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Minnesota overcomes second-ranked 'Bama defense

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- 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 over 100 yards in a game this season against the Crimson
Tide, which 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 Prothro in the end zone on
third down and couldn't convert a fourth-and-5 with 1:14 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 will have to
wait at least another year for a postseason win, as Southeastern
Conference teams fell to 1-6 in the Music City Bowl.