Unless you're Roger Goodell, an NFL owner, or some of the talking heads on KFAN, you come to realize the NFL pre-season is pretty useless. The games don't matter, the best players play little or not at all, and everybody is using the most basic, vanilla schemes possible so as not to give anything away. I am not sure who created this phrase, but I have heard it often about the NFL pre-season and I agree: "you can't really learn anything good about a player or team, but you certainly can learn something bad."
From what I've been hearing and reading after Minnesota's opening week win over UNLV, there's a healthy contingent of Gopher fans who feel this mantra or idea should also apply to the Minnesota Gopher football team and their 2012
preseason- I mean non-conference schedule. Now sure, unlike the NFL preseason these non-conference games DO matter, the best players ARE playing, and the coaches are using every trick up their sleeve to get a win. But the idea seems to be that every negative is a very big negative and that we have to take every positive from the win over UNLV with a gigantic grain of salt because, well, it was a win over UNLV. To them it's almost like it doesn't count.
Like the running game or defensive pressure or three picks? Well sure it was good, but it was ONLY Vegas. And you can replace Vegas with the other names on the Goph's non-con schedule like Western Michigan, Syracuse and this week's opponent, 1-AA New Hampshire, because those are the four worst teams Minnesota will play all season. Any of the four of them would be worse than any other Big Ten opponent, including Indiana. This is not for one single to second to say Minnesota is way better than these schools and will win all of their games, I'm just saying, they aren't exactly juggernaut opponents. Western Michigan is likely the only one with real bowl aspirations, and that's only because they play in the MAC and Syracuse could surprise like we're hoping to this year, but really these aren't high quality opponents.
Still, we can't say that anything positive that happens should be completely thrown out because it's Vegas or Western Michigan or New Hampshire. This isn't the NFL. Unlike the pro football pre-season nonsense, the win over UNLV Thursday night/Friday morning counts the same towards a bowl game as a win over Iowa or Northwestern or Wisconsin would, and the game stats all count the same as a conference game does. True, the quality of opponent won't really ramp up until the B1G opener against Iowa September 29th, but that doesn't mean the good things we saw against UNLV and that we hope to see between now and the trip to Kinnick don't matter.
The pass rush looked like...an actual pass rush. That was fun. That was good. Three interceptions? A very good sign. Donnell Kirkwood looked like a legitimate Big Ten running back for the first time since he was a true freshman. KJ Maye might be legit. He certainly looked the part against Vegas. Derrick Wells was the defensive player of the week- not for the team, for the conference. The last time that happened was...wait when WAS the last time that happened? There were like 19 wide receivers who either caught passes or were at least thrown to. Ok it was eight but it seemed like 19.
So there were a lot of good thing to get excited about. The, um, "not so exciting"? Yeah ok there were some things to be concerned about too. The run defense was iffy, MarQueis Gray was just a touch inaccurate, and the punting game was horrible. Seriously, if you or someone you know can consistently punt a football at least forty yards and has college eligibility remaining, please contact the Gopher football staff. Like right now, because the Gophers need a punter.
Some might see beating a team like UNLV, who won two games last year and may only win that many this season, in overtime as a concern. Sure, that's a concern. Disconcerting, maybe. But is it as bad as Iowa surviving Northern Illinois 18-17? Wisconsin scraping past Northern Iowa 26-21? Indiana squeaking by Indiana State 24-17? Penn State losing to Ohio...ok yeah that one's bad. But remember Minnesota wasn't the only Big Ten team to have a scare in week 1. And for those like the Gophers who survived, it's something to build on for this week and the next and the next leading into conference play.
Hopefully against 1-AA New Hampshire this weekend we'll find a lot more positives than negatives to build on. The first real blow-out of the Jerry Kill Era (and I mean the Gophers blowing somebody out, not the other way around) would make me, and you and every other Gopher fan, feel better about how things are going, but at this point I'd honestly just take another win any way we can get it. Same goes for Western Michigan and Syracuse. Keep building on the good things we saw, and let's hope Gray's passing looks better, the run defense gets tougher, and the punter- ANY punter- can consistently punt the ball 40 yards or more downfield.
Everything might get better this Saturday, and let's face it, some things make get worse, but as long as it leads to another win that's progress and a larger sample size to gauge our Gophers. The results last week, and this week, and then next DO matter, and we need to take the positives we're seeing as good, real results, and recognize that while the negatives or worries may be troubling, it's not the end of the world. At least not yet.