(promoted by PJS)
As we head into Big 11 play, here is my take on the non-conference games so far.
Gopers 31 Northern Illinois 27
The Gophers started off the game well and generally played okay. I think Northern Illinois is a little better than most people think. The defense gave up some really big plays that made the game much, much closer than it should have been. In the end, Weber showed poise and composure in leading the Gophers down the field for a game winning drive. Grade: B-minus for getting the job done at the end.
Gophers 42 Bowling Green 17
Most people thought this was going to be another big win for a Bowling Green team coming off a road victory over a ranked BCS team. However, the Gophers took a huge step forward by limiting the big plays on defense and making the most of Bowling Green's mistakes. Eric Decker had another tremendous game and the Gophers ran away at the end thanks to the Gophers forcing turnovers. Grade: B-plus for playing a bend not break defense and making the most of their opportunities.
Gophers 35 Montana State 23
This game was kind of like having fun on a Saturday night, staying out too late and drinking too much and then working on a term paper the next day completing a passable but below average product. The Gophers were expected to roll in this game and they could never quite shake the Fighting Bobcats (yeah, they are actually the Fighting Bobcats) and blow them out. Decker had another huge game and Eskridge emerged as the key running back while finding the endzone three times. The defense played decently and the offense got the job done, but neither was spectacular. Grade: B for a term paper that suffices but wasn't the best effort we could have put forth.
Gophers 37 Florida Atlantic 3
The Gophers defense was actually superlative in this game. I feared that they might get shredded again, but credit the coaching staff for having a great gameplan and executing it. Even though this was against a Sun Belt team, this game couldn't really go any better for the Gophers. To use a metaphor, this game was like a guy looking to pick up a girl in a bar where all the girls were only average looking but said guy picked up the best looking average looking girl. I'm not sure I even understand what I just wrote, but hopefully you know what I mean. Grade: A because they did the best they could have done given the opponent.
All in all, it was a bit of a down and up non-conference performance for the Rodents, but the main thing is that they won all of the games to stay perfect heading into Big 11 play. The FAU game was a perfect ending for us to go into Columbus with our heads held high and perhaps even a bit of swagger.
On the other end of the field, the Buckeyes will be looking to prove they are they Big 11 favorites for a reason even if their performance to date has been less than expected. Expect OSU to flex their muscles, but if the Gophers can get a turnover early they should at least hang around for a while.
The OSU game will be like February 2 for our beloved Rodents. That would be Groundhog's Day. Either we are going to see our shadow and hide or we are going to be quite formidable a la the gopher from Caddyshack. As long as the Golden Gophers keep things respectable, I think it will be a positive barometer of things to come for the rest of the season.