The Minnesota Gophers won their first game of 2017 without any tension or stress on the fanbase. Nothing frustrating happened and the team is clearly poised to go undefeated.
Ok, maybe not. The Gophers beat Buffalo17-7 in a game that was sometimes exciting but mostly frustrating. I don’t feel like belaboring what happened in paragraph form, so let’s get right to the rapid recap bullet points.
- The offensive line play was worse than we feared. The offensive line (particularly the interior line) was woeful for much of the evening. There lack of push in the run game was often noticeable. The pass protection was also inconsistent, with Buffalo able to bring pressure without blitzing multiple times.
- The secondary started badly, but got better. The early play of the secondary was...not elite. While their play improved, this is still an area of significant concern for the Gophers right now. You can’t point entirely at the secondary, as the defensive line delivered no pressure in the first half. But if any of the starters misses significant time for any reason you can easily see where the DB depth could remain an issue.
- The defensive line was nowhere to be found to start, but brought better pressure as the game went on. For example, Jacob Huff’s INT came on the first play where the Gophers made Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson fear for his safety. Minnesota needs to see more consistent play from them than this as the season continues though.
- Neither Minnesota quarterback played great, but if I had to name a starter it would be Conor Rhoda. I still think Demry Croft offers the higher ceiling, but Rhoda was generally more consistent and the better passer overall. That said, the rush offense stagnates with Rhoda because he’s not much of a running threat on the RPO (run pass option) plays and he showed some disconcertingly familiar tendencies when he struggled.
- The running game was not the strength we hoped for. Honestly, see the offensive line bullet point for the reasoning. I’m not worried about Shannon Brooks or Rodney Smith, who continue to make something out of nothing more times than they should need to.
- Keep shaking it off Emmit Carpenter. The reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year missed two field goals (badly) to start the game, but knocked home a key 43 yarder late in the 4th quarter to seal the victory. I have no idea what might be going on or if we should be worried. I’m going to chalk it up to “things happen” and move on for now.
- The wide receivers were way better than we hoped for. Welcome to new fan favorite Tyler Johnson! 6 receptions for 141 yards and a really nice TD? Yea, that’ll work! Demetrius Douglas also made his presence felt. And for those who were worried the tight ends would be ignored, the game opened with a pass to Brandon Lingen and he was the intended target on that terrible INT that Rhoda threw in the end zone.
Last year's longest @GopherFootball TD pass: 22 yards.— Minnesota on BTN (@MinnesotaOnBTN) August 31, 2017
This year's: Let's just say it's much longer. https://t.co/lCNhQ8ERYE
- Don’t overreact to the first game. I repeat, DO NOT OVERREACT TO THE FIRST GAME. There is a lot to be unhappy about and it wasn’t an especially fun game to watch overall so please don’t misunderstand me. You can’t ignore the trouble the Gophers had with multiple facets of their game and if they don’t improve this probably isn’t a bowl team. But there are also some nice opportunities to improve and if the Gophers seize those opportunities then things could look better come later in the year. The only thing we know for sure is that assumptions about things automatically being ok because we won 9 games last year were likely misplaced.
- It could always be worse! Ultimately, make sure you enjoy that we won and enjoy that you get to watch a whole day of college football on Saturday!
Row. The. Boat.— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 1, 2017
P.J. Fleck becomes the 1st Minnesota coach since 1986 to win his debut. pic.twitter.com/PT5jVbT18U
We’ll have plenty more coverage of Coach Fleck’s first win coming for you, so stay tuned to TDG!