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Minnesota Football: Gophers Win Season Opener 17-7 over Buffalo Bulls

The Row the Boat era starts with a win!

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Gophers opened the PJ Fleck era and worked out some issues en route to a 17-7 win over the Buffalo Bulls. The story of this game is that we won. The Gophers opened the season with a win. Coach Fleck led his press conference with this.

“Never not appreciate a win, better appreciate a win when you get it.”

Now, the win was not exactly pretty and many expected that this was going to be a comfortable win. It was not. We know that year one of a new coaching staff is one of change and there are kinks to work out. Tonight the Gophers worked out kinks and were able to play at game-speed against an opponent.

The first quarter saw the Gophers strike first on their second drive of the game. Conor Rhoda was under center for his second consecutive series and on the second play he hit sophomore, Tyler Johnson on a deep cross and Johnson did the rest streaking 61 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Buffalo’s tied the game up two series later. Tyree Jackson connected with Anthon Johnson for 50 yards on second down. Then hit Johnson from the 16 for a touchdown on the next play.

The next drive was Demry Croft’s first series of the game. He led a 10-play drive, 64 yards that was capped by Shannon Brooks from the 1. Croft was 2/2 on the drive for 29 yards but it was Rodney Smith and Brooks combining for the rest on that drive.

Up 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and both teams spend the next 2 12 quarters trading punts and turnovers. Croft’s next series moved the team down to the 32 but ended in a missed FG. Rhoda took the following series, driving the team to the 5 before throwing a pick in the end zone. Those drives were followed by 4 punts and another missed FG.

Finally, with 7:22 left and the score still at 14-7, Croft got another shot under center. This time the Gophers drove to the Buffalo 25 and Emmit Carpenter hit the game-icing field goal with 2:09 remaining.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. It was the first week of the season and it was a win. More questions than answers, but it was a win.

Looking back I think there were 2 areas of concern and 1 area to be very excited.

The offensive line is probably everyone’s primary concern after tonight. It is no secret that Buffalo was one of the worst run defenses in the country last year and the Gophers spent the better part of all four quarters unable to get any push up front or open up holes for Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. If there is any game on the schedule where the OL should be able to get some push, this is probably the one.

My other big concern was pressure on the opposing quarterback. The Gopher defensive ends are on the lighter side and are primarily on the field to get pressure on the QB, but that was a struggle tonight. It certainly got better in the second half, and when pressure came the secondary looked much better.

So what went well?

I think the Gopher receivers exceeded expectations. Tyler Johnson has 100 yards before halftime and made the play of the game with this 61-yard touchdown. It has been a long time since I recall Gopher receivers getting separation like Johnson, Demetrius Douglas and Eric Carter got tonight. This unit is going to be alright.

It was the defense that kept the Gophers in position to win. It was back-to-back big plays in the 1st quarter allowing Buffalo to score, but beyond that this unit was solid. Antoine Winfield Jr was outstanding and Jon Celestin was a beast with 6 tackles and 1.5 TFLs.

It was game one and while it wasn’t a blowout win it was a win and an opportunity to put some things on film. Up next is a road (row’d) trip to Oregon State against the 0-1 Beavers.