Mohamed Ibrahim. The brightest light for the Gophers in their loss to the Buckeyes was undoubtedly the performance of redshirt freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Averaging a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry, Ibrahim broke out with 157 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Suddenly, Minnesota could have another formidable pair of running backs to lead their rushing attack when Shannon Brooks returns to action in a couple weeks.
The offensive line. This was by far their best performance of the season, paving the way for Ibrahim and keeping quarterback Zack Annexstad clean in the pocket for the most part. I don’t think it was as simple as freshman Daniel Faalele being inserted at right tackle that sparked their improvement, although he certainly acquitted himself well in his first career start. The entire offensive line seemed to have stepped up their game. The key will be if they can sustain this level of play for the rest of the season. If so, I think a bowl game is within reach.
Tyler Johnson. He continues to have problems holding onto the ball, whether he is dropping a pass or fumbling the ball away, but the junior wide receiver carried the load for the wide receiver corps on Saturday, accounting for eight receptions and 119 receiving yards. Without him, I’m not sure how much success the Gophers would have had through the air against Ohio State, as Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell were kept in check.
The double-reverse flea flicker. Beautiful.
Carter Coughlin. Seven tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, and countless quarterback pressures. The junior rush end continues to carry the Gophers’ pass rush in what will almost certainly end up an All-Big Ten season. Senior linebacker Blake Cashman also had himself a game with 13 tackles, including this fourth down stop:
The Gophers’ run defense. The Maryland game is beginning to look like an aberration after back-to-back games in which the Minnesota defense has managed to stifle their opponent’s rushing attack. The Gophers were the Buckeyes’ first opponent to hold them below 100 yards rushing in a game this season, limiting Ohio State’s running backs to 92 rushing yards on 32 carries. Unfortunately, the pass defense has become a liability. More on that later.
Zack Annexstad. The interceptions need to stop. The Gophers’ true freshman quarterback has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (4) in conference play so far. Both of his interceptions against the Buckeyes were costly. The first led to an Ohio State field goal and the second completely killed the Gophers’ momentum after a double-reverse flea flicker for 41 yards set Minnesota up at the Ohio State 34, trailing by nine in the fourth quarter.
Emmit Carpenter. It was a brutal game for the Gopher kicker. The senior missed both of his field goal attempts, one from 32 yards out and the other from 49. The first would have cut the Buckeyes’ lead to three, and the second would have made it a one-score game. Instead, Minnesota left points on the field and Ohio State was able to pull away late.
The secondary. For the second consecutive game, the opposing quarterback had no problem airing it out against the Gophers. I knew Minnesota was in trouble when it was announced that Terell Smith would sit out the Ohio State game with a concussion, putting him on the sideline with Antoine Winfield, Jr. Then Coney Durr was ejected for targeting in the first half. The Gophers’ mess of a secondary was picked apart by Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was 33-of-44 for 412 passing yards and three touchdowns. That is not acceptable.
The Gophers lost. We can talk all we want about how well the Gophers played, but in the end the scoreboard is all that matters, and Minnesota was 16 points short on Saturday. The Gophers were 14 points short of Ohio State in 2016, and even 7 points short of the Buckeyes in 2014. And where is the program now? Still waiting for that proverbial “next year.” Which is why I’m not putting much stock into this game. I’ve spent too many Saturdays putting stock in silver linings. I want to believe that things will be different under P.J. Fleck, but I believed that things would be different under Jerry Kill, Tracy Claeys, and even Tim Brewster. I’m to the point where seeing is believing. And I’d like to see this program turn the corner. But until I see it, I’m going to be skeptical.