Brock Vereen strolled into his team’s postgame media room at TCF Bank Stadium wearing a grey athletic shirt.
On the front of the Golden Gopher safety’s longsleeved, sweat-soaked shirt was the Minnesota ‘M’ logo. Underneath — an encouraging slogan: Brick by brick.
The Golden Gophers (8-2, 4-2) added a few more to their foundation on Saturday with their 24-10 win over Penn State. As the majority of the 48,123 fans who packed Minnesota’s spiffy new stadium chanted coach Jerry Kill’s first name, the realization that the Gophers are a team to be reckoned with didn’t start to set in for players like Vereen.
It already had. They knew they were capable of this. Winners of four-straight in the Big Ten for the first time since 1973 – before any of them were born – players like Vereen have been around long enough to know what the other side feels like.
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When Vereen was a freshman in 2010 the Gophers lost six straight. The next season they went on two runs of three-straight losses. Another three-game losing streak soured his junior season last year.
It’s different now.
“I think it’s just the mentality of this team,” Vereen said. “I think it’s just the confidence that we play with now. Things don’t snowball anymore. There’s no domino effect. We’re always going to bounce back.”
Take a second-half turnover for example. Penn State’s C.J. Olaniyan ripped the ball from Donovahn Jones’ grasp. Penn State’s Malcolm Willis recovered it. The Nittany Lions got nothing out of it.
Minnesota’s James Manuel came up to stop Zach Zwinak for no gain on first down. An offsides penalty against Gopher end Michael Amaefula was followed by solid coverage from Vereen on Brandon Felder that resulted in Christian Hackenberg having to throw just out of Felder’s reach. End Thieren Cockran pulled Hackenberg to the ground to finish Penn State’s drive.
“I think the biggest difference with this team is in those situations we can fight back where as in previous years we would’ve been more likely to roll over,” Vereen said.
Until Saturday, Minnesota had made a habit of rolling to wins over their opponents with a strong running game. The Gophers continued to lean on tailback David Cobb, a junior who’s been around for a lot of lost games, who racked up 139 yards on Saturday.
Cobb inflated his total with runs of 44 and 39 yards – both on second plays of drives after Minnesota was pinned deep in its own territory – and added a 26-yard reception in the second quarter on a third-and-seven.
“We’re having fun now,” Cobb said. “Before it was more of a job, you’d come to work and didn’t know if we were going to win or not. Now we expect to win. We’re having fun at practice. We’re having fun during the games.”
More could be in store for the Gophers. They host No. 21 Wisconsin next following a bye week.
They’ll see if they can pack a few more fans in for that one. TCF Bank Stadium has a capacity for 50,805.
If he could, Kill would have the entire state of Minnesota packed in for the Gophers’ showdown with the Badgers.
“I always said that the biggest goal of our whole staff was to make sure that we could get all the people in the state of Minnesota to feel good about the direction we’re going and get this thing going,” Kill said. “I’m going to enjoy every single moment of this victory. All of us coaches are the same in that we’ll go home and sit in front of the TV and start to think about the next game.”