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Minnesota Football: Gopher Defense Excels, but Gophers Fall to TCU 23-17

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The Gophers fought hard against the #2 team in the country and came up short.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

An electric night in front of a record crowd at TCF Bank Stadium and the Golden Gophers kicked off the 2015 season on national television.  The opponent was unfortunately the #2 team in the country.  TCU, at times, looked every bit the part of being a national title contender.  But the Gophers played well and may have missed on an opportunity to upset the Horned Frogs and make an early-season statement.  In the end TCU was the better team and held off Minnesota to win 23-17.

Actually both teams were working out some kinks from the offseason and made plenty of mistakes.  TCU could easily look at this game and see that if they eliminate a mistake or two, they win by 20.  Minnesota could also make the claim that if they clean up an unforced fumble and a penalty or two and they come away with a huge upset and we are burning couches in Dinkytown.  Combined it was four turnovers and 16 total penalties.  Areas I would expect both teams to address this week.

The first quarter was ugly for Minnesota as TCU dominated and took an early two-score lead.  The Gopher offense managed a couple first downs before punting to open the game before the Horned Frogs took the ball from their own 9, marched 55 yards on 14 plays and Jaden Oberkrom hooked in a 53-yard FG.  An inaspicious start and certainly one the Gophers could recover from.  But what followed had many of us thinking this was going to get rather ugly.  A strip sack of Mitch Leidner on the team's second drive gave TCU the ball on the Minnesota 18 yard line.  Two plays later Heisman contender Trevone Boykin hit an wide open Josh Doctson for the 7-0 lead.  And very quickly it was a 10-0 deficit with little confidence the offense was going to get going.  Horned Frogs dominated first quarter with 125 yards to Minnesota's 30.

The strip-sack leading to the games first touchdown highlighted what was going to be a major problem for the Gophers this game.  With Josh Campion out and Ben Lauer not exactly healthy the Gophers were struggling to find someone at LT who could help keep Terrell Lathan off of Leidner.  Foster Bush took a shot, but did not fare very well. Eventually Jonah Pirsig moved to the left side and Bush played on the right side which was better but was still an issue most of the night against this fast and aggressive TCU defense.

Second quarter things turned around a bit.  The defense started to make some plays and began playing with the confidence and swagger we were expecting.  Eric Murray forced a fumble to give the ball back to our offense, only to be quickly punted away.  Then the defense forced a TCU three-and-out to once again get their offense off the field.  This time the Gophers connected on a long pass to K.J. Maye of 36 yards, Roderick Williams rushed for 23 yards and then fumbled near the goalline for a touchback.  The defense comes through again with a three-and-out, this time the Gophers took it into FG range and got themselves on the board, 10-3.  And after a TCU missed FG, that was the score at halftime.

That quarter saw the redshirt freshman, Rodney Smith begin to emerge in the Gopher backfield.  After the Williams fumble, Smith got his chance and made an impression.  Leidner settled down a little, moving the ball into scoring position twice.

TCU opened the third quarter with confidence and precision.  9 plays, 76 yards and a rushing touchdown for Boykin from 19 yards out.  Once again, with the Gopher defense on it's heels and now a two-touchdown hole, things were looking like it could all get out of hand.

Briean Boddy-Calhoun talked about Trevone Boykin and his impressive night of 246 yards passing and 100 yards rushing.

"He made very smart decisions.  I know last year, watching a lot of film on him sometimes he just may just throw the ball up putting faith in his receiver.  But today, you could see he was reading his keys and he was pretty sharp today."

To answer that impressive opening drive, Minnesota's offense quickly went three-and-out to put our defense back on the field.  This time TCU was driving with relative ease before Alex Keith pressured Boykin and Murray intercepted his pass to get the TCF Bank crowd back on their feet.  And the offense carried that momentum, turning it into a 12 play drive that resulted in the season's first touchdown and back to a one-score. TCU managed to put together a drive that stalled in FG range and Oberkrom was good from 45 yards to go up 20-10 and that was the score at the end of the quarter.

As we enter the 4th quarter there is some life, some hope still left in the building.  TCU drive ends in a put, Gopher drive ends in a punt, TCU kicks a FG (23-10) another Gopher punt and the stands start to empty.  TCU punts back to us and then something strange happened.  The Gopher offense become a precise machine.  With 3:02 on the clock and down 13, Leidner leads a 91-yard drive in 8 plays where he goes 5/5 and eventually hits KJ Maye for a 22-yard touchdown and a 6-point game with 1:32 on the clock.

That was basically the height of excitement and brief hope of a headline upset.  The onside failed, we did get the ball back with 0:27 left but the offense managed to do basically nothing and the clock ran out.

So what are the takeaways?  Well the Gopher defense was something to be very excited about, as we expected.  TCU had the nation's longest streak of scoring 30 points or more, that ended tonight.  Their offense was full of very talented players all over the field.  At times they had the defense on it's heels, but then this unit would make a play to stop them or get the ball back.  Ohio State's offense has a similar level of talent, but other than the Buckeyes we won't have to face an offense like this again this year.  The secondary was making plays much of the night while going up against a couple of possible NFL receivers who were catching balls from possibly the Heisman quarterback.

We should be concerned about the offensive line.  If healthy, then I'm not at all worried.  But without Campion and without Lauer, we struggled at tackle.  Foster Bush is not capable of playing against talent like this and the senior struggled.  We need one or both of those guys to be healthy.

And Mitch...what about Mitch?  I'm not sure we learned much today.  At times he was fine, other times bad and for a brief moment he looked good.  He is what he is and that should be all there is to say.  Would this team be better with a better quarterback?  Yes, but he isn't on this roster or isn't ready.  A really good quarterback can overcome warts on this offense, Mitch is not that kind of quarterback and he needs help.  Having your LT have a bad night does not help.  Having three or four catchable passes dropped does not help.  He made some bad plays/throws but we can't get caught in the trap that everything is his fault.  He is what he is.

I think very soon you will see Rodney Smith as the team's clear #1 back.  The redshirt freshman looked rather good and led the team with 88 yards, a touchdown and a 5.5 yard average.  His carries increased throughout the game and was the primary back on both touchdown scoring drives.

I found it interesting that Rashad Still was on the field so much.  The true-freshman receiver received a lot more snaps than any of the ballyhooed redshirt freshmen group of Melvin Holland Jr, Isaiah Gentry and Desmond Gant. He seems to be the 4th receiver and often on the field.

Overall the game was a loss and the team is 0-1.  Moving on to next week.