Monday, October 28, 2013

I Went There - Gophers beat Cornhuskers at TCF Bank Stadium

As an avid Cheesehead sports fan I try to cut people from the Land of 10,00 Lakes slack because although we are technically "border football rivals", the Packers and Badgers have dominated the Vikings and Gophers for the better part of the last decade.  Since this is the last season that the Vikings play their home games in The Humpty before they play for at least two years where the Gophers play while their new stadium is built where The Humpty currently stands.  As a result we decided to catch a game at both stadiums in the same weekend as a preview of coming attractions and a goodbye to The Humpty.

My buddy Nick and I took early flights out of Chicago to Minneapolis on Saturday morning.  After dropping our bags off at the hotel, luckily we still had enough time to tailgate before heading to see the Gophers take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at TCF Bank Stadium.  There are some great bars around the stadium and even though it was an 11 am kickoff, tons of people were out having drinks.  Thanks to Nick we had great seats in the first row of the upper deck in the end zone.  High comedy ensued right after we got to our seats when the singleton sitting next to us started rattling off the offensive stats he is putting up in NCAA 2014.  For the uninitiated, NCAA 2014 is a video game, which means we were in fact getting a recap of video game stats from a stranger.

Following the video game stats recap we made our way to the "beer area".  Normally you cannot drink at college football games but for some reason they sell beer at the stadium, which is a good thing for the most part.  Unfortunately they make it very inconvenient to actually buy the beer so instead of selling beer inside the stadium you have to essentially leave the stadium to buy beers.  Trust me, it is nice that you can drink at the game but making it so inconvenient forces you to buy as many beers as possible (two per ID). Instead of casually buying beers throughout the game, Nick and I made two trips to the beer area to get our allotment of two beers each.  I hope they made the beer area to sell more bear instead of trying to curb consumption because making the trek out to the beer area essentially forces you to get as many beers as possible.

There are a million reviews of the Gophers' impressive 34-23 win over the Cornhuskers for the first time since 1960.  Instead of giving a full game recap of the Gophers' snapping their 16-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers, I want to highlight one play from the game and a player from each team that stood out to me.

The play of the game actually happened midway through the second quarter.  The Gophers were down 10-7 and facing a 4th and 10 at the Cornhuskers 33-yard line.  Instead of trying a field goal or punting, the Gophers decided to go for it and quarterback Phillip Nelson hit Derrick Engel for a beautiful touchdown.  Luckily that play happened right in front of us so we had a great view of the play.  Nelson was only 7 of 15 throwing for 151 yards and 1 touchdown but his pass to Engel was perfect.  Although Nelson's pass to Engel was his only touchdown pass of the day, he did add two rushing touchdowns.  I say that was the play of the game because it gave the Gophers their first lead over the Cornhuskers since 1969.

I was very impressed by Gopher defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman.  When we got to our seats Nick told me to keep an eye on Hageman and I came away quite impressed. At 6'6" and 311 pounds, Hageman looks like a dominant defensive tackle in the making.  ESPN's draft guru Mel Kiper has him as a late first round prospect.  On talent along I agree with Kiper, the only real knock on Hageman is that he turns 24 before he ever plays a snap in the NFL so I am not sure whether he is worth a first round pick when you factor in his age.

For how impressed I was with Hageman, I was equally unimpressive with Cornhusker quarterback Talyor Martinez.  I know Martinez was playing with a number of injuries but for the last few seasons I've thought his only chance to transition from playing on Saturdays to playing on Sundays in the NFL is to change positions. Martinez is only 6'1" tall so he is not tall enough to play tight end. Luckily Martinez runs a 4.5 40-yard dash so he is fast enough to turn into a quality slot wide receiver if he can work on his hands and route running ability.

After the game Nick and I went to Buffalo Wild Wings across from the stadium to hang with his parents and their friends.  There was tons of talk of the Gophers victory over the Cornhuskers being a program changer.  I wouldn't go that far, especially since their head coach Jerry Kill still is not healthy enough to attend games because of the seizures he suffers as a result of his bouts with epilepsy. For what its worth, the same guy that was rattling off his video game stats claims a buddy of his that works in the athletic department said they are trying to get Kill to take a buyout.  I chalk that up to unfounded speculation, interesting, but but still unfounded.

My college soccer coach Nick Gaudioso had the same condition that Kill does. Fortunately Gaudioso was able to manage his epilepsy so that he was still able to coach but keep in mind that Gaudioso was the head soccer coach at Carnegie Mellon University, a Division III soccer program, whereas Kill is the head coach of a Division I Big Ten football program.

As you can tell, I was very impressed by the Gophers in their win over the Cornhuskers.  More importantly I was even more impressed with TCF Bank Stadium besides the inconvenient beer situation.  As long as the Vikings install beer lines inside the stadium, I actually think going to a game at TCF Bank Stadium will be a better experience than going to a game at The Humpty.  Thanks to the Gophers for providing a nice prelude to Sunday Night Football for the Packers and the Vikings at The Humpty.  Check back later today for my thoughts on the Packers/Vikings game.

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