Gophers football: With each win, belief grows

MINNEAPOLIS — Week in and week out, this Gophers football team proves there's not much they can't accomplish if they simply "believe."

Adversity doesn't slow them down because they believe in themselves, in their teammates and in their coaches.

Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium was another glowing example of that belief. At times, the Gophers bent, but they never broke in a 24-10 Big Ten Conference victory over Penn State.

Don't be fooled, though. There was plenty of adversity. But each time, the Gophers answered the bell. (Pun intended...the Gophers also broke the Victory Bell while celebrating Saturday's win.)

Early in the third quarter, the Gophers lost a fumble in their own territory. But they came right back and forced a three-and-out.


In the fourth, they got a big third-down stop, but the stop was negated by a roughing the punter penalty that extended the drive. It could have been a game-changing turn of events. But again, they answered, forcing another stop and punt.

Finally, the Gophers surrendered a drive all the way down to the 2-yard line with 6:40 to play. A touchdown would have made it a one-score game. Instead, Penn State fumbled, and the Gophers were able to run out the clock.

"Things don't snowball any more," Gophers senior safety Brock Vereen said. "(When adversity happens), we just bounce back."

All that belief has given the Gophers their first four-game Big Ten winning streak since 1973, when they went 6-2 in league play. With Saturday's victory, the Gophers are 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten.

"The biggest difference now is all of (the players) believing they can win," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "They believe in each other. That's the biggest improvement."

Acting head coach Tracy Claeys said even in the Gophers' darkest moment this season, nobody threw in the towel.

"...Even after we lost our first two conference games," Claeys said. "We were disappointed at the time, but we could still see ourselves getting better. I believe people who work hard eventually get rewarded, especially if they keep fighting. We got one win and then we believed in ourselves and we won on the road and then we defeated a brand name like Nebraska."

The Gophers now are in a position to top any of the modern-era highs set by coach Glen Mason. Though Mason's Gophers consistently played in bowl games, they rarely were successful in the Big Ten. The Gophers went 5-3 just twice in Mason's 10 seasons.


At 4-2 in Big Ten play, the Gophers can finish no worse than .500. If they can win one of the final two games against either Wisconsin or Michigan State, they'll likely earn a big-time bowl bid and earn a spot among the best Gophers teams in the modern era.

The turnaround has been both remarkable and swift. Confidence is at an all-time high, and that confidence has been aided by the development of a few superstars on both sides of the football.

On offense, the emergence of Donovahn Jones cannot be ignored. Establishing Jones' role in the offense has helped create an unpredictability that makes the Gophers both fun to watch and hard to beat.

On defense, Eric Murray quickly is becoming one of better corners in the Big Ten.

With standouts like Jones and Murray, the Gophers are a better team on third down ... on offense and defense.

That's made football fun again in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

"I'll tell you, we're having fun," Gophers running back David Cobb said. "For a while, it was a job and we felt like we were coming to work. Now, we're having fun. Coaches believe in us, and we believe in each other."

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