The last time the Gophers lost three games in a row was in 2007, when they dropped their final five and had to wait eight months to end the drought.
The season before saw the Gophers lose their final 10 games.
Minnesota has eight games left this season, and quarterback Adam Weber, who was the starter for both struggling teams, doesn’t want to see that happen again. The best way to stop the losing, he said, is simply to win.
He said this, though, after the Gophers (1-3) dropped their third straight game — all at home — to Mid-American Conference opponent Northern Illinois, 34-23, Saturday night.
The Gophers had their fill of chances, but it was the Huskies who took full advantage of their opportunities at TCF Bank Stadium, dropping the Gophers to just 4-6 in their second year at home.
The game went back and forth early, but the atmosphere changed when the Gophers sent out the punt unit on a fourth-and-one with less than two minutes left in the first half.
Huskies true freshman Jimmie Ward burst through the Gophers’ wall of blockers, blocked Dan Orseske’s punt and gave the Huskies the ball just 11 yards from the end zone.
When Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish hooked up with Martel Moore for a 10-yard score three plays later, the Gophers suddenly faced a 20-13 halftime deficit.
“I thought we were in good shape at halftime to come back out in the second half and play well enough to go win the football game,” Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said. “But we just didn’t get Chad Spann stopped, and to me that was the name of the game.”
Spann, Northern Illinois’ senior running back, ran wild all night, netting four runs of at least 30 yards to demoralize a defense that had already been struggling.
On just 15 carries, Spann finished with a career-high 223 yards and two touchdowns, including a 61-yard score that gave the Huskies (2-2) an 18-point lead with 6:22 left in the game.
Other Northern Illinois running backs found success too, with Ricky Crider breaking a 30-yard run and Cameron Bell posting a 29-yarder. The Huskies finished with 297 rushing yards and averaged 10.6 yards per carry.
“We just weren’t where we were supposed to be,” senior cornerback Ryan Collado said. “We didn’t execute the defenses, and that’s on us.”
Meanwhile, the Gophers rushing attack sputtered all night, including two unconverted fourth-and-one plays.
Junior Duane Bennett had 24 carries for 74 yards (just over 3 yards per carry), and no one else did much better. As a group, Minnesota ran 32 times for just 97 yards, a 3.0 yard-per-carry average.
Weber finished with his best performance of the season and hit quarterback-turned-receiver MarQueis Gray eight times for a career-high 117 yards and a touchdown.
Weber completed 31 of 46 passes for 373 yards (all season highs), two touchdowns and a late interception, but he missed a number of open targets throughout the game and had a few other balls nearly intercepted.
The Gophers were doomed by an inability to score touchdowns when momentum was turning in their favor. They settled for field goals on two of three red-zone chances, and a 20-yard touchdown pass to Da’Jon McKnight appeared to be thrown over the intended receiver Gray.
“Field goals just aren’t going to get it done, so regardless of what happens on the other two sides of the ball — special teams and defense — we have to do our job, and that’s to get into the red zone and score six points,” Weber said. “It’s too bad we weren’t able to do that.”
Since they struggled to convert, the Gophers face a weeklong recovery period.
Minnesota struggled to bounce back week after week the past two times the losing streak hit three under Brewster. But with eight games remaining and Big Ten play beginning with Northwestern for homecoming on Saturday, the Gophers sound confident they can right the ship.
“There’s no secret formula,” Weber said. “A good team will find a way to win, and we’ll find a way to win. We’ll find it. We’ll stick with it.”
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