Gopher football has gifted youth, but similar tough sledding ahead

TCF Bank Stadium

For college football teams one loss can easily ruin chances to win a national championship. For teams with one or more losses the countdown begins towards salvaging a small bowl game appearance in December or hoping for an upset victory over a nationally ranked conference rival, in order to consider the season successful on the athletic side of student-athletics.

Fortunately, the Gopher football team has a week off before facing ranked conference rival Iowa for Homecoming, because national title hopes are looking...similar.

The Maryland Terrapins served the Gophers their first Big Ten conference loss, in the first conference game of the year, for the second year in a row.

Two big scoring plays in the first half took the spirit out of an already emotionally dispirited Gopher squad.

A blazing 81-yard touchdown run by Maryland veteran running-back Ty Johnson in the first quarter, and a 54-yard touchdown pass from red-shirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill to junior receiver DJ Turner in the second quarter, gave the Terrapins an uncomfortable 21-3 lead nearing halftime.

Gopher freshman receiver Rashod Bateman provided some hope just before halftime, hauling in a 17-yard touchdown pass from fellow highly-gifted freshman, and Norseland, MN native, Zack Annexstad.

Many current similarities have been drawn from the Gopher’s 2017 season - opening 3-0 before a seven point home loss to Maryland in the first of the back-to-back annual conference series - but the fact that the Gophers had the same 10 points at halftime is the type of stuff that makes fans and analysts project that if it walks like the 2017 Gophers, and talks like a tremendous motivational speaking 2017 Gopher head coach PJ Fleck, then a similar 2-7 2018 Big Ten Conference result is due ahead.

The 2017 Maryland home game ended 21-34.13-42 was the final tally of this year’s game in College Park, Maryland.

Jeers about the Gophers performance must be tempered for several legitimate reasons:

On Thursday before the Saturday competition, news would be of Junior offensive tackle Nick Connelly of Red Wing finally succumbing to an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma - which attacks infection-fighting cells in many areas of the body - was delivered to the University community. Grieving is real.

Far from the gravity of cancer, was the loss of Senior running back, and emotional team leader Rodney Smith, to a season ending knee injury incurred during the week two Fresno State home victory.

Maryland’s strong defensive unit, and an away game to open the conference schedule - especially considering the pain and disruption of losing the presence of influential comrades - polished off the emotional deck stacked against the Gopher’s young men.

Maryland entered the game with their own looming emotional stress, due to the nationally recognized loss of teammate Jordan McNair to heatstroke in a June practice; the litigious malpractice case following the terrible loss; the subsequent administrative leave of their head coach DJ Durkin; and also, of relative similarity to the Gophers, the loss of their starting quarterback in week one.

That ain’t the most enjoyable set of similarities to rattle off.

The University of Maryland produced Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs. That’s good.

But for all the people directly affected by the painful losses of life for both teams, indeed we are all most importantly sorry for those losses.

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