Good weekend for the Gophers. Not such a good weekend for the rest of the B1G, including our two most beloved rivals in Iowa and Wisconsin. I'm not going to be too smug about the fortunes of the three since Minnesota's big victory came against a 1-AA opponent while Iowa and Sconnie both lost to BCS schools, but it was a great weekend if you were a Minnesota fan. First, the upcoming non-conference opponents...
Western Michigan (home, Sept 15): W 52-21 vs Eastern Illinois: The Broncos came out flat in a season-opening loss to Illinois last week, but found a good cure for a stagnant offense in Tony Romo's alma mater. Fifth year senior and third year starting QB Alex Carder looked the part, throwing for 364 yards and 5 TD's, and the team rolled up 631 yards of total offense including 402 passing and 229 rushing on 4.2 yards per carry. Um, yeah. They did that. Maybe Eastern Illinois is that bad, but it's an impressive showing nonetheless. 10 different Broncos caught passes, including freshman Jaime Wilson with 11 catches for 154 yards and 2 TD's and senior TE Blake Hammond with 6-94-2. The rushing yards were spread out, as four backs had at least eight carries.
Defensively WMU gave up 344, including 244 through the air to an offense that last week put up 49 points and 522 yards of offense (433 passing) on one of Jerry Kill's former reclamation projects in Southern Illinois. 14 of those points came on 2 TD's in the first quarter as the game was tied at 14 after one quarter. WMU took over after that, scoring 4 TD's in the second quarter, and EIU didn't score again until the 4th quarter when the backups were in. Hard to gauge exactly how good this defense is, but they did hold Illinois to just 248 total yards and 17 points (the Illini scored another TD on a pick-six) last week.
Confidence in a Gopher win: Less- As it is, both the Bronco offense and defense will be the toughest test the Gophers have faced, and they looked more like the strong passing offense we thought they'd be. I picked the Bronco upset in the preseason, and I hate to say it, but I still feel that way. Let's hope I'm wrong.
Syracuse (home Sept 22): L 42-29 to USC at the Meadowlands: Strange game, as halftime lasted well over an hour because of a weather delay, and despite a lopsided score, the Orange played pretty tough. Again. They're 0-2, but this one didn't help me feel any better about the Gophers playing them in a couple of weeks. Syracuse gave up 445 yards, including 258 rushing yards on 7.8 per carry, and Matt Barkley threw for 6 TD's. That may end up being one of the better defensive performances against USC this season, and certainly won't be one of the worst against one of the best teams in the country.
What worries me is their offensive performance. Last week they torched a suspect Northwestern defense, which is one thing. But Saturday THEY OUTGAINED USC. QB Ryan Nassib didn't quite match his 400+ yard performance against NU, but he still went for 322 yards and 2 TD's, and he definitely has a favorite target. Senior Marcus Sales once again led the team with 8 catches for 104 yards and 2 TD's, and he is going to be a handful for Troy Stoudermire and the Gopher defense. SU didn't run the ball particularly well, but SC's run defense is pretty stout, and they'll get an opportunity to improve that before coming to Minneapolis this week against Stony Brook.
Confidence in a Gopher win: Less- They have moved the ball on offense very well against two BCS opponents, one of whom is the #1 team in the country, the other is very likely a bowl team. And defensively they've been pretty strong. This isn't meant as a back-handed compliment, but this is the best 0-2 team in the country and one I wouldn't be surprised to see bowling by year's end. Minnesota will have to play their very best to beat the Orange.
How the upcoming B1G conference foes fared, including embarassing losses for Iowa and Wisconsin, after the jump...
Iowa (road Sept 29): L 9-6 to Iowa State: Slap fight! Either a great defensive game or an ugly, ugly atrocity to offensive football. Both teams threw the ball a lot (Iowa State attempted 36 passes, Iowa 42) for less than 250 yards each, and both teams couldn't run the ball. Like, at all. ISU averaged 2.5 yards per carry, and not to be outdone, Iowa averaged 2.4. Blame it on AIRBHG, or maybe Iowa State's defense is a wee bit better than Northern Illinois', but Damon Bullock, who had 30 carries for a buck 50 and a score against the Huskies managed just 53 yards on 22 carries. Yeah, that's not good. Hawkeye QB James Vandenberg got zero help from his new group of receivers, who seemed to drop as many passes as they caught in the second half.
Iowa has two more games before the Gophers come calling to Kinnick in late September, and we should learn plenty about them. Yep, they host 1-AA Northern Iowa then Central Michigan, but if they struggle to beat either of those teams, it could be very good things for Gopher fans.
Confidence in a Gopher win: MORE- Hard not to be. AIRBHG may not have taken out anymore running backs, but the one left standing may have been exposed this week. The offense in general was exposed this week. The defense has played pretty well in both games, and they likely won't be tested much in their next two. But after Iowa's 1-1 start and Minnesota finally blowing out a 1-AA opponent, it's hard not be more confident about the game in Kinnick at the end of the month. Then again, with two tough games (for the Gophers at least) before that one, a lot can change in three weeks.
Northwestern (home Oct 13): W 23-13 vs Vanderbilt: The Cardiac Cats were at it again. After winning a come-from-behind shootout in week 1 against Syracuse, Northwestern, who managed just two field goals in the first three quarters in this one, scored 17 in the fourth to rally to win. The Wildcat D that got torched by the Orange held Aaron Rodgers' brother Jordan to just 217 yards and one TD, and only allowed Vandy 101 yards rushing at 3 yards per carry. They also won the turnover battle, forcing two fumbles.
Offensively, they may have finally found a running back, but it took two quarterbacks to not throw the ball very well. Trevor Siemian was just 10 of 16 for 91 yards while Kain Colter was even worse going just 7 for 14 for 42 yards, but he also rushed for 66 yards, including the game-clinching TD. Tailback Venric Mark followed up a good Syracuse game with another strong performance, rushing 24 times for 123 yards and a TD. He also returns kicks and punts for NU, and they'll try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Northwestern faces their third consecutive mediocre BCS program when they host Boston College this week.
Confidence in a Gopher win: About the same- NU was impressive offensively in week 1 and defensively against Vandy, but haven't put a full game together yet. I predicted a Gopher victory over the Wildcats when the season started, and haven't been swayed in that thinking yet.
Wisconsin (in Madison Oct 20): L 10-7 at Oregon State: If you believe in karma, then Bret Bielma got his reward in this one. OSU's first game was postponed due to a hurricane so they had no gametape to send Wisconsin. Bielma being, well, Bielma, decided that justified him not sending the Beavers gametape of their near loss to Northern Iowa. Looks like Mike Riley and OSU didn't need it, as they beat them without it. I am nowhere near ready to stick a fork in the Badgers just two games into the season, but the alarm bells have to be going off in Madison. A five point win- AT HOME- over 1-AA Northern Iowa is followed up by a road loss to an Oregon State club that was a preseason pick to be one of the worst teams in the Pac 12. Now, credit the Badgers for going on the road against a BCS opponent, but this is still the most shocking result of the weekend.
The defense hasn't been the problem, holding UNI to 306 total yards, and doing the bend-but-don't-break thing against OSU, holding them to 354 and just the lone TD and FG. But the offense? The Badgers have made such a habit of replacing good players on offense year after year, we just assumed they'd have no problems replacing their two best linemen, receiver, and the best QB they've ever had. So far, we were very wrong. And I couldn't be happier. They were meh against UNI, and downright dreadful against Oregon State, barely breaking 200 yards of total offense. Sconnie had just 35 yards rushing on 1.5 yards per carry, and new wonderboy transfer QB Danny O'Brien completed barely 50% of his passes for just 172 yards at a dismal 4.5 yard clip with a TD and a pick.
Confidence in a Gopher win: WAY MORE- Not saying the Gophers are going to win in Madison, but before the season started this was a game I thought Minnesota had zero chance of winning. After two games they definitely have a chance, but there's a lot of football to be played between now and October 20th.
Purdue (home Oct 27): L 20-17 at Notre Dame: Through the first two weeks, Purdue is the best team from the East that's eligible for the B1G Championship Game. I suppose that's like saying the hot girl got suspended from school and can't go to the dance, so it's choosing from the best of the ugly chicks, but that's where it's at in the good ol' Leaders division. Good thing they didn't split the divisions by geography so that we could have all this parity and competitive balance! Purdue rolled Eastern Kentucky in their opener 48-6, and were THIS CLOSE to beating Notre Dame in South Bend (Is it me or does it seem like Danny Hope is always THIS CLOSE to getting big wins? Well except that one time in Columbus) despite a subpar offensive effort. The Makers O' Boiler couldn't even muster 300 yards total offense or any semblance of a rushing game with 90 yards on 30 carries.
With four experienced QB's, Hope decided rotating two of them would be a really good idea, even though that never works except for that one time Tim Tebow was a freshman at Florida. Last week's starter Robert Marve was good again as he went 11-18 for 119 yards and a TD, but couldn't finish the game because of a knee injury. If you're a Purdue fan, you've heard this story before, although Marve's injury may not be serious. Caleb TerBush, who was suspended last week, maybe should have stayed suspended as he was just 8-19 for 79 yards, a TD, and two picks. Defensively the Boilers were solid, holding the Irish to a 1.4 yards per carry rush average and under 400 total yards, but it wasn't enough this day.
Confidence in a Gopher win: About the Same- Purdue's definitely had a tougher schedule thus far, and there's no shame in being 1-1 when your loss was a close one to Notre Dame. They are most likely a better team than Minnesota at this point, but two weeks in and I still like Minnesota's chances to pull the mild upset at the end of October.
Michigan (home Nov 3): W 31-25 vs Air Force: With Ohio State still on the naughty list, wasn't this supposed to be the B1G's flagship program this season? Apparently not. After getting walloped by Alabama, Meechigan returned home and barely beat Air Force. Now, Troy Calhoun has built the Falcons into a solid program, but a Wolverines team that entered the season as a top 8 team nationally should have throttled Air Force at home. Instead it took a monster performance from QB Denard Robinson (208 and 2 TD's passing and 218 and 2 TD's rushing) to pull out the victory.
Confidence in a Gopher win: More- Like Wisconsin, I gave this one a zero chance of victory before the season started. After two weeks it's gone from zero to five percent. Maybe 10. If the student section continues to show up in force, maybe a 15 percent chance.
Illinois (road Nov 10): L 45-14 at Arizona State: Maybe ASU is really good, as they followed up an opening week 63-6 torching of Northern Arizona with an equally resounding victory over Illinois. Then again, the Illini were without starting QB Nathan Scheelhaasse due to an ankle injury, which would explain their passing woes with just 101 yards, a lone TD pass and 3 picks between 2 QB's. However, that does not explain their defense getting lit up for 510 yards of total offense as the Sun Devils went up and down the field all night. The only bright spot for Illinois was they did run the ball well amassing 231 yards at 4.6 YPC, and may have found a feature back in freshman Josh Ferguson, who carried 14 times for 101 yards.
Confidence in a Gopher win: About the same- They should be worried about their defense, but you can't judge the offense until Scheelhaase returns. They won't need him this week against Charleston
Chew Southern, and maybe not the week after vs Louisiana Tech, but he'll need to be ready for the B1G season if Illinois is to have a shot at bowling and more. They get a mulligan for this week.
Nebraska (road Nov 17): L 36-30 at UCLA: Well, turns out the Huskers can live without 17th year senior RB Rex Burkhead, as they rushed for 260 yards at 7.2 YPC as he sat out with a sprained MCL. Problem is, they couldn't do anything else. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but QB Taylor "Arm Punt" Martinez struggled to throw the ball when they needed him to, completing just 17/31 (55%) for 179 yards, no TD's and a pick. I know, I was shocked by that one too. What really was shocking was the performance- or complete lackthereof- of the Blackshirts Defense, which got annihilated by UCLA. At least the Huskers didn't discriminate between the run and pass, allowing 309 passing and 344 rushing. Yep, you read that correctly- a Nebraska defense allowed 653 total yards and 26 first downs.
While this won't make Nebraska feel any better, it could just be that all UCLA needed was a new coach and new QB. Jim Mora Jr took over for the underachieving Rick Neuheisel, and it looks like the cupboard was left pretty well stocked in Westwood. Senior HB James Franklin, who rushed for over 1100 yards as a sophomore, looks well on his way to topping that total with 217 yards on the ground in the win over the Huskers, and just for fun added another 59 yards and a score receiving. But the big difference is at quarterback where redshirt freshman Brett Hundley is living up to the massive recruiting hype (ranked as either the #2 or #3 dual threat QB in the country by Scout and Rivals in 2011) thus far. Against Nebraska he completed 63% of his passes for 305 yards and 4 TD's (with no picks) and also added another 53 yards on the ground. It's only two games, but UCLA may be on its way to being a top 10 team in the country.
Confidence in a Gopher win: About the same- The Gophers are not UCLA, and they won't be able to move the ball with ease the way the Bruins did. They also are going to have a tougher time stopping the Husker rushing attack. Still a long ways off, and still a slim to none chance Minnesota can pull the upset.
Michigan State (home Nov 24): W 41-7 vs Central Michigan: Two games, two curb stompings for the Spartans, who are the runaway favorites to go to the Rose Bowl this year. Sparty rolled up almost 500 yards of offense, held CMU under 250, and didn't allow the Chippewas to score until there was 1:39 remaining in the game.
Confidence in a Gopher win: WAY LESS- Before the season, I liked Minnesota's chances to pull the home upset to close the season based on how tough they played MSU last year. But after two weeks, it's pretty clear Sparty is in a league of their own in the B1G (a league that includes Ohio State and Ohio State only right now), and the Gophers are a long ways away from being able to match them. A lot can change in almost three months, but I don't see Minnesota having much hope of springing the upset. Hopefully they won't need this one to go bowling.