game. . .and had lost a game that they were expected to win going away.

And, yet, this isn't even the worst loss in the Tim Brewster era.  What was?  Well, I'm glad you asked.

4) Iowa 55, Minnesota 0 - 22 November 2008

The 2008 season actually started out with a lot of promise for Brewster and the Gophers.  They started the season with a 7-1 mark and managed to sneak into the Top 25 in both major polls.  Then, the meltdown started.  They lost 24-17 at home to Northwestern on an ill-advised pass by Adam Weber that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.  Then, they lost the Little Brown Jug battle to Michigan at home, 29-6.  Then, they lost a heart-wrencher at Wisconsin by a field goal, 35-32 to fall to 7-4.  They then returned home to battle for the Floyd of Rosedale against Iowa in what would be the final Gopher football game at the Metrodome.

The Gophers took the field that day, and absorbed the single-worst beating that the Gopher football program has taken in a conference game in its history.  Allow me to emphasize that again.  The Gophers were one of the seven founding members of the Big Ten Conference back in 1896.  They have played football in the Big Ten Conference ever since then.  And in the first 112 years of playing Big Ten football, they had never lost to a conference opponent by 55 points.  . .until this game.  I understand that the Gophers were happy to get out of the Metrodome and everything, but this was ridiculous.

3) Ohio State 41, Minnesota 37 - 28 October 1989

This game saw the homestanding Gophers get out to a huge lead early on the Buckeyes, only to completely fall apart.  The Gophers led 17-0 after the first quarter, and increased that lead to 31-0 in the second quarter.  The Buckeyes were getting ready to punt with about three minutes left in the half, but the Gophers got caught with 12 men on the field, and the resulting second chance led to an Ohio State touchdown to cut the score to 31-8 just before halftime.  (What the heck is it with Minnesota football teams and penalties for 12 men on the field, anyway?)

Then the second half came along.

Ohio State opened up the half with a field goal to make the score 31-11.  After a Gopher punt, they followed up with another touchdown to make the score 31-18, and that was the score after three quarters of play.  The Gophers managed a field goal to extend their lead, but Ohio State quickly followed with another touchdown to make the score 34-26.  After the teams traded turnovers, the Gophers tacked on another field goal to make the score 37-26 with five minutes remaining in the game.  A dramatic touchdown on fourth-and-one made the score 37-34, and the Buckeyes forced another Gopher punt.  Then, with 51 seconds left, the Buckeyes took the lead with a long touchdown pass to give themselves a 41-37 lead and, ultimately, win the game by that same score.  The Buckeyes outscored the Gophers 41-6 in the second half of play, and facilitated one of the worst collapses in Gopher football history.

2) Nebraska 84, Minnesota 13 - 17 September 1983

No, kids, that isn't a misprint there at the top.  The Nebraska Cornhuskers once walked into the Metrodome and put up 84. . .that's eighty-four. . .points on the Gophers in a regulation football game.  It was the most points that Nebraska had scored against a Divison I-A opponent since they put up 100 on something called Nebraska Wesleyan back in 1917.  You want some more eye-popping numbers?

The Cornhuskers racked up 790 yards of total offense that afternoon.  Of that 790 yards, 595 of them came on the ground on 55 carries.  The Huskers scored 21 points in each of the four quarters, and led 42-10 at halftime.  The 1983 Cornhuskers are considered to be one of the most talented college football teams of all time, boasting such players as Heisman Trophy winning running back Mike Rozier, wide receiver Irving Fryar, and quarterback Turner Gill.  In this game, Fryar racked up 138 yards receiving. . .on two catches.

Of course, this Nebraska team went on to the Orange Bowl, where they went for two points and a victory rather than one point and a tie against the Miami Hurricanes, when a tie likely would have given them a national championship.  They lost the game, and the national title, as a result.  Was it karmic payback for running up the score on an undermanned Minnesota team that September day?  Probably not. . .but it's fun to think that it could have been.

1) Texas Tech 44, Minnesota 41 - 29 December 2006 (Insight Bowl)

When it comes to Gopher collapses, the worst one might have been the one that spelled the end of the Glen Mason era in Minnesota.  After scratching and clawing to reach the post-season at all, the Gophers were matched up against the Tecmo Bowl-esque offense of the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona.  However, it was the Gophers that initially put up the big numbers, as three Brian Cupito touchdown passes and a couple of short runs from Amir Pinnix and Justin Valentine helped the Gophers build a 35-7 halftime lead.  To open the second half, the Gophers embarked on a drive that lasted over seven minutes and ended up in a field goal to make their lead 38-7 at the halfway point of the third quarter.

Since you're reading about this game in an article about the worst losses in Gopher history, you can figure out what happened next.

Texas Tech's all-world quarterback Graham Harrell started warming up in a big way.  He connected on a 43-yard touchdown pass to make the score 38-14 going into the fourth quarter.  Another quick touchdown pass by Harrell made it 38-21, and he followed that up with a 1-yard run to make the score 38-28.  A one-yard run by Tech halfback Shannon Woods made the score 38-35 with two and a half minutes left in regulation.  Then, with time running down, Texas Tech placekicker Alex Trlica bombed a 52-yard field goal to tie the game at 38 and send it into overtime.

Joel Monroe hit a 32-yard field goal in OT to give Minnesota the lead back, but Woods ran the ball in from three yards out to complete the comeback and give Texas Tech an improbable 44-41 victory over the Gophers.  It still stands as the largest comeback in Division I-A bowl history, and Glen Mason lost his job shortly thereafter. . .which ushered in the Tim Brewster era.

I don't know about you. . .but after Saturday, Glen Mason doesn't seem like such a bad alternative.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.