Well, the Gophers lost. TCU can now begin their march to the College Football Playoffs after a hard-fought win over Minnesota. While the result was not what we wanted and the Gophers are now 0-1 to start the season, this was by no means a complete disaster. Far from it, actually. This was an impressive (but very, very flawed) effort against one of the best teams in all of college football.
Here is what I'll be taking away from the Gophers' season opener:
1. This Gopher defense is unreal. This game should not have been close, at least based on how inept our offense was against TCU for most of the game. But the Gopher defense refused to allow the Horned Frogs to turn this into a blowout. Their impressive performance tonight was a classic example of "bend but don't break." Granted, Trevone Boykin and crew ended up winning the battle on the scoreboard, but the defense did all it could against one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Eric Murray, in particular, had a stellar game, forcing a fumble and nabbing an interception, matching his total from last year. Julian Huff, a true freshman linebacker, also had a standout game. Best of all? TCU's streak of at least 30 points per game came to an end tonight.
2. Rodney Smith has a promising future at running back. Rodrick Williams was the starter going into the game, but after he fumbled into the end zone in the second quarter to kill a promising drive, redshirt freshman Rodney Smith saw more action going forward and made the most of it, running for 88 yards on 16 carries with 1 touchdown. Smith showed excellent vision and an almost David Cobb-like ability to make something out of nothing on a night when he was running behind a patchwork offensive line decimated by injuries. On a night when positives on the offensive side of the ball were in short supply, Smith was an obvious highlight. I expect Nugget to bounce back after tonight, but I'm also excited to see how Smith performs the rest of the season.
3. There is much work left to do. The offense, in particular, will need to take a hard look in the mirror after tonight. Bear in mind, Gary Patterson has been churning out elite defenses at TCU for years, so struggles were to be expected, regardless of who the Horned Frogs were replacing on D. But dropped passes, poor pass protection, poor run blocking, and off-the-mark passes were all too common tonight. There were going to be growing pains with Cobb and Maxx Williams gone, but significant improvement is a must going forward. The defense, while impressive, also suffered from a number of breakdowns, especially in pass coverage. There were several occasions where Boykin missed on a wide open receiver near the end zone, letting the defense off the hook. The defensive line also struggled to pressure and contain Boykin, but credit where credit is due, that veteran TCU offensive line lived up to the hype.
Personally, I don't believe in moral victories. The Gophers are now 0-1. There is no getting around that. They were in it until the end, but that means zilch in terms of wins and losses. But I'm very excited to see what this team is capable of the rest of the season.