Gophers grind out Music City victory over Alabama
Dec. 31, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Marion Barber III heard all about how Alabama stopped Auburn's vaunted running backs.
Barber and teammate Laurence Maroney simply thought they were better.
Barber ran for 187 yards and a touchdown and Maroney added 105 yards to lead Minnesota to a 20-16 victory over Alabama in the Music City Bowl on Friday.
Barber and Maroney, the only teammates in NCAA history to each rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, were the only runners to go for more than 100 yards in a game this season against the Crimson Tide, who entered with the nation's second-ranked defense.
"They're a duo, and they're both going to come at you," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said, grinning. "They must be pretty good, I guess."
Alabama held Auburn to just 74 yards rushing in the Crimson Tide's final game, but Barber wasn't impressed.
"I never looked at that," the soft-spoken Barber said. "We just came in more prepared."
The Golden Gophers (7-5) ran for 276 yards to overcome three turnovers -- including two by Barber -- on their first three drives. Still, they nearly gave the game away in the fourth quarter.
Rhys Lloyd, who made field goals from 27 and 24 yards, missed a 24-yard attempt with 5:34 left that would have sealed the victory. Mason admitted he was worried since Minnesota lost games late against Michigan and Iowa.
"When we missed the field goal that would have put us in pretty good shape, I said, 'Here we go again,'" Mason said. "I know if I'm thinking that, so are our kids, but we fought through."
On Minnesota's next possession, it was pinned deep in its own end and elected to take a safety to make it 20-16 rather than attempt a punt.
The decision nearly backfired.
Alabama's Tyrone Prothro returned the free kick to the Minnesota 48, and four completions by Spencer Pennington got the Crimson Tide to the 15. But Pennington overthrew a Prothro in the end zone on third down and couldn't convert a fourth-and-5 with 1:14 to left, ending the game.
"That's all you can ask for, a chance to win the game," Pennington said. "Prothro was open, and I threw it a little high."
Alabama (6-6), making an NCAA-record 52nd bowl appearance, was forced to throw throughout the game with leading rusher Kenneth Darby limited because of an abdominal strain. The Crimson Tide had minus-2 yards rushing in the first half and finished with 21.
Pennington, who finished 22-of-36 for 243 yards and a touchdown, frequently tried to let receivers make plays using short passes.
"We didn't execute the way we should have," he said. "We felt like we should have beaten these guys today."
In the second quarter, Pennington found Keith Brown on a curl route, and Brown shook a defender for a 40-yard gain. That set up Le'Ron McClain's 1-yard TD plunge with 2:57 left to cut Minnesota's halftime lead to 17-14.
But it was as close as Alabama would get.
The Gophers scored 17 straight points after falling behind 7-0 when Barber fumbled on the second play of the game and tried to pick the ball up instead of falling on it.
"Coach Mason always stresses the next play is the most important play," Barber said. "I just had to shake it off and the guys got me back focused."
The Crimson Tide scored on the next play when Pennington threw a 2-yard TD pass to McClain.
The Gophers tied the score when defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery forced Pennington to fumble and Keith Lipka recovered in the end zone.
Minnesota quarterback Brian Cupito finished 5-of-12 for 75 yards and an interception.
Alabama fans, rabid for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001, were out in force in the highest-attended Music City Bowl since the game began in 1998.
"It's a big learning process for all of us, including myself," said Alabama coach Mike Shula, who took over after Dennis Franchione left for Texas A&M and Mike Price was fired before the 2003 season. "All of us have learned a little something this week."
The Alabama state line is less than an hour from Nashville, and the crowd of 66,089 was overwhelmingly crimson and white outside of two small sections behind the Golden Gophers' bench.
But the most storied program in college football have to wait at least another year for a postseason win, as Southeastern Conference teams fell to 1-6 in the Music City Bowl.
The Associated Press News Service
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