Many Golden Gopher fans were energized by last week's 44-28 victory over Purdue, believing November could be a good month for Minnesota, but the proof is in the pudding they say, and Saturday's attendance numbers will tell a more complete story.
After averaging 48,099 patrons in its first four home games (in a stadium that holds 50,805), the Maroon and Gold had a season-low 41,062 fans pass through the turnstiles against Purdue. That's too bad because those loyal customers were treated, arguably, to Minnesota's best game of the year, as the Gophers jumped out to a 34-7 halftime lead and racked up more than 400 yards of offense (458) for only the third time this fall.
"Everything just seemed to fall into place and we executed well," second-year head coach Jerry Kill said. "We made some big plays, which we needed to do, and we played good football.
"As for the second half, I don't think our team is used to being out in front like that. We held on a little bit more. I'd like to see us have more control of the game in the second half. That being said, we didn't turn the ball over and we created some plays."
The Boilermakers outscored the Golden Gophers 21-10 in the final 30 minutes, with Minnesota generating only 107 yards in the second half.
"It's part of the process," said Kill. "Our kids haven't been in that situation before, and hopefully they handle it better going forward. The good news is we won."
This is a program with a fifth-year senior class holding a record of 24-34 and fourth-year seniors that are 17-28; Minnesota has won back-to-back Big Ten games only twice in the previous four seasons (in 2008 and 2010) but never three in a row so how they approach Saturday's game remains to be seen.
"It's a concern moving forward," GophersIllustrated.com beat writer Lucas Trickle said. "I think part of it was they were up so big at the half last week, and there's a different mindset than if it was 14-10, but it certainly wasn't a good sign that there was such a big letdown in the second half."
Trickle noted that Gopher fans, those diehards that haven't abandoned the program during these lean years, are optimistic Minnesota will very much make Saturday a game when Michigan comes to town. A year ago, the Wolverines slaughtered their Little Brown Jug rivals, 58-0, but in its last eight conference losses, Minnesota hasn't had such a wide margin of defeat, losing by an average of 19.6 points. That may not seem like much to go on, but it's a start.
"When it looked like maybe Denard Robinson wouldn't play, people even started to think that Minnesota could win, but since they've all found out he should play, they're more resigned to a loss, but a close loss," Trickle said.
That's not say Michigan can take the Golden Gophers lightly, but it's pretty clear the Maroon and Gold have more realistic ambitions.
"If they get to bowl eligibility by beating Illinois next week, and they were 3-9 last year and now they're 6-6, I think you'll see a lot of energy and enthusiasm for where this program is going," Trickle said.