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Minnesota Football vs Maryland: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

Not the most ideal start to conference play for the Gophers

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was something. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are undefeated no more, courtesy of a 42-13 shellacking on the road against the Maryland Terrapins.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

The Elite

Jacob Herbers. It appears his turnaround last week was no fluke. The Gophers’ punter had five punts on the afternoon, dropping four of them inside the 20-yard line, including three inside the 10. Nothing against Herbers, but the fact that the punter was one of the few bright spots of this game should tell you everything you need to know.

Rashod Bateman. The true freshman wide receiver continues to impress, even in a game where the entire offense seemed listless and out of sync. Bateman led the team with seven receptions for 68 receiving yards and a touchdown, the first of his college career.

Penalties. Minnesota was flagged for one penalty all game, and it came in the fourth quarter against Carter Coughlin. Compare that to the 10 penalties that were called against Maryland. The Gophers deserve credit for playing a clean game, but that was the only place on the scoreboard where they outperformed the Terrapins.

The Meh

The Gophers’ passing game. I went back and forth as to whether this facet of the game belonged under “The Meh” or “The Ugly,” but I settled on the former because, honestly, I would have had to leave this space blank otherwise. The pass protection was abysmal — more on that in the next section — and true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad, in his first career road game, was never comfortable in the pocket. Nearly every throw was under duress, including the first two interceptions of his career, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

The downfield passing game continues to elude Annexstad, as well. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca dialed up a number of deep shots down the field, but in most cases the ball was underthrown or the drew a flag for pass interference (or both).

The Gophers’ wide receivers corps did not have their best game either. The Terps’ defensive backs were physical all game long and were rightfully penalized for it with multiple pass interference penalties. But they were able to do that in part because the Gophers’ wide receivers were rarely ever able to create separation. Tyler Johnson didn’t even catch a pass until the fourth quarter and had at least his fifth dropped pass of the season. Redshirt freshman Chris Autman-Bell did make a great one-handed catch though.

The Ugly

The Minnesota offensive line. Where do I begin? With the four sacks of Zack Annexstad and the constant pressure that never allowed him to get comfortable in the pocket? Or the 94 total rushing yards and an average of 2.3 yards per carry? This offensive line is not good. And it’s not a matter of experience. Four of the starting five, with redshirt freshman Blaise Andries being the lone exception, started games last year for the Gophers. It seems to be a matter of talent or coaching (or both), and I’m not sure that either of those can be addressed during the season. So buckle up, because I don’t have much faith that vast improvement is a possibility this season.

Red zone offense. The Minnesota offense was able to drive into the red zone on five separate occasions. The results were as follows:

  1. Field goal
  2. Touchdown
  3. Field goal
  4. Sack and a fumble on fourth down
  5. Interception in the end zone on fourth down

Five trips to the red zone. Thirteen total points. That’s not going to cut it.

The Gophers’ annual inability to stop the run. It was a problem last season. It appears to be a problem again this season. Minnesota’s defense allowed the Terps to run wild to the tune of 315 rushing yards. We knew going in that Maryland has a number of athletes on offense, but I certainly didn’t expect the Gopher defense to seem so outmatched. Between missed tackles and players being caught of out position, Minnesota looked flat-footed and undisciplined. The offense certainly did them no favors, especially in the first half, but the issues on defense extended well beyond simply tiring down, and that is cause for concern.

Yet another injury to Antoine Winfield, Jr. Death, taxes, and Antoine Winfield, Jr. going down in the fourth game of the season, against Maryland, after a 3-0 start to the season. The redshirt sophomore defensive back didn’t even make it through the first quarter, sidelined with a foot injury. How much of a difference can one man make on defense? His replacement was true freshman walk-on Jordan Howden, who missed the tackle on Ty Johnson’s 81-yard touchdown run and was later caught out of position on Anthony McFarland’s 64-yard touchdown sprint. It was a baptism by fire for Howden and a bad day for the Gopher defense.