Prior to today's win over Western Michigan Big Ten defenses had to focus on one Gopher offensive player. After today, regardless of the health of MarQueis Gray, they now have to asks themselves one question on every single play.
Where is AJ Barker?
Alright, that might be a bit of a stretch but the junior receiver (WSR) had another career day catching 5 balls for 101 yards and three touchdowns. Most of the balls he caught were from the arm of Max Shortell who also had a career day as those two led the Gophers offense to a win over Western Michigan. An unlikely duo to lead this Gopher offense but those two stepped up when the Gophers needed them most.
With four and a half minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Gopher fans witnessed what they thought would be their worst nightmare. MarQueis Gray was laying on the TCF Bank Field turf with an injured ankle. Enter sophomore, Max Shortell.
Shortell's first three possessions all resulted in touchdowns going 8/10 with 168 yards and three touchdowns. The first two were to AJ Barker (of course) and then to throw the defense off, Shortell found Drew Goodger for a 10-yard touchdown.
In total the offense put up 28 points and 397 yards on Western Michigan. The rushing game was unimpressive until the fourth quarter when Donnell Kirkwood had 53 of his 110 rushing yards eating up 10:26 of clock in the final quarter.
But lets not forget about the defense who stepped up to the challenge of a potent Western Michigan passing offense today. The dangerous Alex Carder was kept to 199 yards on 24/44 passing and one touchdown. The focus was clearly on stopping the pass, which opened up some running lanes for Dareyon Chance who finished the game with 144 yards and a touchdown. But I think we would all agree that if Western Michigan is going to beat you, make them do it with Dareyon Chance, not Alex Carder. #strategy
While the rush defense leaves us with a list of things that need to be fixed, the pass defense was adequately up to the challenge of a very good passing attack. They forced the Broncos into 19 third down situations. Michael Carter had two pass break-ups and a pick in the first quarter. Only two sacks for the defense, but Western Michigan's quick passing offense makes consistent pressure difficult. A number of pass breakups and near picks. And when it mattered most the defense made the necessary plays to give the ball back to the offense to utilize their victory formation.
This was a good win over a good football team. But we were far from perfect. What needs improvement still?
- The rush defense should be better. We were clearly focused on defending the pass but you can't completely ignore the rushing game of your opponent.
- Mental mistakes killed our offense repeatedly. False starts and fumbles killed drives.
- Special teams were unimpressive again today. Punting was weak. Kick return and coverage was average at best.
These types of things are going to make winning Big Ten games very difficult.
Overall this was a very good effort by the Gopher pass defense. And the offense was pretty good too, especially when you consider Gray didn't play for over half of the game. We move on. It may not have been the prettiest win, but it was a win. The Gophers are 3-0 and hosing a BCS level opponent next Saturday, under the lights.
In the end the message remains the same. There are things to improve, when we get into the Big Ten season will get exposed at times and we will not finish 12-0. But we are 3-0, it wasn't perfect but this team is clearly better than what we saw a year ago.