Editor's Note: Sometimes life happens and Monday's perspective comes to you on Tuesday. Such is life.
is was a sunny Monday and the Golden Gophers are sitting at 3-0 through the first quarter of the 2016 season. To date the season is playing out exactly as it was supposed to. There were questions heading into the season, there are still some unanswered questions, but overall the team has done what it needs to do thus far.
The team has taken care of business.
Week 1 wasn't pretty, there were some execution issues and bad mistakes that kept Oregon State in the game; but it was a win over a P5 program. We faced one of the worst teams in the Pac12 at home and won. Was it in dominating fashion? No, but it didn't have to be. Week 2 was a dominating win over an FCS program. And week 3 was a one touchdown win over Colorado State. Wasn't pretty, but it was a win. To be honest, you have to win a game or two even when your play appears listless and uninspired. That was this past week in my opinion.
What have we learned after 3 weeks?
The offensive skill players are just fine. The running backs are good, Mitch Leidner is good and the receivers have been pleasantly surprising. Shannon Brooks looked very good in his first game back, Rodney Smith has been very good and Coby McCrary reminded me of David Cobb during the Indiana State game; proving he's an excellent option as the team's third back.
Primarly, Mitch Leidner has been rather good so far. He is leading the offense to scoring significantly more points than it did a year ago and they are sustaining drives by converting third downs. Also worth noting that the offense has been very good at scoring touchdowns once inside the Case IH Red Zone.
The defensive line has been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Currently sitting at 4th in the Big Ten in sacks. Steven Richardson is the beast we expected and Tai'yon Devers has come out of nowhere to destroy QBs while having actually played in fewer than 8 quarters.
Run defense and particularly the linebackers are solid. Jack Lynn has been great, Damarius Travis has been great and overall the rush defense has been very good, particularly in second halves of games.
Concerns? Yeah, I have a few.
Penalties have been a big problem. 27 penalties in 3 games is bad with only Ohio State being worse (29), and they are talented enough that maybe they can get away with it. Both sides of the ball need to get better and cleaner here. Big Ten teams are talented enough to make you pay for drive killing false start penalties and 8 of our 27 penalties have resulted in an opponent's 1st down.
Opponent 3rd Down has been pretty bad too, allowing them to convert 45% which ranks 2nd to last in the B1G, ahead of only Purdue. Much has been said of our defense and their trouble defending the screen, I'm lumping that into the overall difficulties to get off the field on 3rd down this year. (on the flip side, we are forcing teams into a lot of 3rd downs, which means we are doing something right on 1st and 2nd, but getting of the field is important)
Offensive line...sort of. The rushing attack has been pretty good, but many are concerned about the offensive line's lack of a real push. There really aren't a lot of big holes created for our backs and much of their yardage has come while having to make someone miss early and then gaining chunks of yards. The QB has mostly remained upright this year, having allowed only 2 sacks in 3 games...so that's good. Really the OL has been better than a year ago, but I wouldn't say that significant strides have been made. And it will need to be better starting this week.
Secondary and big plays has been a problem too. Part of this is due to your #2 and #3 corners being out for the past two games and your starting safety struggling in pass coverage. But too many big plays allowed by the secondary to teams that really are not all that good. Fortunately they don't play a team with a dangerous quarterback till...well maybe McSorely is solid for the Nittany Lions. But the secondary needs to get better.
The 1st quarter is behind us and now we head into the biggest 3-game stretch of the season. I know that the following three games are important as well, but I have confidence that the team should be OK in those games. Then the final three games might be huge as well and a factor in determining the Big Ten West champ, but those three games won't matter if we don't perform well in the next three weeks.
A trip to Penn State, then hosting Iowa before going to Maryland are all winnable games. Also they are equally loseable. 2-1 is a must in this stretch. Less than that and the season's expectations takes a different turn. 3-0 and things start getting pretty exciting with the following three games expected to be wins. But 2-1 keeps things right on schedule for the season.
I'm on trying to look too far ahead, I wouldn't dare do that, but the next quarter of the season is the most critical in my opinion.
Season Expectations and Your Gopher Brethren
Here is the meat of today's post. It is a little funny to me how snarky and biting some of the comment sections have become lately around here. First of all, we are undefeated you know. Right? And then what has come with that is a tendency to paint others into a corner. There is a ton of middle ground and very few people are on the fringes between "this season is going to be a total disaster and you are an idiot if you can't see it," and "lately I've been pooping roses with my rainbows and have booked my flight to Pasadena." (assuming, of course, we don't get into the BCS Semi-Final)
The season ebs and flows and ideally we will see this team continue to improve throughout the season. This is not a finished product...and to be fair...we have a long way to go if we want to be considered a Big Ten West challenger. AND one doesn't have to win the West for this to be considered a good season. Again...there is middle ground between a special season and a dumpster fire.
But most importantly, the discourse here really should be one where we respect opinions and try to remain above some of the message board idiocy we see other places. I've been guilty of too much snark, directed specifically at people and I'll do better. I'll save the crabbiness for basketball season :).
We are undefeated, we can have conversations about what needs to improve and we can look ahead with anticipation because this team has been doing what it needs to do thus far. We will lose, we will be frustrated but the season has not been written in stone and a lot can happen yet. But lets keep things civil here. I greatly appreciate the community here and desire it to be great.