The Gopher Perspective After a 2-0 Start to the Season

Sept 8, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Minnesota Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray (5), running back Donnell Kirkwood (20) dive for a fumble in the first half at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Now that we have had a couple days to process the Gopher win, let us try and put it in perspective.

What Went Well

We won. That is the best news following a Gopher game. The thought that keeps going through my head is that a year ago, we lost to inferior teams. A year ago we were pushed around by North Dakota State and outplayed by New Mexico State. Are UNLV and New Hampshire great teams? No. But a year ago we struggled with or lost to bad teams. Beating them is a step forward.

MarQueis Gray got better. He didn't pass much but when he did, he was accurate. And he did some major damage with his legs as well. A four touchdown game with no interceptions is a great game. (we'll get to the fumbles later)

Defensive line was putting great pressure on the UNH quarterbacks all game. 4 sacks is a good number, 9 tackles for losses is a better number.

What Needs to Get Better

We are far from a perfect team and there are areas where we need to get better. All we have done by winning the first two games is guaranteed ourselves of no worse than a 2-10 record and I appreciated Kill's quotes in Phil Miller's story today.

"I'm glad we won, but we still have to improve," Kill said. "We're doing some things that can't happen. So now is the time to be critical."

and

"Our big thing offensively right now is, we've [always] got one player breaking down. To execute on offense, you've got to all be on the same page, and we still have a player breaking down here and there on a play," Kill said. "We had to punt the ball four times -- we should never have had to punt the damn ball."

and this

"We have the capability of winning every week," Kill said. "But [we have] mistakes, dropped snaps, somebody blowing an assignment. We're not as physical as we need to be yet. So we have a lot of work to do yet."

What specifically needs to get better? The rushing game, specifically the running backs, needs to be better.

"As a running back group we probably played better in the first game than this game," Kill said. "We missed some cuts. We had some chances at big plays and we also had a turnover."

Some of the blame should be on the offensive line, but whatever the culprit this is an area needing improvement. Donnell Kirkwood is our feature back and he needs to continue to hit the holes hard. Next week, when we are trying to keep the Western Michigan passing offense off the field, I hope we are able to establish a better ground game.

The linebackers have been rather unimpressive so far this year. None have really made any significant plays and all seem to be struggling to shed blockers. To me the most impressive linebackers have been James Manuel, Brendan Beal and LaMonte Edwards. Maybe they are not as consistent, maybe they would make more mistakes but there have been times when I have noticed them. I can't say the same thing for Rallis, Cooper or Reeves.

Fumbles, bumbles and mental mistakes need to go away. Penalties were down, that was great to see. But the ball was on the TCF turf way too much on Saturday.

"We have the capability of winning every week," Kill said. "But [we have] mistakes, dropped snaps, somebody blowing an assignment. We're not as physical as we need to be yet. So we have a lot of work to do yet."

Clean this up and we stand a much better chance of being competitive against Big Ten caliber teams.

What Does it All Mean

It means that we are 2-0. We have played well enough to win. Offensive line has been OK, the wide receivers have been better than expected, the secondary has probably been better than expected and special teams is a mixed bag.

It means we only need four more wins to be bowl eligible.

More than anything else I think it means we are building confidence. Losing compounds itself and manifests into more losing. Winning breads confidence, especially when you still have tangible evidence of things you need to improve upon. This team is playing with confidence and is still getting better.

The Perspective

Now that Wisconsin lost, Iowa has been bad and Nebraska hasn't looked great I fear that we are losing perspective. Games once thought to be unwinnable, people are starting to think they will now be much closer. I fear we are losing perspective. We have a couple nice wins and other Big Ten teams are struggling a little bit right now. But we still have a long way to go before I think we can start projecting us to be near the same level as Wisconsin or Nebraska. I still have those games down as likely losses. I've thought all along that we will be much more competitive in those games, but not close enough. Iowa doesn't fear me this year, Wisconsin and Nebraska still do.

I don't want this to be a downer piece. We won. The program is in a better place right now than it was a year ago. That is outstanding. We are beating the teams we are supposed to beat. The problem still remains that the list of teams we are "supposed to beat" is still rather small. (bolded and underlined for those who only read headlines and then comment about the entire article, I hope they read this) We now move to Western Michigan, who will present a good challenge for us. Don't overvalue our first two wins so much that we lose perspective and think the ship is sinking if we go on to lose to Western Michigan. We are about a 1 to 2.5 point favorite at home. Which means if this was on the road we would be underdogs. Western Michigan is a decent football team, Syracuse is better and they are both capable of beating us.

I'll reiterate that I am pleased with our two wins. I'm not sure we are any better than 1-1 right now with last year's team. We are playing better in a number of areas. But we have a long way to go. Rose Bowl caliber, we are not. Bowl game caliber is yet to be determined but I think we will know a LOT after the next two weeks. I like our offense, I love our quarterback, I think our defense is better than I was anticipating and I think this team will continue to outperform most expectations. Jerry Kill has us going in the right direction but Rome wasn't built in a day.

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