The Minnesota Golden Gophers improved to 2-0 on the season with a decisive 58-28 win over the Indiana State Sycamores. The Gophers were impressive on offense, imposing their will against an overmatched Sycamore defense. The Minnesota defense shut down the Indiana State offense while building a 35-point lead, but struggled at times in the second half. As we head into the bye week, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from Week 2.
The Gophers took care of business. Minnesota racked up 50+ points and almost 600 yards of offense against Indiana State. The Gophers did exactly what a Big Ten team is supposed to do against an FCS team. Don’t take that for granted. Just look at Northwestern, who illustrated what not to do in a demoralizing 9-7 loss to Illinois State.
Drew Wolitarsky and the passing game. Wolitarsky hauled in eight receptions for 125 receiving yards with two touchdowns in a career game against the Sycamores. He was the catalyst for an impressive Gopher passing game that saw quarterback Mitch Leidner go 20-for-30 with 295 passing yards and four touchdowns. Leidner was especially good on third and long, converting 3rd and 16, 3rd and 11, and 3rd and 15 — all on the first drive of the game.
Kobe McCrary. McCrary had all of two carries against Oregon State in the opener after being expected to share the load with Rodney Smith. Even McCrary seemed aware of last week’s letdown, and he more than made up for it against Indiana State with 176 rushing yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter. If McCrary can build off of this performance, the Gophers will have a three-headed monster in the backfield with Smith, McCrary, and Shannon Brooks.
Freshman firsts for Kamal Martin and Tyler Johnson. Freshman linebacker Martin recorded his first sack to force a punt in the second half, and freshman wide receiver Johnson snagged his first score with a 13-yard touchdown catch in the second half. Both are part of a freshmen class that has lived up to the hype thus far. Scott Ekpe also recorded his first career sack — a somewhat auspicious achievement considering Ekpe is a senior, but worth nothing.
Gold helmet, maroon jersey, and gold pants. The Gophers are now 5-0 since 2012 when wearing that uniform combo. Can’t argue with that.
Penalties, penalties, penalties. The Gophers were called for 11 penalties against Indiana State, including three false start penalties on the opening drive. Not good. With 19 penalties in two games, Minnesota have been uncharacteristically sloppy. That needs to be cleaned up ASAP. These kinds of mistakes won’t be so easy to overcome in conference play. But on the plus side? No targeting penalties.
Brandon Lingen appeared... and then disappeared. The Gophers’ top tight end returned to action and recorded one catch for 17 yards, but left the game grimacing after a hard fall. Let’s hope it was nothing serious. Right guard Vincent Calhoun and defensive tackle Andrew Stelter also left the game due to injury, but head coach Tracy Claeys said both could have returned if the game had not been well in hand.
Three kickoffs out of bounds. You can do better, Emmit Carpenter. How do I know that? Because you also had five touchbacks to your name against Indiana State. I realize the wind was a factor, but maybe adjust after the first one? Aside from the errant kickoffs, Carpenter hit three field goals of more than 40 yards. But those three kickoffs out of bounds can’t happen again.
The Indiana State kicker outdid Carpenter, though, with an onside kick attempt that literally went three yards. It’s the thought that counts, I guess?
KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford suspended. Hardin and Buford were among four Gopher players suspended for a violation of team rules, and the secondary struggled without two of their top cornerbacks. Minnesota has been fortunate over the past several years when it comes to off the field problems, so let’s hope that all four players got the message. News that the police are investigating a case involving the four suspended players certainly does not bode well.
The second half defense. The Gopher defense allowed one touchdown in the first half, but even that could be chalked up to a fluke considering the score was set up by a 58-yard reception off a tipped pass. The three passing touchdowns allowed in the second half are much less excusable. In total, the Minnesota D allowed 221 yards in the second half after allowing 135 in the first half. I understand that the Gophers started mixing in their second string defense in the second half, but 28 points to an FCS team is not acceptable, in my opinion. Sophomore Antonio Shenault, starting in place of the suspended Hardin, and usual suspect Kunle Ayinde were frequent targets of Sycamore quarterback Isaac Harker. Defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel said that the first two weeks would be a lot of trial and error with the secondary, so it’ll be interesting to see how this unit looks against Colorado State after the bye week.
Indiana State’s sportsmanship. The Sycamores put on a clinic in how not to act when you’re an FCS team walking into a Big Ten stadium, from taunting Gopher players on their victory walk into TCF Bank Stadium to dancing on the logo at midfield during pre-game warm-ups. Indiana State head coach Mike Sanford was not immune from the Sycamores’ unfortunate antics, providing bulletin board material with a radio interview in which he referred to the Gophers as no better than a good FCS program. Shockingly, Leidner and the Gophers were not amused — nor intimidated. See: The scoreboard.
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