Gophers, Viking, LSU, Seattle provide grid spectacle
A week ago, it was time to bemoan a lost Saturday in football and hockey for Minnesota sports fans. But this week, we can only celebrate the opportunity to watch some of the most exciting football games of the season.
To rattle them off:
The University of Minnesota proved me, and thousands of other doubters, wrong for doubting the very vocal coaching of PJ Fleck. Not only did he come through, he coaxed his players to come up with their
most significant victory in at least two decades, with a sensational 31-26 triumph over solidly favored Penn State. Both teams came in 8-0, but the Gophers had played a comparatively easy schedule, with no
opponent approaching the caliber of Penn State. The remarkable thing about the game was not that the Gophers were able to score touchdowns, but that they didn’t seem to mind being unable to stop Penn State from scoring touchdowns — they just kept scoring more. Quarterbacks get the glory, and Tanner Morgan deserved it, because instead of challenging Penn State’s world class rushing defense, the Gophers went to the air, and Morgan completed 18 of 20 passes for three touchdowns and 339 yards. But the catch of the day belonged to Jordan Howden, because after leading by two touchdowns a couple of times, the Gophers were in serious jeopardy of losing the game until Howden came up with the team’s third interception of the day, in the end zone, to secure the victory.
Right after that, we could watch the “other” battle of unbeatens, where Louisiana State went into Tuscaloosa and stunned Alabama 46-41 in the kind of shootout that was so exciting, I thought for a minute they must have moved their schools into the Pac-12! If it had happened in the Pac-12, Southeast Conference zealots would have ridiculed them for being unable to play any defense. The LSU Tigers moved ahead of Alabama in the polls, and in the NCAA ratings, where Ohio State somehow slipped ahead of both to claim the No,. 1 rank. Joe Burrow
passed for three touchdowns and 393 yards for LSU, which is now 9-0, and 5-0 in the SEC. If you like predictions, however, notice that in the polls, Alabama drops only to fourth or fifth, leaving the Crimson, Tide in perfect position to slide back into the top four for the NCAA playoffs.
Having survived those two spectacular games, and still having time to get to AMSOIL Arena and a just-as-spectacular hockey game with UMD handing No. 1 Denver its first loss of the season in a 5-2 classic,
there was just barely time to rest up and get ready for the NFL on Sunday. First, we saw Chicago beat Detroit and look decent doing it, and then Aaron Rodgers fought a snowstorm by giving the ball to Aaron Jones, who scored three touchdowns, and the Packers defense stopped Christian McCafferty trying to score from foot out as time expired. He didn’t make it, and the Packers won 24-16 over Carolina to stay in first place at 8-2.
It wasn’t until Sunday night that we could watch the Vikings pull off a classic of their own, beating Dallas in Dallas 28-24. Kirk Cousins threw three touchdown passes — two of them to Kyle Rudolph, who helped out his erratic quarterback by pulling down an acrobatic one-handed grab at the end line. In post-game interview time, Cousins apparently forgot that he spent the first half-dozen games ignoring the immense talent of Rudolph, who might now be the best tight end in the league. When asked about Rudolph, Cousins matter-of-factly said
that Rudolph “has the best hands of anyone I’ve ever played with.” So THAT’s why he ignored him for so long. Incredibly, the Vikings victory was very similar to the Gophers, because after all the good things they had done, it took two brilliant defensive plays to secure the huge victory. First, the Vikings had smothered Ezekial Elliott all day, so Dak Prescott sent Elliott out into the left flat for a quite-certain touchdown pass on fourth-and-5 at the 14 yard line, but linebacker Eric Kendricks made an all out dive, and while flying
horizontal to the ground, he got a hand on the ball to deflect it away from Elliott. The Vikings amazingly gave the Cowboys one more chance with the ball. Prescott, who threw two unbelievable passes that Amari Cooper caught well out of bounds but toe-dancing just inside the sideline — one for a touchdown — there was only time for a Hail Mary try from midfield. Prescott launched the throw, and Vikings defensive back Jayron Kearse went high to intercept it and end the game.
Still, the most incredible game of the weekend might have come Monday night, when Russell Wilson blew Seattle’s chance to beat undefeated San Francisco in overtime when he was intercepted for only the second time all year, but when Chase McLaughlin, whose field goal had tied the game 24-all on the last play of regulation, missed by hooking a winning field goal wide left, Wilson had one last chance before the teams would have to settle for a tie. He passed and scrambled to get the Seahawks into range, and Jason Myers drilled a 42-yard field goal to win the game 27-24 for the Seahawks.
Oh yeah, we can't forget our two local football teams. Quarterback John Larson returned after missing five games and led UMD to a 59-7 victory at Mary. Larson threw five touchdown passes in the process. St. Scholastica won 47-29 at Minnesota-Morris.