The University of Minnesota Football did what they needed to do today. They finally played above an FCS opponent and easily dispatched Indiana State by a score of 58-28. The Gophers were the better team on offense, on defense, and especially on special teams, but still have some issues to work out during their bye week next week.
Jalen Myrick started things off on the right foot with a 25 yard kick off return before the Minnesota offensive line tried to set things back. Mitch Leidner battled through three false starts by his offensive line, and two dropped passes that hit his receivers directly in the numbers to convert on three third and longs. On those three and longs Mitch completed three beautiful passes, two to Drew Wolitarsky and the third to Brandon Lingen. Finally, Mitch threw a beautiful lofted pass over the defenders outstretched arms into Drew Wolitarsky’s arms for the first Minnesota touchdown on an opening drive in a non-conference game since September 24, 2011 against North Dakota State. Mitch would throw for 72 yards in the first drive, and it was just the start of a big game for the Gopher offense.
The high point for Indiana State came on their second drive of the game, and it would take a fluke play to get into scoring position. A Issac Harker pass was tipped by the intended ISU receiver, then Jalen Myrick before landing in the hands of Clayton Smith who ran for 58 yards before getting tracked down from behind by Antonio Shenault. The Sycamores would grind through the red zone before Harker burnt the sophomore Shenault making his first start with a pass to Robert Tonyan, Jr for a seven yard TD to square the score at 7.
The first of many special teams failures by the Sycamores occurred on the next kickoff. ISU tried to catch the Gophers napping with the ensuing kick off, but their onside kick attempt went only three yards, seven short of the required ten. In fact, Indiana Coach Mike Sanford said that where was, “a miscommunication—I;d rather not go into all the details but that was not intended to be an onside kick.”
Minnesota wasted no time taking advantage of the error and outstanding field position when Leinder hit Wozinak for a 27 yard gain on the first play of the drive. Three plays later Rodney Smith got into the endzone for the third time this season on a one yard run to put the Gophers up 14-7 with just seconds left in the first quarter.
The Gophers continued to take advantage of Indiana State special teams mistakes. After a 17 yard shanked punt, Minnesota took over on their own 43 and marched down the field. Koby McCrary rushed for 27 yards and caught a pass for an additional eight, and Mitch hit Wolitarsky for two catches, a 21 yarder to get them inside the ten, and a six yard td pass.
Wolitarsky would continue to have his best game in a Gopher uniform including a great layout diving catch on the next drive. When he was asked how certain that he had caught the pass in the post-game press conference, Wolitarsky said, “ Oh, certain. I was disappointed when they (the refs) said incomplete. I’m glad they reviewed it.” Leidner would continue to find different receivers as he hit Tyler Johnson on a 13 yard pass for his first touchdown as Gopher with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter to put the Gophers up 28-7.
Minnesota kept the pressure on the Sycamores both offensively and defensively as Julian Huff forced a fumble from ISU running back Dimitri Taylor and Damarius Travis fell on the ball at the Gopher 47 yard line. Seven plays, 53 yards, and 3:01 later McCrary had his first TD as a Gopher on a six yard push up the middle—with an added flip over a defender to boot. Minnesota would get one more defensive stop and Emmit Carpenter would nail a 42 yard fg as the half ended to put Minnesota up 38-7 at halftime, and let fans breathe easy in the second half at TCF for the first time since against Iowa in 2014.
The second half was more of the same. After a few great plays on defense by Jonathan Celestin who missed the first half due to his targeting penalty the week before, ISU was forced to punt. Once again Thomas Bouldin shanked it setting the Gophers up with great field position once again. Minnesota would add three points on a 44 yard Carpenter FG. However on that drive Gopher TE Brandon Lingen landed hard on his shoulder after trying to go up to catch a Leidner pass and walked off the field gingerly.
In his postgame press conference, Gopher coach Tracy Claeys said that he was a little concerned about Lingen’s health going forward. He said that his injury was not related to his shoulder injury that required surgery and kept him out of last weeks opener, but he did say that he would have to let the doctors get a good look at him before he would know more going forward.
Indiana State went deep into their bag of tricks to get their next score on the board. it took a double reverse pass as as QB Harker was wide open and caught a pass from wideout Bob Pugh.
The teams continues to trade touchdowns as the third and fourth quarters rolled on. Leidner his Brian Smith on a 22 yard play action pass for his first career TD with 5:21 left in the third quarter to make it a 48-21 game. ISU came right back down and scored again in less than four minutes. As the quarter came to a close, Claeys was visibly upset with his defense as they came off the field. Postgame, Claeys confirmed it saying that he did not think his defense was putting enough effort in. “You only play 12 or 13 games, so I don’t understand how you can’t go hard for all of them.”
The fourth quarter was marked by lots of second team players for the Gophers getting lots of reps. McCrary took advantage of this running behind the second team offensive line for a 50-yard touchdown. The fourth quarter saw the debuts of Carter Coughlin, Antonie Winfield, Jr, and Winston DeLattiboudere in Gopher uniforms, and saw the first collegiate completion for Conor Rhoda and catch for Hunter Register. ISU would tack on one last touchdown to make it a 58-28 score, but that would be it as Minnesota ran out the clock giving carries to redshirt sophomore transfer Carson Djam.
The Gophers starters played through the third quarter and into the fourth when it appeared the game was out of reach. While Claeys said in his press conference that he thought that early in the season just for conditioning sake he thought his starters needed to be out there for three quarters, Leidner may have let another reason slide. Postgame, Leidner stated that Indian a State players were taunting the Gophers as they entered TCF Bank Stadium during the Victory Walk this morning. he also said as they were out for early warmups, several Sycamore players were out dancing on the M at midfield and were taunting the Gophers about not being able to defend thier home field. Additionally, Leidner said that someone—though he was very careful not to say who told the team that Indian State coach Mike Sanford told the Sycamore radio broadcast in an interview that Minnesota was just the equivalent of a decent I-AA team--nothing special. Leidner said this definitely motivated the team and made them want to get off to a good start and prove the Sycamores wrong. Mission accomplished.
The Gophers had many positives in the game today. Mitch Leidner finished 20-30 for 295 yards and tied a career high with four touchdowns. At least four of his 10 incompletions were just straight up dropped by his receivers.
Drew Wolitarsky ended up with a career high 125 yards on eight receptions and two touchdowns. Kobe McCrary ended up with 177 yards on 17 carries and two more touchdowns. The offense definitely appeared to be clicking well. Add on Emmit Carpenter’s three field goals from almost identical distances (42, 44, and 45 yards) and it was a good day for the point scorers on the team.
Defensively Minnesota appears to have more work to do. The Gophers looked good early, but Claeys was not pleased with their performance late in the game. Additionally, Minnesota seemed to have trouble getting a pass rush when they did not blitz. That’s something they will definitely need to work on before the Big Ten season begins.
One other area of concern is the Gophers secondary depth. With both Ray Buford and Kiante Hardin suspended for today’s game for a violation of team rules, Antonio Shenault got the start at corner back. He struggled at times getting beat on two of ISU’s touchdowns. Additionally starting safety Kunle Ayinde had another bad game after struggling against Oregon State last week. I would not be surprised to see a new starting safety after the bye week.
Finally a third area of concern is disapline and penalties. Minnesota had ten penalties for 82 yards. Three of these occured on Carpenter kickoffs that went out of bounds. Claeys was not pleased with that either.
Additionally concerning were the suspensions for the violation to team rules. Besides Hardin and Buford, both Tamarion Johnson and Dior Johnson were also suspended. Thats three members of a secondary that should have played today but did not. While they Gophers didn’t miss them in a game like today, thats depth will show quickly if it was a game against a better passing attack.
All in all, the Gophers did what they needed to do. They came out and handilly defeated a FCS team at home. There was no real drama. Now they just need to focus over their upcoming bye week, get everyone healthy and plow through Colorado State and into the Big Ten season.