Greetings Gopher Faithful! Week Four is in the books! Though the final margin of victory didn’t cover the Vegas spread and wasn’t quite as convincing as we would have hoped, Minnesota did secure its third win in three tries thus far this season. Without further ado, let’s get to it...
Today's W by the numbers. pic.twitter.com/Jm4UCMe47j— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) September 25, 2016
#1 Rodney Smith (RS. Sophomore - RB)
Smith had a workman like performance, with a few excellent jukes and spins mixed in. He ran efficiently and deftly, with shades of David Cobb always present. It wasn’t an eye-popping day statistically but Smith consistently did what was necessary to move the chains and keep the Gophers ahead of 3rd and longs. A special shout out to the return of Shannon Brooks who showed, even after missing the first two games that he is still ready to truck people on any given play.
#96 Steve Richardson (Junior - DT)
Though he continues to get called for facemask penalties (granted, the one in this game was a blatant missed called), he was also a tour de force in the Rams back field early and often. His presence on the defensive line definitely helped even as the Gophers were getting gashed on the ground. We need to tell Steve he is playing Colorado State every week....
#92 Tai’yon Devers (Freshman - DE)
I’m not going to post the sack/hit/planet-eating, mind-altering disembowelment of the Colorado State quarterback. You’ve seen it enough. Instead, I’m going to let the fact sink in that this true freshman, in limited action (partially due to the fact that at this time, he’s probably more of a specialist than anything), has three tackles in three games. These three tackles have been three sacks that have resulted in three fumbles and three Minnesota recoveries. He’s making the most of his opportunities and it’s nice to see that on 3rd and long, there should be a pass rush coming for opposing quarterbacks for the foreseeable future.
Thanks to a first play sack from Richardson, it appeared the Gopher defense was off and running. The screen pass that almost converted a 3rd and 24 for the Rams was a foreshadowing of things to come though... After a Gopher punt, Damarius Travis was able to halt a dangerous looking Rams drive and the offense responded with a touchdown on a drive that had good balance and promising plays from people up and down the offense. Unfortunately, the Rams answered with a similar drive of their own. The quarter ended with the Gophers attempting to respond as the score stood 7-7.
The aforementioned drive ended in another rushing touchdown for the Gophers, this time by Rodney Smith. The teams exchanged punts and the Tai’yon Devers rocked the world with his bone-crushing sack/forced fumble.
"He's only a freshman. He's definitely a talented kid." -Coach Claeys, on Tai'yon Devers.— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) September 24, 2016
This gave Minnesota a short field, which it failed to completely capitalize on and they had to settle for a field goal after having the ball 1st and goal from the CSU two yard line. Can’t leave points off the board like that. After the defense forced another three-and-out, Claeys got aggressive and pushed the offense to attempt to score with only 1:04 left on the clock. Unfortunately, Mitch committed his first turnover of the season as Braylin Scott made a good play on the ball, jumped the route, and put CSU in position to get points before the half. Unfortunately for them, their field goal attempt was horrendous and no lasting damage was done. 17-7 at the half.
A quick “five-and-out” for the Gophers and an ensuing Rams touchdown had most Gopher faithful feeling a little uneasy. thankfully, Shannon Brooks has returned to our lives and he had two very powerful runs during the next drive to answer with a Minnesota touchdown.
How about that. Brooks TD pic.twitter.com/KsucW280Lg— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) September 24, 2016
The Rams grinded out a 16 play drive that the defense was able to limited to just a field goal. After just two plays on the ensuing Minnesota drive, the quarter was over and Minnesota held a seven point advantage, 24-17.
During this drive, it was nice to see this statistic pop up from the Minnesota football Twitter feed.
For the second straight game the Gophers have gone over 200 yards rushing.— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) September 24, 2016
When the Gophers capped off the drive with another Rodney Smith touchdown, there were good feelings all around as if they would pull away in the fourth quarter... Alas, this was not the case. CSU answered with a touchdown drive of their own and the Gophers went three-and-out setting up a Rams effort to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. An offensive holding penalty ended up being the key to stalling the Rams’ drive. When the Gophers were able to capitalize on another Rams penalty to convert a fourth-and-one situation, they iced the game on the legs of Shannon Brooks.
The defense had 14 TFL. This makes it seem to be they were boom or bust as they also allowed huge chunks of yards at times to rather simplistic running plays and the feared “screen pass” that seems to be a foreign concept to this squad. I don’t quite know what to make of it, beyond the fact that our S&P+ defensive rating has stayed relatively steady through the first three games of the season around the mid-50s in rank. Not spectacularly bad or good. Thoroughly mediocre.
After watching how the three running backs performed (albeit it in small sample sizes) I would rank them as 1. Shannon Brooks 2. Rodney Smith 3. Kobe McCrary while simultaneously not trying to take anything away from Smith and McCrary. But Brooks just runs different. He trucked a guy over as he was breaking to the second level of a run and just kept on moving. His ability to break tackles is really surprising considering he’s the smallest of the three backs. But he just man-handles defenders sometimes. Brooks could be something really special if he stays healthy.
I was disappointed to see Mitch turn the ball over but it’s always good to know that your quarterback has only had one turnover and taken one sack in three games, regardless the level of competition. Those are encouraging statistics for both our pass protection and Mitch’s decision-making. As a fifth year senior, we do expect his decision-making to be at this level, so it’s nice to know that he is meeting those mental expectations. He may not light the world on fire, but if he limits mistakes, that will help the team immensely.
I know that the margin of victory in the non-conference schedule hasn’t been what a lot of people would have liked to see and that some folks might point out that we beat Oregon State and Colorado State each by just a touchdown but I think it’s important to note that in the Colorado State game, the Gophers had full control from kickoff to final whistle. Yes, the Rams threatened to maybe tie the game (they came up 50 yards short so they weren’t really threatening), but the Gophers never trailed, never really panicked, and seemed thoroughly in control throughout the proceedings. We should also take into account that Oregon State and Colorado State are ranked 84th and 90th, respectively, in S&P+ after four weeks of play. I’m not going to sit here and claim that these teams are “good,” but there are 128 FBS teams now so they aren’t quite the dregs that other programs have played close during the beginning of the season. Notable examples include Arkansas (currently ranked 38th in S&P+ and ranked in the polls) sneaking past 75th ranked (in S&P+) Louisiana Tech by one (!) point, hated rival Wisconsin (16th) squeaking by 119th (!!!!) Georgia State by six points, or our other hated rival’s efforts against the likes of North Dakota State (ranking not available, FCS) and Rutgers (95th). The Gophers’ margin of victory isn’t a unique event that some how disqualifies us from competing against the other teams in the Big Ten, and more specifically, the Big Ten West. No one team in that division is perfect or elite.
We are 3-0 heading into Happy Valley. We all predicted and expected this so, in a way, it kind of feels like the season hasn’t really started. What we expected to happen has happened. Things will undoubtedly get more interesting this weekend as the Gophers start their two game stretch that many have pegged as indicators of how the season could turn. Win one and we’re in decent shape to have 8 + wins. Lose both and it could be a season of mediocrity. Win both and the dreams of Gopher Nation will have no limits. I for one, am excited at the prospects of this team. The schedule is incredibly fortuitous to build momentum for the toughest games of the season towards the end going to Lincoln and Madison. Hopefully we can make those games as meaningful of Gopher games as have existed in the last 50 years (outside of the Axe matchup in 2014 of course).
The Minnesota Golden Gophers will head on the road for the first time this season to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions on October 1st at 2:30 PM. Hurrah for the beginning of conference play!