The second verse was the same as the first. The opponent was different, the venue changed but the final outcome remained the same. Once again the Gophers looked a little better in the second half and came up short losing to New Mexico State 28-21.
For the second consecutive week the Gophers opened the game seemingly unprepared, uninspired and overmatched. Not exactly surprising last week at USC, but home against the team predicted to finish last in the WAC? This was just embarrassing. We
over-confidently onsided the opening kickoff, did not recover and gave up a touchdown six plays into the game when New Mexico State connected on a 26-yard touchdown pass to take the early 7-0 lead. The Gopher offense proceeded to go three and out to give the ball right back to the Aggies. After last week's lackluster effort in L.A. I think we all expected a much different start against a presumed inferior opponent.
Despite the slow start the Gophers did manage to tie the game at 7-7 on a 10-play, 88 yard drive that ended with a Lamonte Edwards 4-yard touchdown run. At the end of the first quarter the game was tied and although we got off to a sluggish start, the assumption was the Gophers would start to pull away in the remaining three quarters. But it was the other team that pulled away, the vaunted Aggie offense scored the next two touchdowns to put the Gophers in a 21-7 hole from which they would never fully recover.
A couple times the Gophers had opportunities to tie the game back up, but failed to generate the necessary offense or stop the Aggies when it mattered most.
The drive to open the third quarter saw Max Shortell enter as quarterback and he drove the Gophers 51 yards on seven plays. The drive effectively ended with 3rd and 6 from the 21. Shortell dropped back to pass, looked to Da'Jon McKnight who's defender had fallen down, and threw to the wide open receiver. The ball hit McKnight in the numbers and the senior uncharacteristically dropped the pass which would have been a certain touchdown. Instead it was 4th down and time for a missed field goal.
The other game changing moment was much worse and came at a critical time. The Gophers, down 28-21 in the 4th quarter, intercept Andrew Manley to regain possession on the New Mexico State 33 yard line with 10:48 to go. Three plays later the Gophers are 1st and goal from the eight yard line. The 48,800+ at TCF Bank stadium could taste the game tying touchdown which would eventually lead to a win that was much closer than it should have been. But Gray rushed for no game, Gray rushed for three yards and Gray rushed for four yards. Now it was 4th and goal from the one. Easy enough for a Big Ten offensive line to gain one yard against a smaller defensive line right? WRONG! LaMonte Edwards was denied at the goal line when the offensive line mustered zero push. New Mexico State stopped the Gophers cold and took over at the 6-inch line. Then their offense put together a 12 play drive, eating up 5:25 of clock before finally having to punt and burying the Gophers deep in their own territory.
This team obviously has some serious issues and whatever buzz or optimism that was generated from the near win last week has been squandered. Pessimism now reigns and this could be a very long season.
Notable issues or questions that need to be addressed...
Pass Defense - Andrew Manley was 14/17 for 226 yards and three touchdowns and that was just the first half! Receivers were wide open, Manley had all day long and it was an easy half of pitch and catch. The Gopher defense was getting torched and it was ugly.
- Pressure on the Quarterback - did I mention that Manley had all day to read the field and throw to open receivers?
- Offensive Line - pass protection hasn't been terrible through two games but rushing the ball is a serious problem. Holes are not opening up and I have yet to see an opposing defensive line get pushed back on it's heals. Not that it should happen every running play but every once in awhile would be nice.
- The Quarterback Situation - a week ago we wondered if we were fortunate enough to have two quality QBs, now I wonder if we have one. Gray at times looks lost and at other times leads nice drives for scores or near scores. His 164 yards of offense and what should have been 14 points in the 4th quarter were nice to see and I believe that is exactly the Gray we were all expecting to see. But Shortell's 68 yards of offense in the third made him look like a true freshman QB. And Gray's three consecutive 2nd quarter drives that were three and out, three and out, interception were not inspiring performances when his team was trailing a WAC team.
- Other Mediocre Situations - the running game, play-calling, game preparedness are all pretty mediocre but I'd like to see the things above figured out first.
This was ugly and these are the types of games that just cannot happen anymore. This is still the honeymoon season for Kill and the record is pretty meaningless but he did manage to accomplish something that not even Tim Brewster accomplished, he has started the season 0-2. This team is capable of playing better, wins will come eventually but we need to start playing better from the opening kickoff.
My advice is not to get too worked up about this season. There are always growing pains with a new coaching staff, especially when the talent isn't all there (for the record I don't think we are completely void of talent but there isn't enough). If we start the year looking like this in 2012 then we need to get worked up but let's let this season play out by not getting too high after quality performances and not getting too low after disappointing losses.