I cannot explain Nebraska’s commitment to losing football games.
You occasionally see teams in any sport described as “knowing how to win,” of having some combination of confidence, knowledge, skill, and luck that allows them to win games in situations where other teams might falter.
Nebraska, on the other hand, simply knows how to lose football games. Minnesota’s 13-10 win on Thursday night gives the Cornhuskers a 2-14 record in one-score games over the past three years, which is simply not possible.
Nebraska had the ball, first and goal, twice in this game, and got three points. They had three chances in the fourth quarter to put the game away, and punted, fumbled, and threw an interception.
Had they chosen to eschew running offensive plays in the final ten minutes of the game, and simply kneeled the ball down and punted on fourth down, we are probably talking about their 10-3 win, or perhaps an overtime win.
Instead, they fumbled at midfield with five minutes to go, leading to Minnesota scoring its only touchdown - on fourth down, from the 13, on the catch of the season from Daniel Jackson. And then, after getting the ball back with two and a half minutes to go, Gopher safety Tyler Nubin picked off another Jeff Sims pass at midfield, allowing Minnesota to move the ball forward 20 yards and then kick a 47-yard field goal as time expired for the victory.
New coach, new quarterback, new team, same result. They are clearly cursed. I cannot believe that the Gophers won that game, because I cannot believe that Nebraska found a way to lose it.
I am starting with the Nebraska perspective here because the Gophers were, at least on offense, mostly awful. The Gophers managed three points in the first 57 minutes, and honestly, that seemed about right.
We all wondered whether this would finally be the year that Minnesota started throwing the ball and stopped running it a service-academy-like 75% of the time; the answer seems to be that they’re going to have to throw it, because for once, they can’t run it.
For the game, Minnesota had 55 yards on 24 carries, which is pitiful. Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis was erratic - 24-for-44, with some bad throws and one terrible interception - but at least he avoided killing his own team’s chances in the fourth quarter.
And let’s look on the bright side: Dragan Kesich made the clutch game-winner, made a 34-yarder, and barely missed a 54-yard attempt. So the Gopher kicking might be the best it’s been since Chip Lohmiller was booting field goals off a tee.
Minnesota’s defense also looked good; Nubin had two interceptions, and the Gophers sacked Sims three times, which - I haven’t looked this up to be sure - might match their season sack total from last year.
The Cornhuskers’ only touchdown was on a throwback double pass, a comedic play in which Sims pitched the ball to the halfback, the halfback threw it back to Sims, the lateral was at the quarterback’s feet and skipped jauntily across the ground for twenty yards sideways, Sims managed to catch up to it, pick up the football, look downfield, and find a receiver that was so alone in the end zone that he may have started tapping his foot impatiently, waiting for the ball to come down.
In a way, they couldn’t have drawn it up any better, because the slapstick so confused the Minnesota defense that all eleven players were reduced to just chasing the ball around the field instead of covering receivers.
So here’s what we know about the Gophers: Nubin is still awesome. They might be able to rush the passer, for once. They can’t run the ball yet; they can throw it fine, but accuracy is another matter.
Even so, they’re 1-0. And maybe they can continue that same magic the Vikings had last year. I’m really enjoying this strange world in which Minnesota’s football teams repeatedly win games that they never, ever should win, instead of the reverse.
Down in St. Paul, the Saints set a franchise record by moving 22 games over .500, as they beat Columbus 8-7 in 10 innings. They moved into a three-way tie for the second-half International League championship as well, with Durham and Lehigh Valley.
Chris Williams hit his 20th homer of the year for St. Paul, and Hernan Peréz hit a three-run homer as well as the game-winning two-out single in the 10th. Louie Varland entered in the third inning and gave up one run on three hits and a walk in four innings of work, and Michael Boyle finished the game with three scoreless innings to earn the win.
The Saints have won 43 home games this year, tops in the International League; they’re 43-23 at CHS Field this season. For a full major-league season, that’d be an 105-win pace.
LYNX vs Atlanta, 7pm
TWINS at Texas, 7:05pm
SAINTS vs Columbus, 7:07pm
LOONS at San Jose, Saturday
GOPHER VOLLEYBALL at Florida, Sunday
GOPHER FOOTBALL vs Eastern Michigan, September 9
VIKINGS vs Tampa Bay, September 10