Why Minnesota's Performance in Texas Bowl Should Have Big Ten Fans Worried

Andrew CoppensContributor IDecember 27, 2013

Dec 27, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner (7) looks for an open receiver during the second quarter of the Texas Bowl against the Syracuse Orange at Reliant Stadium . Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will be happy to never see the Texas Bowl again, after suffering a bad case of deja vu in a 20-17 loss to Syracuse in the 2013 version of the game. 

It also gave many in Big Ten country a bad case of deja vu for the bowl season.

That's because last year the Gophers blew a late lead to Texas Tech in the 2012 version of the Texas Bowl and it set the tone for what turned out to be a 2-5 bowl season for the conference. 

The Gophers struggled mightily to get anything going for the better part of three quarters on Friday, trailing 14-3 entering the final quarter. 

It got so bad that it led ESPN's Mark Schlabach to say this about Minnesota's offensive ineptitude: 

Starting quarterback Philip Nelson was so ineffective that he played the first series of each half and never saw the field again. 

He finished the day going 2-of-7 for all of 18 yards passing, while adding 14 more yards on two carries on the ground. 

Those aren't exactly confidence-inspiring numbers. However, his replacement Mitch Leidner found a way to spark Minnesota late in this contest. 

Leidner would relieve Nelson for good following the opening series of the third quarter and never look back. 

He even helped break a 13-quarter scoreless streak with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams five seconds into the fourth quarter, making it 14-9. 

Dec 27, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers tight end Maxx Williams (88) catches a pass for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Texas Bowl as Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker Peter Westerhaus (18) defends at Reliant Stadium . Mand
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It appeared as if the floodgates would open for the Gophers offense from there, as Leidner led the Gophers to another touchdown on the next possession.

He connected on a 55-yard pass to wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky to take their first lead at 17-14. 

Leidner finished the game going 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns, adding 24 yards on the ground.

The Gophers were about to win more than eight games on the season for just the ninth time in school history and the Big Ten was going to get things off on the right foot for a change—except someone forget to give that memo to Syracuse's Brisly Estime. 

With just 2:03 left to play Minnesota punter Peter Mortell unleashed a 57-yard punt, only to see Estime return it 70 yards and have Mortell save a sure touchdown with a tackle at the Gophers' 14-yard line. 

Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt would put it in from 12 yards out with just 1:14 left in the game, putting the Orange up 21-17.

The Gophers' last-ditch effort to win the game ended with a Leidner pass going through the arms of Wolitarsky, followed by a bad sack. It was perhaps best summed up this way:

Instead of Minnesota celebrating a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, they managed to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory once again in the Texas Bowl. 

If the Big Ten was truly deeper than most critics said it was, Minnesota did nothing to help quiet them on Friday night against a team who had to win in the final week of the season just be bowl eligible.

Just like last year, Minnesota got the Big Ten off to a bad start to the bowl season—now it's on the rest of the conference to not suffer the same case of deja vu the Gophers just did. 


*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.