The Gophers finish the non-conference portion of their schedule with an unblemished record. While the record may be perfect, the journey to get there was anything but. Tonight's win over Syracuse was full of mistakes, penalties and turnovers. Fortunately it was Syracuse who made more mistakes than Minnesota and the Gophers took advantage en route to a 17-10 win.
Orange quarterback, Ryan Nassib dropped back to pass on the first offensive play of the game only to see his ball intercepted by Cedric Thompson. One play, one turnover, Gopher ball on the Syracuse 34. This was to be a sign of things to come for Syracuse. Unfortunately for the Gophers, they drove to the 20 only to be pushed back by penalties and then a missed opportunity with a missed field goal. That too was a sign of things to come.
By the end of the night the Gopher defense forced a total of four turnovers, sacked Ryan Nassib 3 times, notched 5 tackles for loss and held Syracuse to 3 points for over 47 minutes of the game. Both sides had more than their share of penalties (8 for us, 10 for them) and the Gophers missed two field goals. But when it mattered most the Gophers came through.
When did it matter most?
- When Syracuse had the ball 1st and goal near the end of the 3rd quarter. Derrick Wells makes a huge tackle for loss on 2nd down and then Brock Vereen drills Nassib as he threw leading to an Aaron Hill interception.
- Jordan Wettstein missed a couple first half field goals but made the one that mattered most in the 4th quarter to put Minnesota up by two touchdowns.
The story of the night is clearly the Gopher defense. Syracuse isn't going to a BCS bowl or anything but they have been putting up some impressive offensive numbers this season. And your Golden Gopher defense did a great job containing them, forcing a few mistakes along the way. It is hard to come up with a more impressive performance from a Gopher defense in recent memory.
The defense individual standouts were really the entire secondary and the defensive line. It is hard to single out just a few guys because several of them made plays throughout the night. Cedric Thompson, Brock Vereen, Michael Amaefula, Aaron Hill, Roland Johnson, Derrick Wells (yet again), Scott Ekpe and Troy Stoudermire played well tonight too.
This was truly a team win for the Gophers. Few individuals really stood out tonight on offense either. Max Shortell was fine. He made some very nice throws, made some good decisions and missed a handful of throws particularly a couple 3rd down throws to Barker that were behind him. Good game for Shortell, making few mistakes and enough plays to keep the offense moving.
Donnell Kirkwood also had a nice game, with a few tough runs in the second half to get to 99 yards and he notched two short-yardage touchdowns early in the game. Good game for Kirkwood, about what you would expect. Devin Crawford-Tufts and AJ Barker made some nice plays in the passing game and the offensive line did a decent job opening up holes and keeping the Orange off of Shortell.
To be honest I'm a bit disappointed in the final score. It is too bad the defense allowed that late touchdown and the offense had a few opportunities to blow this open early. This game could easily have been 27-3, but now I'm just getting greedy. Obviously that doesn't really matter, what really matters is that we are 4-0. What matters is we held the Syracuse offense to their fewest yards and points of the season, and that includes games against USC and Northwestern.
A great team effort led to a nice win. I don't want to get too carried away here, it isn't like we beat LSU or something. Syracuse has a very good offense and a defense that has given up a lot of points this year. But I will reiterate what I've said after every Gopher win. A year ago, we would have lost these games. But don't raise expectations to unrealistic heights because we have beat four teams that many of us felt we should have beat. We are playing well, we are a much improved team and we are exactly where we want to be at this point.
Time to move on to the Big Ten, which has been incredibly weak in the non-conference. There will be opportunity for wins this year, but this Minnesota team still needs to get better. Cut down mistakes, execute better on offense and continue to be in the right position defensively. Let us not get ahead of ourselves yet.
The crowd and atmosphere were outstanding tonight. Now we go on the road to face an angry Hawkeye football team who just lost to a MAC team to fall to 2-0 and their rivalry trophy case is bear. Opening the Big Ten season in Iowa City will be a tough test for our young Gophers.