Sunny Side Up: How Minnesota did on 1st and 3rd Down vs SJSU

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The view from the Sunny Side Upper Deck talks tailgating, run/pass ratio and success of the Gopher Offense on 1st and 3rd down vs SJSU.

Saturday's win over San Jose State was a most glorious of days for so many reasons: The win, the WAY Minnesota won, the weather, and the student section showing up (mostly) in force once again. Oh and the pregame and postgame beverages weren't too shabby either. JD and I decided not to tailgate but instead met at Buffalo Wild Wings right across from the stadium. I do not remember them doing this last year (someone please correct me if I'm wrong) but they roped off the back parking lot that overlooks the stadium and 4th Street to create a beer garden. Free to get in, fairly reasonable for a pint of beer, a bloody (I love a good morning bloody), and even some wings if the mood struck you. With Sally's out of commission we've had people asking about other options, and this is definitely a good one. Stub and Herbs, either inside or in their parking lot/beer gardens, is another good option. I'd expect both places to be absolutely packed this weekend for homecoming and unfortunately, also with foul Iowa fans this week, so yet another incentive to come on down to the TDG Tailgate!

Once we found our seats on the sunny side of the upper deck, we got to see a great game. The crowd was definitely less than the announced "paid" attendance of 45,000, but the student section showed up strong and loud once again. Loved the "Brick! By! Brick!" chant after the latest "Brick by Brick" video was shown on Godzillatron, and they had many timely "WHO HATES IOWA?" chants. They've been on their game through the first three home games, and I'm expecting big things for Saturday's Homecoming game.

One thing I noticed sitting in the stands was how often Minnesota seemed to run on 1st down. I know, I know, when you only throw 12 passes in a game (for the second week in a row) it shouldn't be a surprise they're running a lot on 1st down- and EVERY down- but I still wanted to look at the numbers and see what the ratio was and how much success they were having. Looking over the play-by-play chart from the game, it showed the expected big run/pass disparity on first down, but what also caught my eye was Minnesota's 7/13 Third Down Conversion rate, which has continued a positive trend on third down for the season (up to 47% through four games and a big improvement from last season's 36%). But first, let's look at the data on how and what Minnesota did on 1st down when they had the ball against San Jose State:

FIRST DOWN

Plays Ran: 35

Total Yards Gained: 121 (not including penalties)

Total Yards per Play: 3.46

Runs: 31

Rush Yds: 119

1ST DOWN RUN SUMMARY: Sitting in the stands it felt like Minnesota ran a LOT on 1st down, and boy did they. Of their 35 first downs, 31- or almost 89%!!- were on the ground. Minnesota averaged 3.8 per carry on 1st down, and if you remove the -2 yards for the kneel down to end the game, you end up at just a shade over 4 yards per carry (121 yards/30 attempts= 4.033). If your average 2nd down is 2nd and 6, that's obviously a pretty good spot to be in. OC Matt Limegrover also spread the 31 1st down carries pretty evenly as David Cobb had 13, and Roderick Williams and MOOSE Leidner both finished with 9. What's more, excluding the kneel down there was only one other 1st down run for negative yards, a loss of 3 from Cobb from The U's own 48 midway through the 3rd. Oh, and what should come as a surprise to no one, the Gophers did not attempt a pass on first down in the fourth quarter.

Passes: 4

Completions: 1

Penalties: 1

Pass Yds: 2

1ST DOWN PASS SUMMARY: Obviously not a ton to summarize with just four pass attempts. They completed just one for 2 yards to KJ Maye, though one incompletion to Derek Engel was because of a pass interference penalty. Limey took very few chances throwing on first down (or few chances period. No jet sweeps to Maye on first down at all), and didn't get much out of it. This will need to be better against Iowa.

THIRD DOWN

Plays ran: 15

Yards gained: 106

Yards Per Play: 7.067

First downs Gained: 7

TD's: 1

Penalties: 2

Avg Yards to go for 1st Down: 4.813

Run plays: 8

Rush Yards: 61

Rush 1st Downs/Scores: 5

THIRD DOWN RUN SUMMARY: When your offense is facing an average of less than 5 yards to go on third down, your OC is going to be pretty giddy. It obviously gave Minnesota more chances to run (or less reasons to pass), and they ran well, averaging 7.63 yards per carry on third down (Cobb's run for 2 yards on the last third down of the game was called back due to a personal foul on Harbison but I'm still counting it). That's...well that's obviously awesome. A big chunk of those yards came on two big runs by Moose- one for 16 yards in the first quarter that put them inside the 10, and his ridiculously awesome 27 yard romp in the fourth quarter on third and 6 from their own 46 when Leidner should have been down after four or five yards. SJSU learned you don't tackle the Moose with an arm- or with one guy. Or two. Or sometimes three. Interesting to note that seven of the eight third down carries were by Leidner (he other on the jet sweep with KJ Maye), and not surprisingly all of the runs came with third and 6 or less yards to go.

Pass Plays: 7

Pass Attempts: 6

Completions: 2

Sacks: 1

PI Penalties: 1

Pass Yards: 48

Pass 1st downs (incl PI Penalty): 3

THIRD DOWN PASS SUMMARY: More pass attempts on third down than first obviously, and Limey never ran a pass play with LESS than five yards to go. One of the two 1st down completions came in the 2nd quarter on 3rd and 7 from their own 28, when Limegrover dialed up the bomb down the seam to Maye, and Leidner made his best throw of the day for a 37 yard gain. The other was in third on 3rd and 11 from SJSU's 35, as Leidner hit Engel for 11 and a first down. The pass interference penalty was a throw to Jamel Harbison (yes, apparently it is possible to throw to the guy who's supposed to be our best receiver) late in the 1st quarter. Leidner missed three passes and also took a sack in the first quarter, and essentially they were good less than half the time when they tried to pass on third down.

Overall, when you're averaging about 4 yards per rush on 1st down, and convert over 50% of your third downs, well, it's not surprising Minnesota won the game. When you're doing those things, it's going to put you in position all day long to be successful on offense and to keep the chains moving. The question, of course, is can they replicate this kind of success against Iowa? There's some obvious trends that stand out here, yet we have to think/hope/pray Limey's showing tendencies on film but will switch it up when he needs to. The hope is he won't need to very often as the passing game on any down remains suspect at best.

Minnesota went run heavy on pretty much every down against San Jose State because they could, but I'd be shocked if they're able to run this much Saturday, as Iowa's run D will be much better and tougher than anything Minnesota has faced so far. I'd still expect a run-heavy attack on Saturday, but there needs to be some timely throws to connect for the offense to have success against the Hated Hawkeyes.

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