Both Minnesota and Middle Tennessee State started slow on Saturday afternoon before the Gophers blew the game open with opportune turnovers by the defense and a few big plays by the offense to propel them to a 34-3 win and a 3-0 record.
It was a slow start with the Gopher offense struggling to move the ball for better part of 20 minutes. Before Rodney Smith got the offense going a little bit.
After the Blue Raiders tied the game up 3-3 with a 45-yard FG, Rodney Smith took the kickoff for a 40-yard return giving the Gophers excellent field position. On first down he burst through the line for a 29-yard run. Those 69 yards by Smith put Minnesota in position for a FG two plays later. Emmit Carpenter was good from 47 yards and it was a 6-3 lead.
The Gopher defense forced a 3-and-out giving the offense the ball back quickly. Smith rushed for 20 yards on the firs two plays of this drive before others got involved. Conor Rhoda made his best pass of the day when he was given plenty of time, patiently waited for Demetrius Douglas to get open and connected for a 27 yard pass. The next play was a Kobe McCrary 14-yard run, aided by a great Phillip Howard block, for the game’s first touchdown. 10 points in the span of just over 3 minutes, but now it was the defense’s turn.
Middle Tennessee state was putting together a solid drive, moving the ball 30 yards on 8 plays before the game’s first turnover occurred. John Urzuna was pressured by the Gopher pass rush, stepped up and threw a pass. But it was Jacob Huff who stepped in front of the pass and took it 67-yards to the end zone.
From that point on the game was never in doubt. A 20-3 half-time lead was extended to a 27-3 lead on McCrary’s second touchdown of the game. And then in the 4th quarter it was further extended to 34-3 on McCrary’s 3rd touchdown of the game.
Rodney Smith was the team’s first 100 yard rusher of the season when he went over 100 yards early in the second quarter. But a hard hit just before half-time relegated him to the bench for the remainder of the game. With Shannon Brooks not playing because of a bum shoulder, it was McCrary who took over as the feature back for the second half. He finished the game with 103 yards on 23 carries and the three TDs mentioned above.
Glen Mason said that you’ve got to have a pair and a spare. Coach Fleck said in his press conference, “That wasn’t just a spare tire. That was a monster truck tire out there.”
But the real story of the game, once again, was the Gopher defense. A complete effort again with contributions coming from several guys.
- Carter Coughlin had a very good game getting pressure on the Blue Raider quarterback.
- Antoine Winfield Jr. was making plays all over the place while holding James Richie to just 2 catches for 25 yards.
- Thomas Barber made an incredible interception early in the 3rd quarter. Oh, and he also led the team in tackles.
- Zo Craighton played corner opposite Shenault for most of the game and played very well, including 2 pass breakups.
- Blake Cashman with 2 tackles for loss.
- And more guys doing the things necessary to allow their teammates to make the plays presented. I’m looking at you Steven Richardson, Jonathan Celestin and Duke McGhee.
This Gopher defense does two things very well. They are playing together where everyone handles their responsibility, doing their job so the guy with the opportunity to make a play can do so. Secondly they are flying to the ball. Some units just have a nose for creating turnovers and pouncing when the ball is there for the taking. This unit is pouncing.
Our defense created a lot of energy, they were flying around out there.
And they have yet to allow a single point in the second half of any game this year. Again...they have not yet allowed a second half point in the first three games of the year. Today, MTSU managed just 98 total yards in the second half and a total of 46 yards rushing for the game.
After the Huff pick-6, this game was never in doubt and really just an exercise in execution. Connor Rhoda, the unquestioned starter, was 11/18 for 122 yards. It was nice his most crisp game but he did his job. And that job was to run the offense by primarily handing off the ball and letting the offensive line open things up for the running backs.
Up next for the Gophers is the bye week and it couldn’t come at a better time. Shannon Brooks didn’t play due to his shoulder, Jared Weyler didn’t play, Rodney Smith got his bell run, Zo Craighton was injured in the 4th quarter, Brandon Lingen hurt his ankle and Melvin Holland Jr hurt his ankle early as well. Am I missing anyone? The bye week is coming at a good time to get some bodies healthy.
A great start to the season and the PJ Fleck era. Time to take a week off and get ready for Maryland on September 30th.
Row the Boat!