Through six games, and even with the current 2-game losing streak, I think the Gophers are an improved football team. They are not, however, good enough to win Big Ten games while making mistakes and giving away points.
Two lost fumbles led directly to 14 Northwestern points (on three total plays) in the first half putting the Gophers in an early hole. Dropped passes and missed offensive opportunities prevented them from completing the comeback in the second half. Sprinkle in some penalties, seven fumbles, Gray tweaking his injury, a couple botched defensive assignments that led to big runs for Venric Mark and you had a recipe for another Gopher loss.
The Gophers really won the box score outgaining Northwestern 327 to 275, dominating time of possession 26 min to 34 and they were much better on 3rd down. But the one stat that mattered was three Gopher turnovers to Northwestern's zero. It started early when LaMonte Edwards fumbled the opening kickoff, Northwestern scored on the very next play taking a 7-0 lead just 10 seconds into the game.
The good news, if you want to search for any, is that the defense played much (MUCH) better in the second half giving the Gopher offense a chance by pitching a two-quarter shutout.
I talked on Friday about how there were a number of questions and variables heading into the game. I'm not sure any of them were fully answered. Who was going to play QB for the Gophers? It was Max Shortell, then MarQueis Gray and then Shortell again. I wondered if we could stop Venric Mark and the Northwestern rushing attack? They ran all over the Gophers in the first half but were very quiet in the second. Even the weather was indecisive being dry for the first half and raining heavily in the second.
This Gopher team is closer to having an identity than it was last year but we are still not quite there. Too many mistakes like nine penalties and seven fumbles that are killing the offense. The defense is very sound most of the time but blows assignments giving up big plays on a far too regular basis. Cutting out these mistakes and consistently playing our assignments are imperative if this team wants to win a Big Ten game. Maybe we are another year away, but nobody has that kind of patience. This team still has plenty of time to get better with half of the season remaining. Up next is a trip to Madison, which won't be any easier.