Greetings Gopher Faithful! Week one is in the books and we officially have real game action to talk about. I'm taking over the 3,4,5 weekly feature in place of Norsk_Gopher who did a fantastic job last year with summarizing each game with three simple categories represented by three consecutive numbers. Each week, I'll give you the three stars, a quick summary of the four quarters, and five quick thoughts about the game. Ideally, it will be a fitting conclusion as we turn our attention to following week's impending matchup. I hope you all enjoy it!
#1 Rodney Smith (RS. Sophomore - RB)
Smith set career game highs in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. He didn't have any massive plays but he consistency and ability to break tackles when the offensive line wasn't doing him too many favors gave him a Cobb-esque game. He averaged 5 yards per rush, which when combine with 25 carries, will definitely get the job done. A great job when called upon to be the main featured back with Shannon Brooks on the sideline with a foot injury.
#18 Ryan Santoso (RS. Junior - P)
I think the following tweet from Gopher football speaks to the job Santoso did on Thursday evening better than I could.
#92 Tai'yon Devers (Freshman - DE)
Again, I will defer to Gopher football twitter to explain this inclusion in the 3 stars.
Click play on the seasoning opening highlights. ⬇️https://t.co/VwOhtGNzmy— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) September 2, 2016
The Gophers received the ball to start the 2016 season and the first drive looked much like some of the drives we saw last year. The fact that we couldn't convert a 3rd and 1 was very disheartening. Fortunately, the defense forced their own three-and-out on the ensuing possession. Unfortunately, the Gophers proceeded to go three-and-out again, this time hurt by the first of many, many unnecessary penalties that would plague Minnesota for the duration of the contest. The Gophers seemed poised to force another three-and-out when Cody Poock was called for the first of three targeting calls against Minnesota. He was ejected after review and the Beavers took advantage of a scrambling Gopher defense and scored a touchdown on the drive. The Gophers finally picked up a first down on their next drive but stalled again.
During Oregon States ensuing drive, Gopher Nation was introduced to true freshman defensive end Tai'yon Devers. After flying off the edge on a 3rd and 14, Devers hit Oregon State quarterback Darell Garretson and forced a fumble that was recovered by Steven Richardson. This would spark both the Minnesota sideline and the TCF Bank crowd out of their stupor. The Gophers proceeded to run on six straight plays en route to the end zone and the game was tied. As Oregon State began to drive again into Minnesota territory. SURPRISE! It's Devers again with a vicious hit on Garretson to force another(!) fumble, this time recovered by Kamal Martin. Again, the offense answered the call, with the help of a defensive pass interference penalty, of maintaining momentum and Rodney Smith found the endzone for his first touchdown of the season. The teams then exchanged three-and-outs before Oregon State pieced together another touchdown drive and the Gophers smartly utilized the clock to kick a field goal before time expired in the half. Half time score: 17-14 good guys.
The beginning of the third quarter was ugly for several reasons. One, the two teams combined for five possessions, five first downs, one ejection, and two turnovers. Unfortunately, the ejection and both turnovers were from Minnesota. Jonathan Celestin was thrown out for target (that's 2 Gopher LBs if you tracking at home), Tyler Moore snapped the ball over Mitch Leidner's head and out of the end zone for a safety, and Drew Wolitarsky muffed a punt, giving the Beavers prime field position that they quickly turned into a touchdown. In a manner of 12 minutes, the Gophers had gone from in control and feeling pretty good about themselves to trailing by six and the panic button nearly being mashed into the dashboard. As the 3rd quarter came to a close, Leidner scrambled 17 yards on a 3rd and 10 and hit TE Nate Wozniak to put them on the doorstep of the Oregon State endzone.
Rodney Smith capped the drive for the Gophers with a spin move touchdown that contained no blocking from the offensive line and the Gophers retained the lead 24-23. The Gopher defense then went into shut down mode forcing a three-and-out and making a huge stop on 4th and 1 with the Beavers driving into Minnesota territory. Two big pass plays to Wolitarsky keyed the ensuing Gopher drive that resulted in Mitch's record rushing touchdown. Coach Claeys went for two (the right call mathematically speaking) and failed. Twitter blew up with faux rage. The Gophers D then put the nail in the coffin with another 4th down stop. Sadly, nothing is ever easy as a Minnesota fan and strange things continued on the possession that led to Leidner getting an unnecessary shot to the head. Cooler heads prevailed and the Gophers were victorious: 30-23.
Besides the inability to get off the field on 3rd down and the inexplicable three (!!!) targeting penalties/ejections, I thought the defense was pretty good. They allowed 2.6 yards per rush and really tightened up in the second half in the face of adversity. It was nice to see a true freshman contribute so much to a pass rush that seems to have been non-existent for almost a decade now. Unfortunately, he was also one of the players ejected. I hope they have this issue ironed out in practice this week.
Rodney Smith really looked like David Cobb out there. He grinded out a heavy work load (25 carries) with a "workman-like" efficiency. He averaged 5 yards per rush, found the endzone twice, and made his offensive line look a lot better than they actually performed. I'm glad to see him capitalize on the opportunity to get the majority of carries in the wake of the Brooks injury.
Personally, I believe a lot of the mistakes that occurred during this game that allowed the score to be so close are both fixable and unlikely to occur again. Since the Gophers hadn't had a player ejected for target since the creation of the rule a couple years ago, I don't seem them losing three players in the same game again. I think Tyler Moore is an emotional guy and might have been a little too amped up for the first game of the season in a home environment. I don't think he'll continue to have those snapping issues. The silly things that extended a few OSU drives can be eliminated and could potentially have swung this game massively in the Gophers favor.
Mitch Leidner, while not brilliant, had no turnovers, made good reads 90% of the time on the option, and put together quality drives when all the chips are on the table. At the end of the 3rd and into the 4th quarter, when a throw needed to be made, he made it. While it would be nice to see him start out a game with better throws, hopefully he has shaken off the cobwebs and can improve on a mediocre 50% completion rate.
I fully believe going for two was the right call. You are up by seven no matter what and if OSU happens to drive down and score a touchdown, I find it highly unlikely they go for two in regulation. This means that you either have a chance to go up two scores, essentially icing the game, or you are up seven and worst case scenario (assuming Anderson plays it safe) OSU ties the game and sends it to overtime. Factoring in the likelihood the Beavers drive approximately 70 yards in 1:27 also makes going for two the smart choice.
The first game, as it seems to be for a lot of teams (ask Northwestern, Mississippi State, Tennessee, etc), was a bit of a rocky start but coming out with a win is always a plus. Let's hope the Gophers iron out their issues, stay healthy, and are better prepared to take care of FCS squad Indiana State in their upcoming matchup on Saturday at The Bank (11:00 AM, ESPNNews).