The Minnesota Golden Gophers took care of business against the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, dropping their Mid-American Conference opponent 26-3 to close out the non-conference schedule with an unblemished 3-0 record. Not bad, eh?
As per tradition, let’s break the game down into arbitrary designations.
Tyler Johnson. After being held in check for the most part against Fresno State, the Gophers’ top wide receiver was back to doing what he does best, hauling in nine receptions for 133 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He did have a couple drops, but I’ll take a ratio of three touchdowns to two drops any game. It was the second three-touchdown performance of his career.
Jacob Herbers. Just last week, in this very column, I expressed my fears that punting would be a liability this season based on what I’d seen from the Gophers’ starting punter through the first two games. Well, Herbers must’ve received the memo. He had six punts against Miami (Ohio), dropping three of them inside the RedHawks’ 10-yard line, including two within the 5-yard line. His second quarter punt downed at the 2-yard line set the stage for a safety when running back Alonzo Smith couldn’t escape the end zone on the ensuing drive.
Bryce Williams. Considered by some to be the Gophers’ “fourth-string running back,” the true freshman was anything but against Miami (Ohio). Williams was a workhorse, accounting for 33 of the team’s 44 rushing attempts. He finished with 141 rushing yards, bringing his season total to 259. I’m not sure 33 carries in a blowout was necessary, especially with a serviceable back-up on the sideline in the form of Jonathan Femi-Cole, but if head coach P.J. Fleck wants his young running back battle-tested, Williams is certainly well on his way.
The Gophers’ defense. Look, I remember last season. I remember how dominant defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s unit looked at the end of the non-conference schedule. And I certainly remember that the rest of the season was a bit of a different story, especially once Antoine Winfield, Jr. was lost. But here we are again, at the end of the non-conference slate, and the Gophers’ defense has delivered another impressive start to the season. Minnesota forced three turnovers, held a third consecutive opponent below 100 yards rushing, and limited the RedHawks’ offense to a single field goal. There are certainly greater challenges ahead, but for now, let’s appreciate what this defense has accomplished thus far.
Carter Coughlin. For an undersized rush end, Coughlin might be the Minnesota defense’s best pass rusher at the moment. He terrorized RedHawks quarterback Gus Raglan for most of the game and was responsible for both of the Gophers’ sacks.
Antonio Shenault. The senior defensive back recorded the first interception of his college career.
Zack Annexstad. When you consider that the true freshman quarterback threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions while playing on a bum left ankle, “The Elite” maybe sounds like the more fitting designation, but I’m more comfortable with him here for now. Annexstad deserves credit for battling through it and delivering a solid performance that was good enough to give Minnesota a comfortable lead. Though his deep balls continue to miss the mark — an issue well before he hurt his ankle — and he still needs to get better at progressing through his reads. With that said, I’m not sure how much more you could expect from a true freshman.
The offensive line. I was feeling charitable last week when I let the Gophers’ offensive line slide in under “The Meh.” Not this week. Not when Zack Annexstad is hobbled the entire game after taking a sack on the first drive and hurting his ankle. That was the first of three sacks the RedHawks were able to record against Minnesota. If the brief preview of Tanner Morgan was any indication, the Gophers cannot afford to lose Annexstad this season. The offensive line needs to figure out the “protection” in “pass protection” before they get their quarterback killed.