So last week's win over New Mexico State wasn't at TCF Bank Stadium, so I cannot give you a first-hand account of how great your Golden Gophers looked. Instead, like many of you, I got to watch the Gophers play on AggieVision in what looked like the year 1962 on a high school field (Brought to you by Casa De Autos. And I'd like to think also A1 Carwash). The only question: Philip Nelson- great or GREATEST in the history of the sport at both the play-action pass and read-option? The cameraman/woman/awe-struck onlooker who was fooled each and every time would give two thumbs up.
Aggievision jokes aside, the Gophs throttled NMSU 44-21, scoring 40+ in back-to-back games for the first time since the Mason Era in 2005. You know this, and yet many of you seem very concerned about a 2-0 football team that has outscored opponents 95-44 (ok fine maybe I'm one of them). I know what you're going to say- but UNLV and NMSU were terrible! While not untrue, consider that Minnesota opened with two non-BCS opponents in two of the previous three seasons with the following outcomes:
2012 @ UNLV, vs UNH: 2-0 with one of those in OT, outscoring opponents 74-34.
2010 @ Middle Tennesee St & vs SDSU: 1-1, outscored opp 62-58.
Also, in 2011 they opened at USC (somehow only losing 19-17), then returned home for three straight games against non-BCS opponents- and lost two of them to NMSU and NDSU. The lone win over MACtion Miami, and in those three games were outscored 74-88.
So to recap, in 2010 the Gophs' were 1-1 to start the year against non-BCS opponents to start the season, in 2011 went 1-2 against their first three non-BCS opponents, and last year they were 2-0 but barely. This season they destroyed both teams. There's a word for that, and it's called "progress", and last I checked, that's a good thing. Oh, and the rushing attack- despite missing Kirkland and Edwards- is averaging 7 yards a pop in their first two games. Last year against Vegas and 1-AA New Hampshire? 4.55. Say it with me- PROGRESS.
Not only that, consider this has happened without much of anything from their top running back Donnell Kirkwood, their best potential impact offensive player (Berkley Edwards remains the potential home run threat the offense has been missing since the Mason Era), the guy who hopefuly/better f***ing be their best receiver in Jamel Harbison, and little impact from one of their best defenders in Derrick Wells. Two "take them behind the woodshed" type games are all the more impressive when a Gopher team that is far from the B1G's most talented is missing a good chunk of it.
Do the Gophers have things to work on? Absolutely. But so does EVERYBODY. While defensive and special teams TD's aren't going to happen every week and the passing game needs to get on track ASAP, more than doubling your opponents scoring in your first two games is still a very positive sign. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have concerns, or really one: the passing game, or complete lackthereof thus far. Philip Nelson has completed just 48% of his passes for 226 yards with 1 TD and 2 picks, and in two games three guys are tied for the lead in receptions: Maxx Williams (NICE!), KJ Maye (ok I guess I can see that) and...Logan Hutton (WTF?!?). And they're all tied with THREE FREAKING RECEPTIONS. Derek Engel is the only receiver who's even cracked 50 receiving yards, and just barely at 51.
As good and productive as everything else has been, the passing game has obviously stunk through two games. Part of it is that because of all the defensive and special teams TD's they just haven't had to throw much, especially in the 2nd half. We also know Limegrover has been pretty conservative with not just his playcalling, but with his schemes as well. This offense is obviously not Oregon's or Baylor's or anything that remotely resembles uptempo and wide open. Coach Kill and Limegrover are going the opposite direction of most programs these days- instead of speeding up, they're slowing down, wanting to control the ball and the clock, run it plenty out of traditional run formations, and wear out teams with physicality instead of speed or exhaustion.
And that's totally fine. It's worked for them for over a dozen years, and we've seen this philosophy proven successful time and again in the B1G. This is an offense that wants to run two thirds of the time, that wants to use the run to set up...well, so far just the run, but we hope eventually also the pass. Just an opinion, but because of Limegrover's conservative nature, it also feels like he doesn't want to put anything more on film for his future opponent's than he has to. If they can wallop Vegas and NMSU while getting next to nothing from the passing game, then apparently he's ok with that. The offense has been pretty vanilla thus far, and yet the Gophers have outscored their opponents 95-44. It makes me nervous as hell, but as the saying goes, Limegrover has forgotten more about football than I'll ever know, so I'm going to trust he knows what he's doing here.
For my sanity and confidence I'd love to see them attempt more passes Saturday. I'm not asking for 40 or 50 attempts, but it'd be nice to see them throw a little more against Western Illinois than try to open it up against San Jose State for the first time all season when they're likely going to HAVE to throw to move the ball. I have my doubts we'll see much different offensively that what we saw the first two weeks (especially with Kirkland and Berkley still out), and while that'll mean I continue to worry like crazy about the passing game, that would also mean another 40+ points and a blowout win. Which, we should all remind ourselves, would still definitely be progress.