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Minnesota Football: Gophers Battle Back but Fall to Ohio State 14-28

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Usually I save my bourbon drinking until after a Gopher game.  Better stuff is consume when we win and higher proof drinks are taken when we lose.  Last night, however, I attended a whiskey tasting so drinking occurred during the game.  Why does anyone care?  You don't but it wasn't until this morning that I was able to sit down and watch last night's game.

This will not be a traditional recap but more of just a series of thoughts following the Buckeye 14-28 win over the Gophers.

The Gophers played very well, outstanding really, for the first 25 minutes of the game.  Unfortunately against a team with the overall talent of Ohio State, you have to make some luck along the way.  Going toe-to-toe is usually going to result in a losing proposition, sometimes you need a bullet. And the Gophers really could have used on in that first half.  Instead it was Ohio State who made the big play and secure momentum along with the early lead.

That interception, regardless of what any of us think about the targeting call, was a good example of Ohio State making a play.  The blitzing linebacker had a free lane to Leidner, forcing the early throw as he was getting rocked, Vonn Bell made a nice pick and ran across the field to score.  Then the Buckeyes had one more bullet in their gun before halftime and used it to connect for a 44-yard completion from their own 41 yardline, setting up an Ezekial Elliott 15-yard touchdown run.

Outstanding D for really 27 minutes to start the game and for most of the second half.  Even the offense had a couple nice drives in the first half.  Nine plays for 30 yards that was thwarted by a bad pass interference call on Nate Wozniak.  Then an 11-play drive for 47 yards that resulted in a missed field goal.  Really up until that pick-six one could argue that the Gophers were outplaying the #3 team in the country (it could also be viewed that they were hanging on by a thread just waiting for Ohio State to break things open).

The third quarter saw Ohio State score early to go up 0-21 and it was at this point that decided to look at my phone and peak at the final score.  It felt like Ohio State was about to break this wide open and if the final score was going to be three touchdowns or more; and if that was the case I could just stop watching.  But I see that the Gophers actually made a game of it...so I kept watching.

Then it was the K.J. Maye show in the fourth quarter as he and Mitch Leidner nearly mounted an impressive comeback. Maye and Leidner connected throughout the game on key third down plays and overall he had a career game.  But in the fourth quarter alone he converted on 4th and 4, caught the next pass for a touchdown, took a lob pass from Leidner running for 57 yards, caught another for 4 yards and one final catch for 5 yards on the team's final drive.  Totaling it all up Maye had 5 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone.

Maye is quietly having an outstanding season for the Gophers.  Nobody has really talked about it before now but he is currently sitting at 49 receptions, 524 yards and 4 touchdowns. This is likely going to finish as the best season by a Gopher receiver since Eric Decker's junior season (2008) when he amassed 84 catches, 1,074 yards and 7 TDs.  Da'Jon McKnight had a 51 reception season which Maye is likely to eclipse next week.  I never thought I'd be typing this but we are going to miss him next season.

To no one's surprise, eventually Ohio State was too much for the Gophers to handle.  But injuries continue to be a huge deal for this team.  It was pointed out in the radio pregame that Ohio State's five starters along the OL have been the same for every game this year.  Minnesota?  It has maybe been a different set of five for every game.  Foster Bush starting at left tackle to face Joey Bosa and one of the best defensive lines in the country? That was awfully scary and it turned out to be as bad as feared with Leidner getting hit hard and hit often. That targeting penalty big hit in the second quarter saw Leidner get popped at the four yardline and part of his upper body landed in the end zone.

Defensively the loss of Steven Richardson is also rather significant.  The Gopher defensive line has underperformed and been beaten up nearly as much as the offensive line.  Losing their best and most consistent player is a problem when facing the Buckeyes.  Really getting tired of the injuries.

Overall I've been rather impressed with the toughness and resiliency of this team.  Lots has gone wrong for them this season, particularly the last couple weeks.  Losing their head coach, losing to Michigan the way they did, the rash of injuries and finding themselves down 0-21 in the third quarter against the #1 team in the country.  They tightened things up, started making plays on offense, got themselves to within a touchdown and an onside kick away from making things rather interesting.  A credit to Tracy Claeys for keeping this team focused and a credit to the leadership of Leidner.

Looking ahead.  I know there have been some ugly and frustrating moments but this team is getting better throughout the year, I realize I'm saying this as they've lost three in a row.  Sitting with four wins, needing two more to earn a bowl game is not going to be easy.  But I actually like how they are playing right now and would love nothing more than to see them ruin Iowa's season next week.

It's Hate Week folks!