The Gophers have not played in the Rose Bowl in more than half a century. Yes, their last appearance in the “Grandaddy of them all” was in 1962, when they defeated UCLA 21-3.
Since then, the game has been the pie-in-the-sky benchmark for a return to prominence for Minnesota — the game fans dared to dream about. One coach, Joe Salem, even (infamously in retrospect) posed with a rose in his mouth for a billboard. The Gophers never even managed to finish above .500 in conference play under ol’ Smoky Joe. That was more than 30 years ago.
Lou Holtz conjured images of Pasadena. Glen Mason’s best teams ultimately were woulda coulda shoulda teases that accomplished plenty but couldn’t make a really serious dent in Rose Bowl talk. Tim Brewster had a patch of Rose Bowl grass. No, really.
And here we are today. It would be getting way ahead of ourselves to talk about the Rose Bowl, even in a normal year for the game. The Gophers under Jerry Kill are 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, and the next two games on their schedule (at Illinois, home vs. Iowa) are certainly winnable. Their final three (Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin) are more than daunting.
But still, at 3-0, this is the kind of start that would allow most fans to have at least a realistic dream of the Rose Bowl in most years. Indeed, we’ve heard chatter from plenty of them already about that very bowl game.
However, a lot has changed about the game — and getting to the game — in recent years. Unlike many of the seasons in the great Rose Bowl drought, getting there can be complicated.
This season, in particular, it would require being one of the top four teams in college football. That’s because under the new four-game playoff system, the Rose Bowl hosts one of the national semifinals every three years. And this happens to be one of those years.
The Gophers are still in the running for the playoff (think of that, for a moment), but even a Minnesota team that fell short of the playoff but wound up winning the Big Ten would get bounced to a different bowl this season.
Everyone within the program — fans included — would gladly accept that outcome because it would still be the best year for the program since the 1960s. But there would still be some unfortunate irony if the Gophers finally had a season worthy of the Rose Bowl, only to find out they picked the wrong year to be great.
Again: nice problem to have, should it happen — and a long way to go before it becomes a reality. Just remember it will take a lot more to smell roses this season than in past years.
Each week, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
96 — win probability, in percentage, for the Vikings before fourth and 20 on Sunday.
The Vikings had a victory within their grasp on Sunday when the Bills got the football with just over three minutes left. And you can’t ask for a much better opportunity to seize it than the one they got after a pair of sacks pushed the Bills back to fourth and 20. At that point, the Vikings had a win probability of 96 percent, according to advancedfootballanalytics.com, and the Bills had just a 12 percent chance of converting for a first down. But they did, and the Vikings’ win probability plummeted to 68 percent. The odds were still in their favor, but they couldn’t recover from that play.
22 — total quarterback pressures for left defensive end Brian Robison this season.
Right defensive end Everson Griffen is getting a lot of attention for his play, and rightfully so. After recording three sacks against the Bills, he now has seven on the season, tied for second in the NFL behind only Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who has eight. But believe it or not, Robison has been more disruptive based on the numbers from Pro Football Focus. Robison has only one half of a sack this season, but he has generated 22 total pressures, which ranks 11th in the NFL. Griffen, meanwhile, is tied for 19th with 19, though his pressures have been much more impactful.
65 — yards after contact per carry for running back Jerick McKinnon against the Bills.
Last week, head coach Mike Zimmer challenged the Vikings running backs to get him an average of three yards after contact per carry against the Bills. His rookie running back obliged and then some. According to Pro Football Focus, 65 of McKinnon’s 103 rushing yards came after a Bills defender put a hand on him. That’s an average of 3.4 yards after contact per carry. McKinnon also forced four missed tackles against the Bills. He had that many on the season entering the game.
one — pressures allowed by offensive linemen Joe Berger and Mike Harris in relief.
Thirteen plays into the 17-16 loss to the Bills, the Vikings lost a pair of starting offensive linemen on the same running play. Center John Sullivan suffered a concussion and right guard Vlad Ducasse hurt his knee, forcing Berger and Harris into action. Against a formidable Bills front, and with Harris playing a position he hadn’t played since peewee, that duo combined to allow just one pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. McKinnon also had success running behind those two.
two — sacks of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that came in 2.5 seconds or fewer.
The Vikings offensive line has been under the microscope after three straight games with at least five sacks allowed. But one statistic suggests that the issues in pass protection aren’t all on the big guys. According to Pro Football Focus, only two of the sacks Bridgewater has taken this season came within 2.5 seconds of the snap. The other 13 came after 2.5 seconds, which is tied for the seventh most in the league (keep in mind that Bridgewater has only played three and a half games). So maybe there is something to the rookie holding the ball a split second too long in the pocket.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said after Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Bills that there would be some second guessing on his part. After watching the film, Zimmer said on Monday that he should’ve called a timeout prior to the Bills converting on a 4th and 20 during the final drive.
The Vikings had all three timeouts prior to the play, which resulted in a 31-yard completion from quarterback Kyle Orton to Scott Chandler. Zimmer thought in hindsight the timeout would’ve settled the defense during a no-huddle situation.
“I think we miscalculated the down and distance they were in,” Zimmer said. “We all knew it was fourth down. I just don’t know they had the distance they had to go and we ended up being short on the route.
“Thinking on the plane last night and after the play, I should have done it. And we still had a chance to stop them there at the end.”
The 4th and 20, though, stands out. Zimmer said linebacker Chad Greenway was too shallow on the play. He also was still communicating with the secondary to make sure everyone was aligned as the ball was snapped. It’s part of Greenway’s job to correct the defense’s alignment, Zimmer said.
The Bills ran 34 seconds off the clock after defensive tackle Tom Johnson sacked Orton with 1:51 left in the game to snap the ball on 4th down. It was a fairly difficult distance with the game on the line that could cause a head coach not to call a timeout. Everything was going in the Vikings factor, and there’s that perception among some head coaches that don’t like to use timeouts on defense that Zimmer also holds.
“Right, wrong or indifferent, I’ve always worked for a lot of guys that don’t like calling timeouts on defense because you don’t like wasting them,” Zimmer said. “That is a little bit of my mentality too is, ‘Hey, let’s get lined up, do what we’re supposed to do and everything will be good.’ Whereas probably in that situation — the hecticness of everything that was going on — I probably should have used it and explained to them. We saw all their two-minute routes before, so the routes they ran were not any surprise.”
In a similar situation last season against Washington, the Vikings did the exact opposite under former head coach Leslie Frazier. Up 34-27, the Vikings burned two timeouts when the clock was running while Washington faced a 1st and 10 at the Vikings 25 with 1:20 left and a 2nd and goal at the 4. Quarterback Robert Griffin III threw three incompletions on the final three plays to turn the ball over on downs and seal the Vikings win, but Frazier was criticized in the moment for burning two timeouts while the clock ran.
It somehow worked, while Zimmer’s approach didn’t. We’ll see in the future if the first-year head coach changes his mentality about timeouts if he’s faced with similar situation this season.