Gophers move on after crushing loss to Michigan

November 3, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's botched finish against Michigan, leading to the loss of the Little Brown Jug trophy, will linger for a while with the Golden Gophers.

There's no time to fret, though, with a trip to top-ranked Ohio State on tap. Plus a visit to rival Iowa, ranked No. 10 and one of the Big Ten's three unbeaten teams, after that.

That devastating Halloween night defeat by the Wolverines can either make or break the rest of the season for Minnesota.

"We'll know if it's crushing with how it goes this week," interim coach Tracy Claeys said, adding: "You're going to be a little bit disappointed, but they'll bounce back. They're a great group of competitors. We have another great opportunity. So we'll be ready to go."


Before the Gophers (4-4, 1-3) could completely move on, they needed a little time to evaluate what went wrong in those fateful final 19 seconds against Michigan.

Mitch Leidner, on his way to a career-high 317 yards passing, produced clutch completions for first downs to Rodney Smith (third-and-17), K.J. Maye (fourth-and-5) and Drew Wolitarsky (second-and-6) during a remarkable drive in the closing minutes that stretched 86 yards after a penalty pushed them back on the first play. The throw to Wolitarsky was initially ruled a touchdown, but his knee hit the turf before the ball crossed the goal line so the Gophers had first-and-goal from a half yard out with one timeout.

The clock started running after the replay review was wrapped up, though, and Leidner didn't realize that. The play call from offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover included a series of motions and shifts, chewing up precious time, and Leidner's pass was incomplete in the face of heavy pressure.

"In the emotion of thinking we won the football game, and I know Tracy keeps blaming himself, but I should have been the one to say, `Hey, we need to spike it here, stop the clock, collect ourselves and then do what we need to do from there,'" Limegrover said Tuesday.

Instead of kicking the tying field goal on fourth down, Claeys went for the win. Leidner's sneak was stuffed as time expired.

"Coach Claeys said he'd do it all over again, and I would do it all over again too," Leidner said. "I love taking the shot."

Aside from their contrasting personalities, Claeys won't run the program any differently than now-retired coach Jerry Kill did. But the final plays were a worst-case scenario of how not having Kill at the game Saturday hurt the Gophers. Claeys, the defensive coordinator, was designated by Kill as the clock management supervisor in those situations so Limegrover and Kill could concentrate on picking the right play.

So, Claeys said, that mistake has been addressed.

"At the same time, we shouldn't have needed one more opportunity to get the ball six inches," he said. "So it is what it is. Moving on."