The Gophers survived a scare from UNLV in week one 30-27 in OT in a game they both were lucky to win, and also could have won by 3 TD's at the same time. As we try and figure out what this means for Minnesota, you also may want to know how their upcoming opponents faired in week one, especially their non-conference foes who we're not as familiar with.
New Hampshire (Gophers play them this weekend) pasted Holy Cross 38-17: Look, I have no idea how this translates to the game against Minnesota this weekend, but the Wildcats had little trouble with fellow 1-AA school Holy Cross. They started a redshirt freshman QB, and he helped pile up 531 yards in a very balanced attack- 252 passing and 279 rushing. They could give the Gophers trouble if they're not ready, and since we've had a recent bad history against 1-AA schools, we know Minnesota won't be taking New Hampshire lightly. At least they better not be.
Western Michigan (Sept 15th): Lost 24-7 to Illinois- You thought the Gopher/Vegas game was bad? This looked to be an ugly-fest of epic proportions-- Neither team had over 260 total yards of offense. Read that again. That's either great defenses, or two offenses that really struggled in their first game. Or, I suppose, some of both.
WMU has a fifth year senior QB Alex Carder in his third year as a starter, but he was just 26-43 for 239 yards, 1 TD and 3 picks. I know he's adjusting to new receivers and some new linemen, and the Illini D may be just that good. The running game was completely non-existent, totaling 19 carries for -6 yards. That includes Carder getting sacked 3 times for a loss of 31 yards and their backup was sacked two more times for a loss of 12, but their top rusher carried the ball 8 times for just 29 yards. Defensively it sounds like the Illini moved the ball pretty well until starting QB Nate Scheelhaase suffered an ankle injury in the 3rd quarter and didn't return. Not a great start for the Broncos, but like Minnesota they get a 1-AA tune up this weekend before the week 3 matchup with the Gophers. I imagine WMU's offense and defense will look much better facing Eastern Illinois.
The Illini game in Champaign is a long ways off on November 10, and like a lot of the Big Ten, they looked pretty meh. Scheelhaase's ankle injury doesn't seem too severe, as it sounds like he'll be a game-time decision against Arizona State this weekend, and he's vital to their offense. The leading rusher for Illinois was a tight end-H back who ran for just 54 yards. Under new coach Tim Beckham it'll be interesting to see how the offense develops and see if the defense really is that good.
Syracuse (Sept 22): Lost to Northwestern 42-41- "The Cuse" are coming off a rough season, going 5-7 overall but with just one conference win from a season ago. Northwestern was a very good litmus test to start the season, and it looks like The Orange played pretty well. Either NU's D is that bad, or Syracuse's offense is going to be scary as they wracked up 596 yards of total offense, including a whopping 470 yards and 4 TD's through the air. They also averaged 4.2 yard per carry on the ground, but after getting down 35-13 midway through the 3rd, Syracuse abandoned the run and started throwing. Boy did they. 3rd year starting QB Ryan Nassib threw all four TD passes in the last quarter and a half, and his favorite receiver was senior Marus Shales who caught 11 balls for 117 yards and a score. Sophomore Jeremiah Kubina also caught four passes for 79 yards and two scores.
Defensively, The Orange held NU to 337 yards of offense, as two of Northwestern's early touchdowns came on an 82 yard punt return and a 33 yard fumble return. The Wildcats averaged just 3.2 yards per carry running the ball, and not surprisingly were very efficient throwing the ball (they LOVE the quick and short passing game), completing 22 of 32 passes for 3 TD's and no picks. The interesting thing to keep an eye on for Northwestern is a brewing QB battle. Kain Colter came in as the experienced heir-apparent to Dan Persa, but despite leading them on three scoring drives it was backup Trevor Siemian who engineered the game-winning TD drive with 44 seconds left.
Syracuse also committed a whopping 12 penalties, and we'll find out in the next few weeks leading up to their visit here if that's going to be an issue or was just a first week thing. You know, kinda like we're hoping for the Gophers. As it stands, the Orange definitely looked much improved from last season, but they get a serious reality check this weekend against #1 USC. Minnesota gets Northwestern for home-coming in mid-October, and I'm intrigued to see how the QB battle develops, and whether they'll have more success running the ball, something they've struggled to do the past few seasons.