Greetings Gopher Faithful! Week ten is in the books! It was the Gophers’ fourth conference victory of the season, all in consecutive fashion! I’m going to be short and concise this week because I want all our energy focused on bringing the Broken Chair back home. Let’s get to it...
Yesterday's win, by the numbers. pic.twitter.com/WDzAOHeGoB— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) November 6, 2016
#1 Rodney Smith (RS. Sophomore - RB)
I’m beginning to run out of things to say about Smith. So just know he continued to do his thing and scored three more touchdowns.
Smith's 13 rushing TDs this year tie him for third in #Gophers season records. His 14 overall put him alone in third for season TDs.— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) November 5, 2016
#38 Emmit Carpenter (Sophomore - K)
Carp had three field goals and five extra points. Two of his field goals were absolute bombs. He’s been very good this year and has buoyed the special teams to 7th in the nation in S&P+ Special Teams rating.
#8 Duke McGhee (Junior - CB)
McGhee’s unreal interception at the beginning of the second half was an absolute game-changer and set the tone for the domination the Gophers exhibited in the final two quarters of play where they would outscore the Boilermakers 21-3.
Yup, that's an interception. pic.twitter.com/yGd4aPbvJi— Minnesota Gophers (@GopherSports) November 5, 2016
Gophers came out with a deep throw on the first play of the game since everyone was expecting them to run all day. It went for 46 yards but could have been a touchdown if Mitch had led Rashad Still more. The drive ended in a 52 yard bomb from Carpenter. The defense forced a turnover on downs and the Gophers quickly capitalized on the excellent field position, 10-0 Minnesota early. The fun wouldn’t last forever unfortunately. Purdue scored touchdowns on it’s next two drives aided by huge passing plays and the Gophers punted again. 14-13 at the end of one.
The defense forced a three-and-out. Carpenter unleashed another bomb on the ensuing drive to beat his career long he had just made minutes earlier. 14-13. The two teams exchanged touchdown drives, Purdue once again aided by the big play that seemed to elude the Gophers. 21-20 Purdue. The Gophers scrapped by with another field goal. Then the Claeys-Leidner End of Half Affair occurred. Claeys urged the team to be aggressive with the clock ticking down in the first half and Mitch threw a strange looking pass that enabled Purdue to score a touchdown that made boos reign down upon the team as they entered the locker room for half time. Things seemed grim in Gopher Nation.
The game was turned on it’s head during the first drive of the third quarter. Duke McGhee’s magic trick of an interception quickly and forcefully shifted the momentum into Minnesota’s favor and they quickly capitalized with a touchdown drive that saw Rodney Smith crash the end zone for the second time this game. 30-28 good guys. The teams exchanged three punts as they entered the final frame.
The game seemed to have reached an uneventful lull until a Steven Richardson sack and forced fumble gave the Gophers the kind of field position they’ve been spectacular at cashing in on throughout the year. 2 pass completions and a run later and Mitch Leidner had found the end zone and the Gophers had found a nine-point lead, 37-28. The teams exchanged punts and Purdue threatened again until settling for a field goal. With five minutes left, the Gopher lead had been cut to six points. The offense then proceeded to go three-and-out, leaving the crowd restless with the idea of Purdue driving for the game-winning touchdown. However, a peculiar play-call on fourth-and-one allowed the hungry Gopher defense to stop the Boilermakers, give the offense great field position again, and enabled Minnesota to put the game out of reach with Smith’s third touchdown of the game. Game, set, match, 44-31.
Wasn’t pretty at times but two big plays made the game seem more competitive than it actually saw. Jay Sawvel admitted he made two play-calling mistakes on defense on both of those big plays. I’m not overly concerned about the final score given how the defense played in the second half and considering the Cornhuskers beat these same Boilermakers by a similar margin (13 points to our 12 points).
Rodney Smith continues to impress as he showed an aptitude for breaking off longer runs, albeit against a weak run defense in Purdue. Just think if Shannon Brooks was fully healthy. I really like different play calls where both are on the field and one is being sent in motion. I feel those types of plays have been successful in the past since both players are viewed by opposing defenses as game-changers. If Brooks is healthy, I hope to see more of these types of formations against the challenging defenses we will face in the last three games.
Aside from the egregious interception at the end of the first half, Mitch put together a better game than he has recently. Maybe he is coming out of the fog he seems to have been under after the concussion he suffered against Iowa. Averaging 10 yards per passing attempt and running for 5.3 yards a carry to go with two rushing touchdowns is a quality day the way the offense is designed. I hope that “Good Mitch” appears for the final push of the season.
This defense continues to be both enthralling and frustrating. The talent is evident, both young and old. While they continue to give up huge chunks of yards for big plays (and scores), they also continue to force turnovers and tackles-for-loss. They had 12(!) TFLs across the board from a wide swath of contributors including seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshman. Because we play three teams with so-so offenses, I truly believe the defense can keep us in the remaining three games as the offense gets settled into each game and tries to figure out how to attack the opposition.
Which brings us to the general overview I often give in my fifth thought. S&P+ gives us a 5% chance to win out. If we somehow pull a victory out in Lincoln on Saturday, that percentage would go up quite a bit. Win probabilities for the remaining three games (in order) are 39%, 58%, and 22%. We always knew going into Lincoln and Madison would be tough no matter how good our team was. Now that it is evident that the Gophers are capable of playing up to and down to anybody in this conference, it shouldn’t come as a shock that these games are somewhat closer to a coin flip than a lot of outsiders would expect.
Honestly, would anyone here be shocked with any of the six possible outcomes for the remaining of the schedule? Nebraska (35th in S&P+) has been humbled the last two weeks. They don’t look like anything beyond an above average FBS team, sort of like us. Northwestern (48th) has come on pretty strong but their best game is still a “quality loss” and have shown plenty capable of playing to the level of even the worst opponents (Illinois State anyone?). And lastly, Wisconsin (10th), who has played a bear of a schedule, continues to beat teams by less than impressive margins through a dominating defense and mediocre offense. Does that sound like a familiar formula?
Everything is still in front of this team. The division is within grasp. This team controls it’s own destiny in the month of November. There are two (yes, you read that right) big time trophy games left to be played. They could still finish with 10 overall wins and seven conference wins. Will they? Well, statistically speaking, it’s highly unlikely. But if every game went by the stats, why would they be played? You could almost say the whole season has been merely a slow drum roll to this stretch of games. Would we like for Floyd to be safe and sound in Minneapolis as oppose to the stark wasteland of Iowa City? Of course. Would we like to have a victory at Happy Valley under our belt? Obviously.
But the way I see it, the season has just begun. Two tough away games and one toss-up home game to see what this team really is. Personally, I like our chances with this defense, a senior quarterback with something to prove, and two running backs who have been torching the Big Ten. I think the Gophers will take their chances as well too.
The Gophers travel to Lincoln to try to make it five (!!!!) consecutive Big Ten victories against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. A battered piece of furniture is on the line as well as keeping Minnesota’s hopes of a division title alive...