For the last three years, Gophers players and coaches have insisted the football program is turning around.
They’ve said there have been tangible improvements in practice and claimed it would soon translate to wins on Saturdays.
But for the last three years, those improvements, at least on game days, were few and far between — until Saturday.
Gophers head coach Jerry Kill and his coaching staff’s vision finally came to fruition with a 34-23 upset win over No. 25 Nebraska.
It was the Gophers’ first win over the Cornhuskers since 1960 and the most significant win for the football program since it beat Michigan in 2005.
Minnesota defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys stopped short of calling it a statement victory, but that’s exactly what it was.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska has established itself as a perennial conference championship contender. And on principle alone, beating one of the most storied programs in college football symbolizes significant progress for a rebuilding program.
But it wasn’t just about the win against the Cornhuskers — it was about the way the game was won.
This was no fluke win. Nebraska wasn’t missing its two best players like Northwestern was last week. Minnesota thoroughly outplayed Nebraska, especially in the trenches.
“If you’re going to win Big Ten football games, you’ve got to be able to run the ball,” Claeys said.
And for the second straight week, the Gophers did just that, while also showcasing offensive creativity that fans have yet to see under this coaching staff.
Minnesota used a variety of formations and motions to keep the Nebraska defense guessing on the ground while creating mismatches in the air.
“We said we’re going to shake it up a bit,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “I think the kids enjoyed that.”
It certainly seemed like they did in the game.
The Gophers played with a newfound confidence, and it’s fair to assume that will continue.
Minnesota may well be favored against its next two opponents — Indiana and Penn State — and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the team could sit at 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten heading into battle against rival Wisconsin.
Claeys said the Gophers will readjust their goals now that they’re bowl eligible.
“It’s not enough,” he said about the team’s sixth win. “We’re looking to improve every year.”
Now the improvements are evident, and it’s reasonable to expect more.
“This is just the win we needed as a program,” defensive back Brock Vereen said. “We’ve been in situations like this before, but we finally put all the pieces in the right place.”
After Saturday’s win, there’s no reason to think the team can’t keep them in the right place.
Ya feel me?