The 4-0 Golden Gophers travel south to take on the 2-2 Hawkeyes on Saturday. The past dozen years, it seems like the Hawkeyes have been riding momentum into this rivalry game, while Minnesota has been in a tailspin. Well, 2012 sees the rolls reversed, as the Gophers are off to their best start since 2008, and the Hawkeyes come limping into the Big10 season at 2-2 after losing at home to Central Michigan last week. Despite all of that, Iowa is a 7-point favorite.
The key matchup of the game is how Minnesota’s front seven will do against the Iowa running game. Despite their struggles, Iowa’s running game is its usual downhill, well-oiled self. This year’s feature back (after the first eight guys went down) is Mark Weisman. He came into the fall camp as the 3rd string fullback, but since being named the starter has gone for 330 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 2 games. Meanwhile, the Gophers defense is built on speed, and has sacrificed size to do so. The Gophers defensive ends are very small, and their linebackers are also on the small side. Both starting safeties are listed at under 200 pounds, which is small in today’s world. The ability to stop the run and put eight or nine in the box will be the second most important aspect of the game (after the turnover battle).
Injuries are another big piece for the Gophers, as it appears Max Shortell will make his second consecutive start in the absence of MarQueis Gray. Gophers center Zach Mottla is doubtful, left guard Tommy Olson is doubtful and nickel back Martez Shabazz is out. Patching together the O-line is going to be difficult against a solid D-line. If a third starter goes down along the line during the game, it could get real ugly up front.
If the game is close, and low scoring, Iowa gets my nod as the favorite, as they have one of the best kickers in the country and a solid punter. Meanwhile the Gophers are one of the worst kicking and punting teams in the nation.
Both teams are at the crossroads…. a win for Iowa over rival Minnesota puts them back on track with a 1-0 conference start, and momentum heading into the Big10 season despite the poor the start. A loss leaves them at 2-3 overall, and a trophy case empty yet again.
For Minnesota, a loss to a struggling Iowa team will leave the fan base second guessing what progress Kill has actually made. A win really cranks the momentum to new levels. The Gophers would go into their bye week 5-0, and ranked—or right on the edge of—the Top 25. Moreover, they will have secured Floyd of Rosedale for the third consecutive year, and notched their first win at Iowa since 1999. With just 12 games a year, and eight Big10 games, Week 1 of Big10 play reinforces just how important each and every week in college football can be.
This Saturday, Syracuse comes into TCF Bank Stadium for a matchup with the UNDEFEATED Golden Gophers. A night game, an undefeated team, and a BCS School matchup have combined to generate more buzz in Gopher Nation than at any point since Minnesota opened up their new stadium over three years ago. There are a ton of story lines with Max Shortell starting his first college game at home with Gray being sidelined. How will the Gophers D match-up with Syracuse’s high powered offense, and can the O-line establish running lanes for Donnell Kirkwood.
But thinking about Saturday, my mind keeps drifting to the Gopher Hall-of-Fame class of 2012. Most notably, Tyrone Carter. Carter is my all-time favorite Minnesota Gopher, and the best Gopher football player in my lifetime. I’d rank him ahead of Darryl Thompson, Ricky Foggie, Laurence Maroney, Marion Barber, Eric Decker, Matt Spaeth, and even Outland Trophy winner Greg Eslinger.
Carter came to Minnesota in 1996 from Pompano Beach Florida, while all of his friends went off to Miami, Florida and Florida State. He was raised by his Grandma, and she thought it would be beneficial for young Tyrone to get as far away as possible from the temptations and bad influences in the Florida area. Carter’s first year at the “U” was Jim Wacker's last. In some of the ugliest uniforms ever, Tyrone became a fan favorite as an 18-year-old freshman when he picked up two fumbles for touchdowns in less than a minute, in turn handing the Gophers a win over a Donavan McNabb-led Syracuse team.
Carter changed Gopher football. He was far and away the best player on the team his final three seasons, and helped change the Gophers from a perennial bottom feeder of the Big10 to a legitimate middle-of-the-pack bowl team, capable of beating any Big10 team on any given Saturday. Since 1967, no Minnesota team had won more than seven games, and only the '77 team won seven. But in 1999, Carter lead Minnesota to eight regular season wins, and their first bowl game in over a decade. In the 11 years starting with Carter’s last, Minnesota would go on to play in nine bowls. I think Tyrone Carter helped build expectations.
As a 5’9", 185-lb. safety, he somehow was able to accumulate a ridiculous 528 tackles for the Maroon & Gold, which is easily the most in program history. In his junior year he compiled the most gaudy stats of any Gopher defender in any season. He has the all-time records for most tackles in a season (158) and solos (143), and he also recorded eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from his safety spot! He has three of the top eight single season tackle totals for the “U”, and is one of the top all-time kick and punt returners too, along with scooping up seven fumbles in his career. He was a three-time All-Conference selection, and two-time first-team All-American. He was the team defensive and overall MVP his Junior and Senior seasons. His Senior season he won the Jim Thorpe Award given to the top D-Back in the country. He ended his career in the Maroon & Gold with a close loss to Oregon in the Sun Bowl where he recorded 18 tackles. He went on to play a long NFL career, including two Super Bowl wins with the Steelers, and twice being named defensive player of the week.
Tyrone Carter is my all-time favorite Gopher and he might be the single player responsible for my obsession with Gopher Football. Glen Mason had the best coaching tenure of any Gopher coach since Murray Warmath of the 50’s to early 70’s. I wonder if that would have been the case if he didn’t inherit a 5’9", 185-lb. sophomore from Florida.