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Minnesota Football: Maryland Beats Gophers on the Road 24-31

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Lack of execution in all three phases leads to first loss of Gopher season

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

The first Big Ten game of the year for Maryland and Minnesota ends with the Terrapins earning the win 24-31 on the road. A week after losing their second quarterback to a season ending injury and getting beat handily by Central Florida, they bounced back to give the Gophers their first loss of the season. The Terps scored first and from that point it was a game of Minnesota answering followed by Maryland taking the lead. Not exactly back and forth, as Minnesota was basically playing from behind.

I’m a pretty mediocre golfer. I often will have a holes with one really good shot, followed by a couple bad ones. Those holes usually have bad scores associated. The rare holes where you can string together two or three good shots in a row, not surprisingly those scores are better. The Gophers were much more like the former today. One nice drive for a game tying touchdown, a defensive stop and then getting that follow-up score was elusive today.

For the Maryland Terrapins it was an afternoon of excellent rushing, efficiency through the air, excellent coaching and execution to go on the road and start the season 1-0 in the Big Ten. With their 3rd string quarterback they were able to put together a nice game-plan that kept the Gopher defense off balance as they ran the ball for 274 yards (ended with 260 after three kneel downs) and put up 31 points on a Gopher defense that had been pretty good in both of those areas in the young season. Their playmakers make plays. Ty Johnson averaged 7.2 yards per carry with 130 total. DJ Moore had a touchdown, 8 catches, 90 yards and seemingly converted every critical 3rd down for the Terps.

“They have four phenomenal athletes. You saw all four of them at some point make incredible plays in very crucial times.”

On Johnson...

“He is so explosive, he is so strong, he has great vision and he is a tough back. He has incredible balance, he has the ability to go from zero to sixty too. When you put it all together, there is a reason why they beat Texas. You can see all the athletes they have out there.”

For Minnesota, they were handily beat in all three phases today. PJ Fleck echoed this in in press conference.

“Offensively we turned the ball over too much, especially in the red zone. Special Teams we miss a FG and kick the ball out of bounds twice. Defensively we didn’t tackle very well in space.”

It was a day of missed opportunities, poor tackling, banal play-calling, lack of effort and execution everywhere. Conor Rhoda with 2 interceptions (one in the red zone and one late), run defense allowing 6.2 yards per carry (again, factoring out the victory formation losses), 1 missed FG, 2 kickoffs out of bounds, a dropped interception by Jacob Huff, 9/16 on defensive third downs and multiple little miscues that snowballed into what, from a Gopher perspective, can only be described as a bad loss.

“When you look at how and why we win football games, that was flipped on us today.”

Through the first 12 minutes of the game the stats looked like this...Maryland outgained the Gophers 103 yards to just 3 and it was 22 plays for the Terps compared to just 3 for the home team. A fake FG on their first drive was thwarted, giving the Gophers the ball on their own 1. That was a three-and-out, giving Maryland the ball back with good field position. They went 48 yards in 8 plays when Max Bortenschlager went 7 yards on a quarterback keeper to go up 7-0.

As stated, it was a game of the Gophers coming from behind to tie it and Maryland taking the lead. They responded with a 7-play drive highlighted by a 23-yard pass to Brandon Lingen, a 24-yard pass to Nate Wozniak and eventually capped off by Rodney Smith from 1 yard out for a tying touchdown.

With the game tied, the Gophers forced a quick three-and-out and were moving into the red zone when Conor Rhoda threw high to Tyler Johnson on a slant that went off his hands and into the arms of Josh Woods. On the cusp of taking an early lead, instead gave the ball back to Maryland who marched 92 yards on 11 plays to go back up 14-7.

The Gophers turn to score stalled Emmit Carpenter hit a 41-yard FG cutting the lead to 14-10. The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving Maryland the ball at the 35. They drove a to the Gopher side of the field and kick a 51-yard FG to go back up 7 at the half.

On their second possession of the second half, the Gophers tied it back up on a Brandon Lingen touchdown. Lingen made a great move to get open, Rhoda threw a great pass on a rope and the game was tied 17-17.

After a couple of punts for both teams, Maryland put together another 11-play drive to re-take that touchdown cushion. It was a couple more punts when Minnesota got the ball back, on the 20 with 7:03 to play. This was the first time that Rhoda was going to have to take his offense and drive while trailing. And he came through. The senior was 3/3 for 68 yards on the 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 35-yard strike to Eric Carter down to the 1. Shannon Brooks did the rest and it was tied 24-24 with 3:09 to go.

This is the amazing part. Minnesota played inconsistent with poor execution and it was tied 24-24 with 3 minutes to play. But poor play in all three phases sealed the Gopher fate from thist point on. Defensively, on the 8th play of the drive Bortenschlager handed off to Ty Johnson who went untouched up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown. Kick return let a short kick bounce, it rolled past Shannon Brooks and the Gopher offense was forced to start their drive from their own 4 yard line with just over a minute to play. And the final nail in the coffin was a Rhoda interception with 41 seconds.

Maryland went into victory formation and hit the locker room with a Big Ten road win under their belts.

Coach Fleck has talked for weeks about this year zero being about the process, not the results. This game revealed more issues that need to be fixed or accounted for.

“If we would have won the game 27-24, the issues are still the issues.”

Depth has been a huge concern and was significant today, especially when Antoine Winfield Jr. left the game early with a hamstring issue. The defensive gameplan changed from that point. No longer could they put Winfield on DJ Moore, now there are true freshmen getting their redshirts pulled and put into live situations. And the defense going into more base calls to protect the inexperience.

But the team has to move on, correct the issues and make it work with what they have. Up next is Purdue and a good passing attack. A tough road test for a Gopher team coming off a loss where they lost in all three phases.