Mitch Leidner was given the start after not getting a snap in last week's loss to Iowa. The redshirt freshman was making his first Big Ten start and sparked what has been an anemic Gopher offense. Leidner ran the ball with authority, converted third downs and was able to complete But it wasn't enough as Michigan took control of the line of scrimmage in the second half and went on to retain the Little Brown Jug for the 6th consecutive year.
The Gophers battled with the Michigan for the first half allowing them to score twice on short fields. The first was following a Gopher fumble which gave them a 7-0 lead. But Minnesota resonded with an impressive 16-play drive of their own to tie the game. On that time-consuming drive Leidner was 5/5 and the team converted 5 third downs. Michigan scored late in the half after a short punt gave them another possession inside the Gopher's 40.
The second half opened with a 14-7 score but Michigan took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in 9 plays for six. After a nice Gopher drive that only netted a FG, Michigan took their next drive another 75 yards for another touchdown and the game quickly went from a 7-point margin to an 28-10 lead that was essentially insurmountable for this offense.
Another Gopher FG and a Michigan 3-and-out seemed to give the Gophers a bit of life early in the 4th quarter. Down 15, Leidner underthrew a wide open Donovahn Jones who was streaking down the sideline for what would have been an easy touchdown. But he didn't and the game was never really as close as it may have felt, though it was probably closer than the final score indicated.
The real backbreaker for the Gophers today was the defense's inability to get off the field on third down. Devin Gardner was able to float passes that were not well placed to receivers who made great plays on the ball while our defensive backs were still trying to get themselves back in the play. Michigan finished the game 10/13 on third down, this is a stat that makes life very difficult and demoralizes a defense.
If you are looking for any silver lining in this game it could be that the Gopher offense was much more competent than it was just last week when they managed to accumulate just 30 yards of rushing offense against Iowa. Four drives of 9 or more plays, three of which resulted in points is a huge improvement. And the general consensus is that the Gophers have found their starting quarterback as Leidner was poised playing at the Big House and productive against a good team. Maxx Williams was finally a key part of the offense and made a few very nice plays.
Nobody is looking for moral victories and I can't imagine how you could categorize it as one anyway. But after last week it looked like the Gophers might be lucky to rush for 50 yards in any remaining Big Ten game. Today they were able to move the ball a little bit establishing a bit of a rushing attack with an effective play-action game. Going forward this offense needs to stay balanced and it might be able to move the ball and score points against some Big Ten defenses.
The team has a week to rest, heal and get better before a trip to Northwestern. Today was a loss and it was expected, moving on to the next opponent.