This is a feature that I will try to run every Sunday after every Gopher game this fall. It's mostly just thoughts without substantial statistical analysis. More for fun and meditation on the result of the game than for breaking down the Xs and Os. Hopefully, I'll be able to also incorporate the movie quotes that ran through my head during different points in the game, similar to the way I reflected on Gopher football history here.
Since the game Thursday night finished rather late in Central time zone and I had to work the next morning, there wasn't a whole lot of time to wax poetic about the results in my head. Just under nine months of anticipation had me feeling like a certain famous walk-on from a certain famous school that a lot of people don't like.
The anticipation had been killing me and finally as the ball sailed towards Jaylen Myrick and into the endzone for a touchback, I couldn't believe it was finally here.
It only took a few moments of soaking in the beginning of college football season before my mind starting getting down to business. Sadly, watching games for me can sometimes be a struggle. If the game is even remotely close, I'm pacing around fretting about every individual play like it's a do-or-die situation. And due to this being the first game of the season against a ranked opponent in prime time, I was even more amped up than usual. So you can imagine me being humbled early on as TCU put up 10 quick points and it seemed like we might be headed for a repeat of last year. And in the back of my head, for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only moments in real time, I had the fleeting images of failure upon repeated failure against Wisconsin.
ASIDE: I know that doesn't make much sense but my mind is always on the Axe. Even when playing a non-conference opponent, even in the middle of July, even at my best friend's wedding, Paul Bunyan's beautiful, wonderful wood-chopping implement of decades past origins pervades the recesses of my mind.
So the repeated failures against Wisconsin are in my mind. Year after year over and over. And it had me thinking of this:
Anyways, as you can see, I wasn't even particularly worried about our terrible start against the Horned Frogs. I was already framing the game in relation to the portions of the season that I deemed "more important." This could probably be different for different people. Jerry Kill might say his goals are for the team to get better every game. People who hate Iowa the most just want to break the drought in Iowa City. Other fans who are hard to please might say success would be a Big Ten West title. I just wanted to see us compete against the big boys and beat Wisconsin.
Luckily for all Gopher fans, this game wouldn't be the same as last year. While it would take three more series for the offense to get its legs underneath themselves, the defense played spectacularly against one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country. The "bend but don't break" style was working well and the deficit remained at 10. Then, from out of no where, a flea-flicker!
The Gophers were in business! And as soon as hope had sprung up it was shut down. Nuggest fumbles into the back of the endzone...
But this defense played with such ferocity and determination that it was able to hold. The Gophers finally got on the board and it was 10-3 going into the half.
Now, I don't want to just recap the game for you, so I'll skip the summation of the second half with overall thoughts on where the final, 23-17, leaves us.
I found it strange when people complained about Mitch Leidner. He had 1 turnover that wasn't really his fault and completed around 54% of his passes against a high quality defense. Considering we left 7 points on the board to a goal line fumble and the offensive line was mass chaos due to the injury of it's most essential member, I thought Mitch played well despite his strange and unfortunate circumstances.
Rodney Smith definitely outperformed Williams throughout the game but I hope that if there is a passing of the torch, it is because of a long string of evidence pointing to Smith being the better option. He was great against TCU but I don't think one game should make people jump to conclusions about him or Nugget. I trust the coaching staff will make the right call as to the distribution of carries.
The defense amazed me. They were being asked to do a lot considered our offense went three-and-out (or worse) on four of its first five drives. And they didn't really tire as the game went on. This speaks to our depth and the overall increase in skill and athleticism throughout the roster. Julian Huff looked good on several occasions, Ace Rodgers had some key plays, and considering the circumstances, Eric Murray was also an essential cornerstone. We'll be able to see if this defense is consistent next week against a high-scoring squad in Colorado State.
I hate moral victories. Especially in year five of Kill's tenure. But I can't help but think that the results of Week 1 for the Big Ten West portend to a very competitive and wide open division, with the Gophers being fully capable of making a run at 1st place. Is there any team in our division we can't beat? If TCU really is a top 10 team and we played them to a six-point game, there is certainly a bright future for this team. Week 1 wasn't a success in the win column, but it certainly was a good omen for the coming weeks.