Foes help make, or break, your favorite team
We are easily swayed, as sports fans, and this particular fall has seen more swaying than any other year I can remember.
Winning leads to euphoric outbursts of invincibility, and losing leads to despair that seems bottomless, and we witness those swings in almost every sport. The Minnesota Vikings, for example, look great one week and awful the next, depending on the inconsistent play of quarterback Kirk Cousins. They were zooming upward until last weekend, when the Kansas City Chiefs — without star quarterback Pat Mahomes —
blitzed Cousins into submission, and horrible passing, through the first half. Then, when it was hopeless, Cousins played pretty well in the second half and the Vikings almost pulled out a victory.
Nobody seems to have figured out that a team’s opposition makes a huge difference in how a team plays, and looks, and wins. The Vikings look unbeatable when they play someone with a flawed defense, or offense, because the Vikings are pretty good, which means good enough to succeed against mediocre foes.
The Vikings have very good defense, very good rushing attack, spotty quarterbacking, and the chance to get all those things clicking in the same game. They will need to do that in division rematches against the Packers, Lions and Bears to have a chance to reach the playoffs.
And, for those who may not have noticed, everybody in the North Division lost last weekend — the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings, the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears. If you want to pick a worthy National Football Conference Super Bowl entry, don’t overlook the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks aren’t close to being the best team, but in Russell Wilson they have the most amazing quarterback in the entire NFL. And last time I checked, you don’t have to be the best team in the league, as long as you can beat the best team in the league.
I worry that the University of Minnesota football team might be the same. The Gophers have an incredible 8-0 record so far, and they’ve played well, but they also have had an amazing string of opposing quarterbacks falling by the wayside just as the Gophers appear on their schedule. This Saturday we find out for sure. If the Gophers are for real, they will give Penn State a heck of a game, and maybe stay
close enough to beat the Nittany Lions. If they have been fooling us all these weeks, then it might not be pretty Saturday. Penn State could crush the Gophers and burst the bubble big time.
Look at Minnesota’s schedule: They somehow managed to get a schedule without Ohio State, or Michigan, anywhere to be found. Penn State, in fact, represents clearly the toughest team the Gophers will face. Iowa and Wisconsin are certainly tough, but they have proven to be beatable. Penn State has proven to be unbeatable, making this a classic showdown, with four games remaining. In their final four games, the Gophers face Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin, and excluding Northwestern, the other three have a 20-4 combined record. In their first eight games, South Dakota State is 6-2 and Georgia Southern 5-3, and the other six have a combined record of 18-29.
Amazingly, P.J. Fleck has done a great job as coach, and the University rewarded him with a seven-year contract extension. Are they crazy? Maybe the Gophers will beat Penn State and run the table, as they say, in which case the long-term deal is a good one. But what if they get smoked Saturday, and also fall to Iowa and Wisconsin — two huge rivals — and finish 1-4? Will it look as though Fleck’s sleight of hand worked best on the administration?
Closer to home, UMD and St. Scholastica both had strong starts, then faltered, and both of them lost disappointing games two weekends ago. But last weekend, they bothn roared back to enormous home victories. But can we pause a moment and look at the opposition?
Up at Malosky Stadium, the UMD Bulldogs faced Minnesota-Crookston, which offered almost no opposition as the Bulldogs blitzed them 63-0. Out at Public Schools Stadium at the same time, St. Scholastica hammered Iowa Wesleyan 61-8.
What’s going on? Can’t we get a simple, good football game? The Bulldogs not only were playing without injured John Larson, but Garrett Olson joined him on the sideline, and freshman Keagan Calchera got his first start. He was 5-7 and didn’t need to pass any more, because the Bulldogs unleashed a fleet of running backs that took care of everything offensively. Wade Sullivan gained 180 yards on 24 carries, and Cazz Martin gained 179 yards on 12 carries, as the Bulldogs rolled to 448 yards rushing against a Crookston team that is now 0-9. UMD’s offensive total edge was 532-114.
St. Scholastica did have its No. 1 quarterback, and Zach Edwards put on his normal offensive show against Iowa Wesleyan. Edwards directed the Saints to touchdowns on their first five possessions, and he completed his first 19 passes in the game, finishing 34-43 for 421 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown.
Being on the receiving end of Edwards throws can be impressive, too. Eddie Lee gained 119 shards on 9 receptions, while Mitchell Adrian gained 118 yards on 13 receptions. For good measure, Reese Jensen caught 7 passes for 108 more yards, making it the first time three Saints receivers had all topped 100 yards in the same game.
As for highlights this week, the Penn State-Gopher football game is huge, although P.J. Fleck was out of control when he tried to pressure ESPN to bring its Game Day show to Minneapolis. Maybe he’s naive after all, but ESPN has a contractual obligation to promote the Southeast Conference, which they do week after sickening week, and this weekend, even if they were going go step out of character, Louisiana State plays Alabama for the two teams the voters have ranked No. 1 and No. 2 — different order for different ratings.