When Minnesota and Indiana met in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Friday night in Minneapolis, there was no oaken bucket at stake, or any little brown jug, or any of the artifacts for which the two teams vie when they do battle with other traditional opponents. But there was one important prize on the line: The winner would enjoy at least 17 rare hours as undisputed leader of the Big Ten.
Indiana won the game 18-17 when Minnesota's Chip Lohmiller missed a 44-yard field goal with 1:32 left to play. And thus, one week after knocking off Ohio State, 31-10, for the first time in 36 years, the Hoosiers found themselves 3-0 in the conference and 5-1 overall. "We've just got to keep on climbing up," said Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson after the victory. "Next week we have to go and look Michigan in the face and say, 'We're as good as you are.' "
The Hoosiers' reign alone atop the Big Ten ended on Saturday, when Michigan State, which had already beaten Michigan and Iowa, drilled Northwestern 38-0 to take a share of the lead. But the fact remains that the Big Ten looks to be a closer race than it has been in years. Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota are 2-1, and Iowa is tied at 1-2 with Purdue and Illinois. Only Wisconsin and Northwestern are out of it at 0-3. The way things are going, a Rose Bowl berth could be in the balance when Indiana meets the Spartans in East Lansing, Mich., on Nov. 14. Not to mention, of course, the Old Brass Spittoon.
The last time the Hoosiers were 3-0 and 5-1 was in 1967. That was also the last year Indiana went to the Rose Bowl. In the intervening 20 years, it has had only three winning seasons. As recently as '84—Bill Mallory's first year as coach—the Hoosiers went 0-11. But they've been improving ever since. In '85 they were 4-7. Last fall they were 6-6 and went to the All American Bowl, where they lost to Florida State, 27-13. Nowadays Mallory is confident enough to leave most of the pregame pep talking to selected players. "They know what to expect by now," he said after the Minnesota game, "and they know what to do."
While the other Big Ten contenders have been having their quarterback troubles this season, the Metrodome matchup pitted two accomplished signal callers. In Rickey (Sweet Feet) Foggie, Minnesota had the conference's total offense leader. Foggie, a senior, is a pit-chin' magician who runs the option with creativity and fluidity while sporting white hightops resembling those worn by basketball players. "They make me feel like I'm playing hoops out there," says Foggie. "I jump over people when I have to. It's a lot of fun."
Indiana answered with redshirt sophomore Dave Schnell, who has a basketball motif of his own. His clean looks and part-in-the-middle coif are reminiscent of Hoosier heartthrob Steve Alford, star of last spring's national championship basketball team. Schnell, who's from Elkhart, Ind., was rated among the nation's top high school quarterbacks three years ago, and he has lived up to that promise this season; his passing efficiency going into the game ranked third in the country. "We should be able to run on them," Schnell said confidently early last week. "As for throwing, I don't think they react too well to the ball."
The game also featured a matchup of matching tailbacks, each of whom is a 200-odd-pound sophomore named Thompson—Indiana's Anthony and Minnesota's Darrell, no relation. Thompson, A., who has gained more than 100 yards in nine of his 11 career starts, patterns his jukes after Walter Payton, with whom he worked out during the summer in Chicago. Thompson, D., who last year rushed for a school-record 1,240 yards, is an upright power back whose running style more resembles that of Eric Dickerson.
Thompson, D. got the Gophers rolling in the first quarter with a 42-yard scoring dash off a Foggie pitch, blasting through one defender and up the left sideline. Indiana answered with two second-quarter field goals by Pete Stoyanovich, which cut the lead to 7-6. Then The Fog went to work, connecting with split end Dennis Carter on a 49-yard completion and following quickly with a 12-yard TD strike to tight end Craig Otto to make it 14-6 Minnesota with 2:40 left in the half. "They were doing a lot of crazy stuff with coverages," said Foggie, who completed eight of 16 passes for 139 yards. "I have no idea why. I'm not a great passer."
Schnell, working underneath the Gopher pass defense and with good protection, completed 21 of 33 passes for 250 yards. But it was his two touchdown runs that sealed the victory for the Hoosiers—one for 15 yards just before half-time, the other for eight yards on an option that gave Indiana an 18-17 lead with 12:44 left.
After Lohmiller's fourth-quarter kick hooked left, Indiana was faced with a third-and-nine on its own 28 and the prospect of having to punt to Minnesota with 48 seconds to play. Schnell's hand-off went to Thompson, A., who had been aching to break a long run all day. "I just felt that adrenaline flowing," he said later. "I said to myself, 'Be calm, wait. It'll come. It'll come.' " And it did. Heading left behind a crushing block from wide receiver Ernie Jones, Thompson, A. made one breathtaking cut and went for 40 yards to ice the victory for the Hoosiers. Mallory would say later, "He wanted the ball. He said, 'Give me the ball' We gave him the ball." The day's totals: Thompson, A., 160 yards on 30 carries; Thompson, D., 103 on 15.
At his postgame press conference, a drained Mallory ran his fingers through his hair and said, as he has for several games now, "Hooo boy!" which translates somewhere between "Thank goodness that's over!" and "What next?"
Looking ahead, he said, "Our offense is strong and our defense is coming, and defense wins championships. Whether we can be a great defense, I don't know. But we can be a good, sound one." Mallory's D will certainly be tested in Indiana's remaining games with Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue. "They have all the tools to beat Michigan," said Gopher linebacker Jon Leverenz, who made 20 tackles. "They hit, and they execute."
Maybe even well enough to win the Big Ten's biggest artifact, a Rose Bowl berth, for the first time in two decades.