Greetings Gopher Faithful! Week seven is in the books! It was the Gophers’ first conference victory of the season! Let’s get to it...
Today's win, by the numbers. pic.twitter.com/EcZBZaJ704— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 16, 2016
#1 Rodney Smith (RS. Sophomore - RB)
Smith was consistent, elusive, and at times, a one man show as he rushed for 144 yards on just 18 carries and found pay dirt two times, including a 70-yard touchdown run to essentially seal the game in favor of the Gophers. At times he made something out of nothing and avoided tackles-for-loss all game to keep the Gophers within respectable position in relation to the chains.
#13 Jonathan Celestin (Junior - LB)
Celestin has seemingly been everywhere on the field the last two games, stepping up to fill the void that has been left in the linebacking core with Cody Poock out with an injured shoulder. Due to his athleticism and coverage of open spaces, the defense hasn’t really missed a beat the last two games. He had 7 tackles, including 1 sack as well as a pass deflected and has contributed in all aspects of the defense. He’s been prominent in stopping the run, defending short throws, and continues to highlight the depth of talent the Gophers seem to have at the LB position this year.
#11 Antoine Winfield, Jr. (Freshman - DB)
His growth the last few games has been very encouraging and this development resulted in a strong showing in the box score. 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception, and, of course, 1 touchdown that put an exclamation point on a dominating defensive performance by the Golden Gophers. The best thing about all this is this kid is a true freshman and seems to have great instincts and coverage ability. The first of many dominating performances by #11.
The first quarter was a rather ugly affair on both sides. Minnesota went three-and-out on their first possession However, Maryland, playing behind a freshman quarterback would have an enough tougher time on offense. Emmit Carpenter would accumulate his first missed field goal of the season from only 36 yards out. Fortunately, the defense forced a turnover via a Kiante Hardin interception and also thwarted the only Terrapin drive that appeared to have promise near midfield. Conor Rhoda, in his first start, made his only egregious error of the game on the final play of the quarter, botching a hand off and losing six yards on 2nd and 7. Fortunately, he had the where-with-all to pounce on the ball to avoid compounding the error, and the quarter ended scoreless.
The second quarter started with a Maryland error that would signal a pattern that repeated itself for the rest of the game. Said pattern went like this: Maryland makes a horrific fundamental error, Minnesota capitalizes on said error. Wil Likely fumbled a Ryan Santoso punt and Thomas Barber recovered it for the Gophers at the 16 yard line, giving Minnesota prime field position and a way to build their offensive confidence. Build they did. Three Rodney Smith rushes later, the Gophers took a lead they would never relinquish and Rhoda was able to breath easier knowing he wouldn’t have to throw the Gophers to victory. After exchanging punts twice and Minnesota forcing another Maryland three-and-out, Jaylen Myrick was able to scamper free on a punt and return it 17 yards giving the Gophers prime field position they would capitalize on again. This time the end result was Conor Rhoda’s first career touchdown pass on a well-called and well-timed screen pass to Shannon Brooks. Gopher 14, Terrapins 0 at the half.
The third quarter is where I’ll choose to mention that Maryland racked up 9 penalties resulting in 75 yards of lost field position throughout the game’s duration. This was a huge reason why their offense never found any sort of sustained success and definitely kept several Gopher drives alive. One such drive was the first of the third quarter in which the Gophers were able to chew up 6 minutes and 32 seconds of clock and kick a field goal to increase their advantage to three scores, 17-0. A pass interference call on 3rd and 8 allowed the Gophers to move into field goal range even after failing to garner another first down on the drive. Four punts followed this drive and in the blink of an eye, the quarter had ended.
The first play of the fourth quarter saw the Gophers punting the ball away. The ensuing Terrapin drive displayed Tyrrell Pigrome’s ability to scramble out of a collapsing pocket and gain chucks of yards off of broken plays. This led some observers to wonder why Maryland’s offensive coordinator hadn’t called more design runs throughout the previous three quarters of play. The drive resulted in Maryland’s first points in the form of a 32 yard field goal. The Gophers’ ensuing drive was expected to be a long slough, filled with chucks of yards gained via runs by Smith and Brooks. Fortunately, for Minnesota, Maryland’s defense had slightly different plans for the drive. The third play saw Rodney Smith scamper 70 yards after alluding a terribly run angle by the Maryland safety for a touchdown. With the score at 24-3 and the game out of hand, the Minnesota prevent defense allowed Maryland to score a touchdown, dashing the hopes of keeping an opponent to single digits for the first time since September 12th, 2015. However, the Gophers’ defense had the last laugh as Maryland’s enthusiasm to milk the game as long as possible resulted in a tipped pick-six for Antoine Winfield Jr and Gary Moore sack-fumble that gave the defense another two turnovers in their ledger. When the clock hit zero, the score read 31-10 in favor of the good guys.
Catch highlights from yesterday's win on the road.— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 16, 2016
I understand that Maryland was starting a true freshman backup at quarterback. But woof, they looked awful on both sides of the ball for various reasons. Penalties, dropped passes, poor gap discipline, there were a myriad of issues on both sides of the ball for the Terrapins. That 4-0 start seems like an eternity away.
I was glad to see the Gophers return to their identity that has led to success the last few years when they were winning conference games. Run the ball, limit mistakes, and play stout defense. If they had run this play ratio against Iowa last week, they very well could be serenading Floyd with many renditions of the Minnesota Rouser instead of staring wistfully at a completely empty trophy case.
Since it now appears that Mitch Leidner will be missing another game this week due to a concussion, I hope that the experience Conor Rhoda garnered in this game can carry over to a more confident presence in the pocket for the upcoming week(s). There were a few times where I thought Rhoda was a little slow to react to a collapsing pocket and he needed to either escape and reset or run up the middle to where there was obvious daylight. After looking at the film of a few sacks, I hope that Rhoda will perform better in these situations and continue to improve going forward, since he may have to be the starter for longer than just a week or two.
I really thought that Celestin was a monster for the second consecutive week. It felt like every time I looked up, he was recording another tackle. I know that his stat line was super impressive but his play this season has been wonderful to watch. I think we may have some pretty solid depth at linebacker.
I know the what-if game is Gopher Fan Favorite, but I don’t care. If Hardin plays against Penn State and the coaches run the ball against Iowa, Minnesota is 6-0 right now. The team is still reasonably well-respected by the advanced metrics, ranking 32nd in the country according to S&P+, so this team isn’t hot garbage like everybody was saying after losing to Penn State and Iowa. Unfortunately, the next few games can only ruin the season as oppose to strength it. Avoid any landmines against Rutgers, Illinois, and Purdue and you’re looking at 7-2 heading into Lincoln. The team is still capable of playing for something this season. The Chair and the Axe are there for the taking, as well as several conference wins, and mathematically speaking, the West Division. The defense looks to be improving week-in and week-out so if Mitch Leidner can return healthy under center and Jay Johnson can figure out his playbook, we should be competitive in every remaining game. That’s all you can really ask for.