Thursday evening was a convincing and encouraging win for the Gophers as they opened the 2018 season. There were (are) just so many questions and uncertainties with this team, it was tremendous to see the product on the field and begin to see where this team is at in PJ Fleck’s second season.
You will not hear any complaints here about a 48-10 win. A win is a win and winning by more than 5 touchdowns is great, regardless of the opponent.
What I liked most about Thursday’s win is that there was a perfect balance of playing very well at times. Making a number of big plays to give this young team some confidence. Building confidence, eliminating doubts. But there were also plenty of mistakes, mistakes that will show up on film and certainly be addressed. This is far from a finished product and the team you saw Monday is going to be very different from the team you’ll see in mid-October. But what did we learn?
So much has been made of the decision to start a true freshman who is technically a walk-on. The other choice was a redshirt freshman who also had taken zero collegiate snaps, so it is not like there was a choice to be made between experience and talent.
But Zack Annexstad had a good debut. Blake put his first game numbers into perspective a little over the weekend. He struggled early to look comfortable, he looked fantastic in the 2nd quarter and then the second half seemed to be a time when the staff was trying to get him to connect on a deep ball.
He showed the fan base that he’s got some talent and there is good reason to be excited about his development.
GN’s Perspective: It was really good to see that second quarter. More than anybody else on the roster, it is good for the freshman quarterback to get some confidence. The rest? Going to make for great film on things he can improve upon. There were a couple poor decisions on throws...but that’s going to happen, no quarterback makes 100% great decisions. There were a couple audibles at the line that resulted in a busted play. But all are things he can learn from. Annexstad playing a near perfect game from start to finish might have been nearly as bad as playing a terrible game for all four quarters.
I am fully aware of just how bad New Mexico State is. But the defense really did it’s job all night long. The only touchdown allowed came when the offense turned it over, giving the Aggies a 12-yard field.
The real questions here was about the young starters/backups. Terell Smith got the start at corner and did a really nice job, 8 tackles and 3 pass breakups to his credit.
GN’s Perspective: I’m not worried about the fact that there seemed to be soft coverage on quick throws. The defense forced 11 punts, six of them being 3-and-outs. The quick passing game was held in check with quick tackling. I am not declaring this an elite defense based on the NMSU game, but I think the defense was solid. They made the Aggies one-dimensional and they did what they needed to do with a 4 touchdown lead.
FINALLY it appears as though the Gophers are going to be putting more than one serviceable receiver on the field. Tyler Johnson, after a couple early drops, was crisp and efficicient. The kid can get open and was the target on a third of Annexstad’s pass attempts.
And Rashod Bateman, well he looks like the real deal. He’s a true freshman and isn’t as refined with his craft as Johnson is, but he’s going to be very good.
GN’s Perspective: I’m excited about the receiving corp. Chris Autman-Bell is also going to be a good receiver, especially as a third option.
This area concerns me a bit. Early in the game and at times later in the game, the line really struggled with pass protection. Overall the unit was rather good at times and pretty bad at times. Early on Andries struggled, Olson misses a guy that lets Annexstad get killed on the miss of Johnson down the middle and Wyler was beat too. But later you see Andries pancake a kid on a Seth Green touchdown and the rest of the line giving their young quarterback plenty of time to hit some nice medium range passes.
GN’s Perspective: This needs to get much better. I’m not nearly qualified enough to know how much of Thursday’s struggles were due to limitations as opposed to what were correctable mistakes. But Rodney Smith has spent enough of his career making guys miss in the backfield. And their freshman quarterback will need better protection.
The Next Opponent
I watched some of Fresno State late on Saturday night. Their opponent was Idaho (quick, tell me if you can name 2 cities in Idaho), who very recently was a conference mate with the Aggies before both were voted off the Sun Belt Island. Now the Vandals are making the move down to FCS and they looked horrible against Fresno.
But Fresno is supposed to be quite good, and they showed it by scoring 78 points. This is a very good test for the Gophers.
GN’s Perspective: I actually picked this as an early season loss for the Gophers. It should be a good test for the secondary and the offensive line in particular. They’ll need to get some passing rhythm to set up the ground game again, but Vegas has the Gophers as just 2.5 point favorites at home.
Overall I was encouraged on Thursday. This team put up 48 points and that second quarter showed flashes of a really good team.
GN’s Perspective: Consistency is going to be the key. This team is so young, so that may be wishful thinking. But the New Mexico State win was perfect in my opinion. Huge, confidence building win. Plenty of things to work on as this team needs to get better. But it will all come down to consistency.
My season outlook is generally the same. I figured this team is right around 6-6 or 7-5, nothing has made me move off that one way or the other. I’m “slighly” more comfortable with 7-5, but I really hesitate to make too many assumptions off of one game.