For a fanbase which chants “Who hates Iowa? We hate Iowa!” the final three weeks of the Big Ten regular season should be pretty straight forward.
With a 27-26 home loss to Illinois on Saturday, the Gophers fell to 3-3 in Big Ten play. Meanwhile, Iowa improved to 4-2 with a 10-7 win over Northwestern at Wrigley Field.
The Gophers also need to beat Purdue (1-5) in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday and likely top Wisconsin (3-3) at home in the regular-season finale on Nov. 25. In between, the U will be a huge road underdog against No. 1 Ohio State (6-0) on Nov. 18.
If the Gophers and Hawkeyes tie atop the West with 5-4 conference records, Minnesota would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and win the division.
On the flip side, the Gophers don’t engender much confidence in what they can do in the final three games. Losing a five point lead in the final minute to Illinois on Saturday — on top of a giving away a 21-point lead in an eventual overtime loss to Northwestern in September — will have that kind of damaging affect.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said his program went through a grieving process after the 37-34 loss to Northwestern six weeks ago. He was asked Saturday if they will mourn again.
“We put a lot of work into this; there is always grief,” Fleck said after the U’s “Salute to Service” game. “This isn’t life and death, first of all. We did a tribute to our service men and women. This (game) isn’t life and death. Those people make the ultimate choice and the ultimate sacrifices.
“But when you talk about grief, yeah, when you lose games, there is a stage of grief,” Fleck continued. “… You put a whole week of work into it and lose by one point and have chances to win on both sides of the ball. We just weren’t able to do that.”
Senior captain Tyler Nubin was at the crux of the Illinois’ game-winning 46-yard touchdown connection from backup QB John Paddock to standout receiver Isaiah Williams with 50 seconds left. He was asked postgame how he will move on and try to lead the team forward.
“Definitely staying together and just being more detailed and more focused during the week,” Nubin said. “I think that is every week, but it just got amplified now because we only got three more left and we got to get these. So everything has got to go up.”