Before we close the book on the Buffalo Bulls and turn our attention to the Oregon State Beavers (#PAC12AfterDark!), the TDG staff is here to answer the important wrap-up questions from Week 1 of the Golden Gopher football season.
What is your Tweet-length (140 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 17-7 victory over Buffalo?
GopherNation: Underwhelming, but it was a win. This is going to be a process.
GoAUpher: I’m going to do this in haiku all season long. You’ve been warned.
The win was ugly
Plenty of room to improve
Bring on the Beavers
gopherguy05: No one will care how ugly this was in December just that it was a win—but woof, we got a lot of work to do in the next few weeks
mowe0018: Build on the victory. Keep up good vibes. It will lead to more good vibes. Should avalanche into more victories with weak starting schedule.
IowaGopher: Minnesota scored more points than Buffalo.
Ustreet: Minnesota won and no one was injured.
dvits14: About what I expected. Sure beats the alternative.
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
GopherNation: Tyler Johnson is it, he’s going to be a beast. Love having a receiver who can get some separation to get open, go grab a ball, and then turn it into a big play for six.
GoAUpher: Tyler Johnson and I will look scornfully upon any other selection.
gopherguy05: TJ has to take the cake just for his coming out party, but Antoine Winfield, Jr. proved how valuable he will be all year long last night too.
mowe0018: Antoine Winfield, Jr for me. Guy was everywhere. Really excited to see him play in the Big Ten this year.
IowaGopher: When you’re able to match your receiving yards total from all of last season in one night, you had a pretty good game. Tyler Johnson is clearly the most talented wide receiver on the roster and the season opener was his coming out party.
Ustreet: Tyler Johnson.
dvits14: Tyler Johnson. He had flashes last season but nothing that would have lead me to believe he had that in him. Was very impressed.
If you had to pick a starting quarterback based on this game alone, who gets the nod next week?
GopherNation: I’m on Team Croft right now. He led more substantive drives (three lengthy drives that resulted in points or missed field goals to two lengthy drives by Rhoda). He also offers a little bit of a running threat; Rhoda was hesitant to take the ball on the read-option. Neither stood out and I’m not closing the book on either one yet. But this is the year where results matter less, and I’d love to see Croft grab the job and grow into it.
GoAUpher: Immediately postgame I said Rhoda, but upon reflection (and upon reading Tweets that covered the latter part of the fourth quarter when I was writing more than I was watching) I’m not so sure. I’ll give it to Rhoda but I desperately want Croft to make it his. I just see the offense being much more versatile and dynamic with him in there if he’s making the throws they need.
gopherguy05: Mitch Leidner. Wait... He’s not an option? I think you play them both equally again. I wasn’t impressed with either one. (Cue me getting yelled at in the comments)
mowe0018: I wasn’t particularly inspired by either option. Both mistimed some throws and both had a couple of very nice throws. Neither quarterback completed a pass that traveled all that far, as Johnson’s TD was mostly YAC. In college football, having a moderately mobile quarterback can often cover up a lot of other short comings in personnel. So I give Croft the slight edge currently but I feel like he floats the ball too much on longer sideline routes. We shall see.
IowaGopher: Demry Croft. He for some reason had 10 less pass attempts and two less drives than Conor Rhoda, but led the Gophers on two scoring drives, one of them a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive and the other a 13-play, 53-yard drive that ended in a field goal. With the offensive line struggling for most of the game, Croft was also able to escape the pocket and extend plays with his legs, converting on third and long twice. He also avoided catastrophic mistakes like Rhoda’s interception in the end zone.
I’m less bullish on Rhoda because he is a redshirt senior who seems to have the lowest ceiling of any scholarship quarterback on the roster. To his credit, he did deliver the Gophers’ lone touchdown strike. But even with a lack of game experience, I expect a redshirt senior to be more poised in the pocket, whereas Rhoda seemed to panic under pressure and force bad throws. And his lack of mobility limits what the Gophers are able to do in the run-pass option offense, as the defense never had to account for him as a legitimate running threat.
With Croft at QB: 20 rush attempts, 86 rushing yards, 4.30 yards per carry
With Rhoda at QB: 21 rush attempts, 59 rushing yards, 2.81 yards per carry
Ustreet: Croft, solely because if two players are equally good play the younger one.
dvits14: Demry Croft. Take away the long touchdown pass, which let’s be honest was more about Johnson than the pass, Rhoda’s numbers are almost identical to Croft’s.
All the Gophers’ rushing attack could muster was 169 yards. Just a slow start or a sign of things to come?
GopherNation: Slow start with what was rather vanilla play-calling. The offensive line got very little push, but they will continue to develop. This line isn’t going to be elite in 2017, but I suspect it’ll get better and the rushing totals will get better.
GoAUpher: I honestly don’t know. If the offensive line pulls it together then it’ll just be a slow start. I’m pretty worried that might not happen, at least not to the level we need it to.
gopherguy05: Rodney and Shannon were doing the best they could. The middle of that o-line was atrocious. If they don’t get better, it could be a long season.
mowe0018: O-line needs some work but we’ve seen this slough happen early in the season in previous years and still turn out okay. Now that they have actual film and a few extra days before their next game, I’d expect things to improve, at least incrementally, as the season progresses. So yes, a slow start.
IowaGopher: I’m reserving judgment until after next week. Good teams tend to make the biggest performance leap during the season between Weeks 1 and 2, so offensive line coach Ed Warinner has another week to work until I start to sweat. Oregon State looks a bit lackluster again this season, but they’re a Power 5 opponent that the Gophers can’t afford to overlook and they’ll provide a good test for this offense.
Ustreet: I don’t think you should take anything from this game other than the Gophers have a lot of technique issues to work on. The Gophers also ran almost exclusively inside zone with few if any counters.
dvits14: Honestly, I thought they ran the ball a lot better when Croft was in the game. He is an actual option in the run-pass option. I don’t know if Rhoda was just too scared to pull the ball and run because he had chances or if he just simply doesn’t have that in him. But having to also key in on Croft helped get the running backs a little more to work.
What do you think Duke McGhee was doing in the locker room while he sat out the first half?
GopherNation: Following the TDG Open Thread as he watched the game.
gopherguy05: Something elite, no doubt.
mowe0018: I would assume he was in one of those endless stream water tank apparatuses that allowed him to row a boat or canoe for the hour and a half it took for the first half to end.
IowaGopher: Probably checking to see if Illinois fans are still in his Twitter mentions.
dvits14: Pretty sure he was at home eating buffalo wings.
Care to adjust your expectations for the season after an uninspiring opener?
GopherNation: I said 7-5 and I think that might a little optimistic. But this was Game 1 and it is really hard to get a firm grip on what the season will look like until after a few non-conference games. I’m not bailing on my seven-win prediction.
GoAUpher: Nope. While I didn’t expect the game to be this rough, I’m not shocked by it because I’ve been harping on the fact that this could be a much rougher season than people are expecting for months now. Yes, that’s a humble brag I-told-you-so to everyone who thought winning nine games last year meant the transition to Fleck’s staff, schemes, and culture would be easy. Since my baseline is 6-6, I’m comfortable holding fast on that until we see more.
gopherguy05: I said 7-5, and may shade more towards 6-6 if the running game does not improve. But it’s early. Ask me again after the non-conference season if I’m ready to panic.... Because I might be.
mowe0018: In TDG Slack, I was hasty and reneged on my 10-2 prediction and changed it to 7-5. After sleeping on it, I will proceed with 10-2. Life ain’t worth living in fear of failure. Or something.
IowaGopher: Based on the first game alone, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t win another game all year, to be honest with you. 17 points against Buffalo? That kind of performance on offense just isn’t going to cut it in the Big Ten. But it’s a long season and I expect that they’ll improve moving forward. I think their ceiling might be 6-6 though.
Ustreet: No. As said on the Ski-U-Pahd, there’s a very reasonable case that the team will finish 2-7 in conference play. Bad teams struggle against teams. If the Gophers turn out to be a good team then it will be because they improve from this point through the year, not because they started out as a top team.
dvits14: Nope. I’ve thought all along they would struggle coming out of the gate.