Despite the exuberance of pre-game predictions, I think it was clear that Minnesota was unlikely to pull an upset. For most of the game, it was an open question if the Gophers would even score. The team managed to make the game mildly interesting before a missed defensive assignment led to a Cardale Jones rushing touchdown.
Before I get to the offense, I want to note that the defense played well for the majority of the game. Eventually, Ohio State figured out a way to attack Minnesota's quarters coverage (Spoiler, run the QB draw with a bunch of fake go routes), but Minnesota hung with the Buckeyes. The defensive line even sustained actual pressure against a quarterback, something that has happened far too little this season. One wonders what they could have done with Steven Richardson manning the interior.
Unless there is a sea change, Minnesota under Kill/Claeys/Sawvel will bring a tough, aggressive, defense to each and every game. For the team to make the next jump, there needs to be a consistent offensive performance of the same caliber.
Several takeaways from this chart. First, Minnesota had to play with long fields the entire game. Minnesota's defense did a reasonable job in stopping Ohio State, but the Buckeyes' punt team was on point. The Gophers can be successful, but it's much easier to score when you only have to go 30 yards rather than 75.
Second, I left the end of half sequence on the chart because I wanted to talk about how silly the play calling was. Minnesota had 54 seconds and two timeouts and the ball on the 35 yard line. Despite Santoso's earlier ugly miss, he has plausible 55+ yard range. Down 14-0 and slated to play defense to begin the second half, this should have been a time to be aggressive. Instead, the Gophers ran two running plays. The first play resulted in a one yard loss, the second a 10 yard gain as the half expired.
Frankly, this is horrible play calling. It's not horrible because the calls are not aggressive, though that's a separate indictment. It's horrible because said play calling risks needless injuries to players. If a coach decides "Screw it, let's go into halftime" the call is a quarterback kneel, not a running play into a mass of bodies. Just to preempt the objection, "oh but the running play could have gotten a bunch of yards and then who knows blogger?" that play call wasn't expected to, and if the first one didn't, the proper response would have been to get up to the line quickly and run another play. The offense instead huddled and went with another running play into an Ohio State pseudo-prevent coverage. This objection, such that it exists, is wrong on theory and practice.
Play Calling Variance
I like the violin plots this week to show the futility of running the ball against Ohio State on Saturday. Remember, a violin plot is made out of the distribution of data. The wide parts of the distribution indicate that Minnesota most often ran the ball for less than 3 yards. In addition to not being able to run the ball, for most of the game the Gophers could not pass either. Partially, this was due to being off schedule. Often, Ohio State was able to attack on third down because Minnesota was in an obvious pass situation. Second, even with additional protection, Leidner was hurried and harassed for much of the night.
A brief word on the targeting pick up. Targeting has a under specified definition and further confirms that trying to legislate violence in football is a losing game. Still, I applaud the decision to call targeting and then send it to the booth for further review. It might be nice if one of these times a call would stick.
As I wrote in the rapid recap, K.J. Maye had an excellent game. His progression into plausible honorable mention All BIG performance over the last few weeks has been fun to watch. In a quicker paced offense with additional threats, Maye could have turned into a Wes Welker like college player. Alternative universes are fun.
I'm neglecting to show a graph here because it looks stupid. Minnesota had seven plays that went for ten yards or more. Six were pass plays, almost all of them play action of some sort. The only running play was a 14 yard run by Smith that was preceded by a terrible offensive pass interference call on Wozniak.
The usual caveats apply. The only real distinction between 11 and 12 for me is whether Lingen has checked in. In the "heat" of charting, I may have put in a 12 to refer to a jumbo set. Minnesota over the last few weeks has settled into using 3WR Trips formations with Lingen in at a TE.
This loss, and the manner in which the Gophers lost was expected. Minnesota takes on a much less stout team this week, and should have an easier time running the ball.