Well, the Minnesota Gophers open their new outdoor stadium next Saturday..... so where did I see them? In a dome of course. Minnesota came to the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University Saturday to take on the Syracuse Orange. As with any opening game, there was a lot of excitement and uncertainty going into a new season. The Gophers are coming off a 7-6 season where they lost their last 6. A good start against an assumed inferior team would be just what the doctor ordered. Syracuse, 3-9 in the previous year, has a new coach as well as a new QB. Prodigal son Greg Paulus, fresh off a four year stint as a Duke point guard, returns to make his first start as a college QB.
There was a large push in the area to sell tickets, and it worked, selling 48,617 for this game. A very big crowd for Syracuse and a very Orange crowd. The Minnesota contingent was around 25 sprinkled throughout the stadium. A new on campus facility is much more of a draw than a road game in an un-air conditioned dome.
The Gophers started fast. Syracuse first snap sailed over Paulus's head. This led to a TD on a Duane Bennett 16 yard run. The Cuse kicked a field goal and then Minnesota scored again on a Troy Stoudermire 7 yard reception from Adam Weber.
....then the wheels fell off. Syracuse started running plays in the spread offense and the Gophers defense showed it was just as deficient against the spread as they were in 2008. Syracuse racked up 3 drives of 6, 8, and 8 plays for a TD, FG, and a TD and 164 yards. Minnesota's offense went quiet for the remainder of the first half. With 1:39 to go starting at their own 17 the offense ended in a thud when Tim Brewster essentially decided to run out the clock and go into the locker room down 20-14.
Whatever the defensive coaches said at the half must have worked as the D only gave up 38 yards the rest of the day. Unfortunetly, Adam Weber was still having problems throwing the ball. Weber, a 3 year starter at QB, should have come into the game with a lot of confidence. The offense returns almost every starter and he still had Eric Decker, an All American type wide receiver, to sling the ball to. I don't know if it was the crowd noise(It was quite loud at times causing some false starts) or rust but Weber was off most of the day. Through 3 quarters Weber was 9-24 1 TD and 1 INT.
Beginning the 4th quarter down 17-20 Weber started to come alive, hitting a long pass to Decker, before fumbling the ball away as the offense kept shooting itself in the foot. The feeling from a severly jaded Orange fanbase however,(who have had it much worse than the Gophers the last few years) was that it was only a matter of time before they'd blow it.
With 3:48 the Gophers got the ball on their own 12. Due or die time. The offense stepped up, marching the ball down the field. Weber looked great. He went 5-6 for 62 yards on the drive getting down to 3rd and 4 on the Syracuse 9 with just over a minute to go. At this point Tim Brewster calls a timeout. Brewster has shown that he is a decent recruiter and can he can talk a really good game but his timeout management needs some serious improvement. In the first half, he blew through 2 timeouts right away. Then he challanged a tough to call spot of the ball and lost his last timeout early in the second quarter. Now he is calls a timeout in field goal range. He saves Syracuse clock time score. Anyway, the 3rd and 4 pass was incomplete. Eric Ellested hits the 26 yard field goal and the game is tied 20-20. Fortunetly the Orange take a play out of Brewster's playbook and run out the clock.
Overtime came, MN won the toss and elected defense. The entire dome assumed the worst and Syracuse delivered. Paulus threw the ball right to Nathan Triplett in the end zone putting an unfortunate cap to a decent homecoming. He went 19-31 with 167 yards and a TD and that costly interception. He looked poised and polished most of the game and he has a chance to deliver Syracuse a good season on the gridiron, before he joins Jim Boeheim's bench as a grad assistant during basketball season. The Gophers, knowing they only needed a field goal to win on their position ran 3 times for 7 yards and sealed the comeback with an Ellested 35 yard FG.
It was enjoyable seeing the Gophers in action, albeit in a hot dome as opposed to a brand new outdoor stadium. The Syracuse fans were great to myself and my son. Eric Decker had a great game with 9 catches and 183 yards. He was rarely double covered and Weber should use him more if he is single covered in the future. Hopefully Weber can improve on his performance, the defense can carry this performance over against tougher opponents, and Brewster can improve his in-game management. These things happen and Minnesota could surprise some teams this year.
Shawn, On the road....in Syracuse