The Minnesota Golden Gophers dropped to 3-1 after opening the conference schedule with a 31-24 loss to the Maryland Terrapins at TCF Bank Stadium. At the moment, the negatives seem to far outweigh the positives, and morale is low as P.J. Fleck’s Gophers prepare for a road trip to Purdue, where the Boilermakers seem to be on the upswing. But before we make the trip to West Lafayette, let’s break down Saturday’s loss.
What is your Tweet-length (140 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 31-24 loss to Maryland?
gopherguy05: Outplayed, outexecuted, outcoached, outschemed. Ouch.
IowaGopher: The Gophers came up a touchdown short of Maryland in a game where they didn't play particularly well on either side of the ball.
Ustreet: It’s strange, but teams lose football games when they turn the ball over and can’t tackle.
GoAUpher: As previously discussed, I answer this via haiku:
I went full homer
Never go full homer
Now I haz a sad
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
gopherguy05: I'll say Phillip Howard for stepping up in his first big time role. It’s his job for the next eight weeks now, so hopefully he keeps improving.
IowaGopher: Eric Carter. For a senior who has never been a big-play wide receiver, that 35-yard diving catch at the goal line in the fourth quarter was incredible. I was really impressed with how he and Phillip Howard stepped up in the passing game.
Ustreet: Eric Carter solely for the catch.
GoAUpher: Jonathan Celestin because 15 tackles, with 11 solo.
We’ve now experienced the first loss of the P.J. Fleck era. The perfect season is no more. How are you coping?
gopherguy05: If you are a Gopher fan and haven’t figured how to cope after the first loss (or bad loss) of the season, there really isn’t much help for you now. It's like water off a duck's back to me by this point.
IowaGopher: Football? What football game? It’s baseball season. The postseason starts this week. No idea what you’re talking about... *slips on baseball cap and discretely shoves Gopher football t-shirt under the couch*
Ustreet: We did a podcast. I’m good now.
GoAUpher: I watched TDG alum @jdmill row the boat with elite intensity on Twitter this weekend and am good to go.
Bigger concern moving forward: The inconsistent passing game or the near total lack of a rushing attack? And is there hope for one or both of them?
gopherguy05: Rushing, by far. We know Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks have loads of talent but they are getting zero help in both blocking and scheme.
Is there hope? Yeah. Will that hope show up? Less likely.
IowaGopher: Can Ed Warinner teach the offensive line how to run block in the next couple weeks? If not, I think what we saw from the rushing attack on Saturday is unfortunately going to be the norm throughout conference play, even with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks in the backfield. I have more faith in Conor Rhoda being able to develop some consistency in the passing game than I do in the offensive line being able to elevate their play beyond a pile of warm bodies.
Ustreet: The rushing attack. No, not if they do not have a consistent edge threat.
GoAUpher: Rushing attack for the loss if they don’t figure some stuff out. This will be my #1 concern the rest of the way until they fix it or create options for themselves offensively through QB runs or pass tags in the RPO.
The Gopher defense was certainly not elite on Saturday. Was it a preview of the season ahead or are we dealing with issues that can be corrected or overcome?
gopherguy05: The secondary depth is a major issue. Get safeties Duke McGhee and Antoine Winfield, Jr. back and it’s night and day. But the lack of a pass rush is inexcusable. Robb Smith has to do something. Find a blitz package you feel comfortable with with your limited personnel or something. That was embarrassing to watch.
IowaGopher: For me, it all depends on how long Antoine Winfield, Jr. will be sidelined. He is a leader on defense and the most invaluable member of the secondary, so that loss is a significant blow to an already depleted defensive backfield. If he and Duke McGhee are absent for an extended period of time, there will be problems, especially if the defensive line continues to struggle pressuring the quarterback.
Ustreet: Most issues can be corrected. Most of the problems were tackling-based and trying to implement a scheme on the fly. More practice should fix both.
GoAUpher: We were on a bye on Saturday and I don’t care what your schedule says.
Say something nice about Conor Rhoda.
gopherguy05: He is what he is. He is a fine game manager. But when he is left with 2nd-and-9 and 3rd-and-6 80 percent of the time... Well, there isn’t a ton more he can do. He performs to the best of his abilities when given a reasonable opportunity to do so.
IowaGopher: I thought he showed some positives in the second half after a miserable first half, particularly on the Gophers’ two touchdown drives. He is starting to make some better throws under pressure. I’m not sure how high to set his ceiling, considering he is a senior with eight (or nine?) games left in his college career, but if he can improve his ball placement and decisionmaking, he’ll be a solid quarterback the rest of the way.
Ustreet: Rhoda can put a ball through an incredibly tight window. That makes up for a lot of other deficiencies.
GoAUpher: Dude chose to come back and play for Minnesota when he was out the door because of the last staff. I’m never going to bag too much on a kid who loves playing for Minnesota.
How concerned are you about next week’s road matchup with Purdue?
gopherguy05: If our secondary depth does not drastically improve... Very. With our lack of depth at the moment, this team is not built to win a shootout, which I think next week might be.
IowaGopher: If the secondary is missing Winfield and McGhee, color me very concerned. They seem much improved from a season ago, and they’ll be coming off a bye week. Jeff Brohm’s passing attack makes me very nervous.
Ustreet: I’m not concerned at all.
GoAUpher: Moderately concerned. Ok, significantly concerend. There are feelings of concern that I am feeling right now.