It was a happy Homecoming for the Minnesota Golden Gophers as they trounced the Illinois Fighting Illini 40-17 on Saturday to improve to 5-0 on the season.
Feeling good? I would hope so. The Gophers have not been 5-0 since 2004, and the good news is that this particular squad seems to have barely scratched the surface of their potential.
Let’s enjoy that before we turn the page to Nebraska.
What is your Tweet-length (280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 40-17 victory over Illinois?
GopherNation: Great win. Doing what you are supposed to is exactly what we’ve been waiting for.
gopherguy05: It’s about time we kept the pedal down on an opponent we should beat handily. Now keep it going.
GoAUpher: Dried out enough to haiku successfully:
Run run run the ball
Five and oh and ranked? You bet!
Bring on the Huskers
mowe0018: Protect home field. Beat teams you should. 5-0. Just win, baby.
IowaGopher: Finally, a comfortable margin of victory! Huzzah!
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Well that was boring. I like it.
UStreet: Never in doubt.
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
GopherNation: Rodney Smith was a stud, but I’m going to give it to the offensive line. This was the best they have looked collectively all season. And it was their push that really opened things up for Smith. He was brilliant, and it was great to see him have a dominating game like that. But I was very pleased with the offensive line and will a nod to them.
GopherGuy05: Rodney is the obvious choice but I’ll single out John Michael Schmitz. Since he has entered the lineup and they have rotated guards, the offense has really clicked. Let’s hope it continues.
GoAUpher: I’ll take the easy way out and say Rodney Smith. It feels like he’s finally back into his groove and it’s fun to watch.
mowe0018: Rodney. Next question.
IowaGopher: How about Shannon Brooks? Rodney Smith certainly fared better against Illinois, but after Brooks struggle in his first game it was back, seeing him shaking Purdue defenders in the open field again or carrying them for extra yards after contact was a reminder that he is so much fun to watch. More, please!
WhiteSpeedReceiver: That’s enough of this offense crap, you guys. Benjamin St.-Juste. The angel of death is looking really good right now.
UStreet: The left side of the offensive line for blocking outside zone to near perfection.
Minnesota has now torched Purdue through the air and run roughshod over Illinois on the ground. Considering the quality of opponents, how much stock should we put into these performances? What are your takeaways?
GopherNation: I think both games were elite game plans that were executed beautifully. You can try to downplay these games due to the weak opponents, but you didn’t see offensive performances like these against South Dakota State or Georgia Southern. This team is getting better and executing as they should.
gopherguy05: It shows the offense can be balanced and one can hopefully play off the other. Execution will continue to be key, as getting sloppy is an easy way to shut that down. But the game plan appears to be coming together.
GoAUpher: I think we can feel good about these wins. Neither opponent is that great, but there was also never really a moment late in either game where the outcome was completely in doubt either. Both games showcased an improving offense, and the Illinois game showed that Minnesota can put away an inferior opponent. This doesn’t mean we’re suddenly favorites against Iowa, Penn State, or Wisconsin (much less Nebraska apparently) but it does mean that this team still has the chance to have a #specialseason.
mowe0018: I think what we can take away from these performances is that the offense is versatile and that the bottom of the Big Ten West has some very questionable defenses. Illinois, Purdue, and I believe to some extent Nebraska are all very mediocre to bad on that side of the ball. Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin not so much. It’ll be interesting to see how the offense continues to evolve during the season considering the significant escalation in schedule difficult as the it progresses.
IowaGopher: On paper at least, the Gophers won’t face a Top 50 defense until November. So until then, I’m going to relish their ability to rack up points against the bottom dwellers of the Big Ten. They obviously have playmakers at the skill positions, and Tanner Morgan and the offensive line continue to play well and get better from week to week. This could be a scary good offense when firing on all cylinders. What should scare “quality opponents” is that Minnesota is putting up 30+ points per game and they still have room to improve.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: It shows that I’m going to get an ulcer after we beat Nebraska by a touchdown using either special teams or defensive scores to get by.
UStreet: The offense is playing better, but the hardest team the Gophers have played this season remains Fresno State.
Tanner Morgan is the Gophers’ best quarterback since ____________?
GopherNation: I’m going to hold off on answering this question. We love freshman and sophomore quarterbacks here. And then if they don’t turn into the next Gopher Heisman candidate then we turn on them quickly (or if they have a bad quarter, but that’s just SOME people). He is very good and after the last couple games I am far more confident that he can win games with his arm. I also have faith he can lead critical drives late in games.
gopherguy05: TBD. Tanner has looked great at times but still makes some mistakes in the pocket (see: that horrible pick six on Saturday). I’m not nearly as high on him as some others are but I’ll fully admit he has been good when he has absolutely needed to be good.
GoAUpher: The good version of Mitch Leidner. Don’t @ me, such a thing existed.
mowe0018: Does it matter? I guess Adam Weber?
IowaGopher: Adam Weber, who had the misfortune of his playing career coinciding with the Tim Brewster era at Minnesota.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: At the very least, Bryan Cupito. Now get off my lawn.
Five games into the season, who has been the most impressive player on the Minnesota defense?
GopherNation: Can I say nobody? Really nobody has stood out but many have been very good. Antoine Winfield Jr. has been great at times. Carter Coughlin has been great at times. Benjamin St.-Juste is maybe our best corner. Kamal Martin was a beast at Purdue. But nobody has been that game-to-game stud, at least not in my opinion.
GopherGuy05: It honestly seems like it’s been a team effort. The individual stats are down for a guy like Coughlin, but because of the added attention he has been receiving it’s allowed others to make plays. Martin and Thomas Barber have been solid in the middle when both play, and the secondary has been good. St.-Juste has definitely been a pleasant surprise and having a healthy Winfield Jr makes it a lot easier for the rest of the secondary to play their game and not be overstretched.
GoAUpher: Antoine Winfield Jr. has had the most consistent mix of impressive play and steady play.
mowe0018: Hmmm... I’d have to delve into the advanced stats a little more to be able to answer this accurately, but I have to imagine that either Winfield or St.-Juste grades out as the top player so far on the defensive side of the ball. Though I could be missing out on someone who never gets their name called because they are successfully doing their job which may be less than glamorous in the defensive scheme.
IowaGopher: I really like what we’ve seen from Kamal Martin. He has been inconsistent at best in his first three seasons with the program. Now, as a full-time starter at linebacker and a senior leader on defense, he really seems to have put it all together. I also want to mention Carter Coughlin, who will have had a “quiet” year by season’s end because his impact doesn’t show up in the box score. Make no mistake, he has been invaluable on the defensive line.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: I’ll go off the radar here a bit and say Micah Dew-Treadway. Go back and watch where teams are running against us.
UStreet: Kamal Martin. The pass defense in particular has been a noticeable upgrade when he’s played.
How confident are you in this defense being able to match up well with the likes of Wisconsin’s ground game and Penn State’s air attack?
GopherNation: I’ll worry about Penn State and Wisconsin later. I’m confident this is a solid defense. Not one of the best in the league, but it is sound and solid.
gopherguy05: It won’t be easy. It will take near flawless execution. But I’m more worried about Nebraska at the moment.
GoAUpher: I wouldn’t be sold on our chances yet, but thankfully there is still time.
mowe0018: We are currently 46th in defensive SP+ rating. Northwestern held Wisconsin and Johnathan Taylor at bay and they are 8th. Pitt held Penn State at bay and they are 15th. Based on this poor analysis, I would say we still have a ways to go but the defense is definitely improving on a week-to-week basis so there is room for growth no doubt.
IowaGopher: I am looking forward to finding out, to be honest. If not for poor tackling against Purdue, I think they’d have three consecutive strong showings under their belt. It’s a defense that has continued to improve each week. Far from a finished product, but I think they certainly seem to be gaining more confidence, which is never a bad thing.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: We’ll find out. And really, I’m not too worried about the skunks at all because we should have good enough DBs to say no to their WRs and force them to rely on a RB who was held to 120 yards last fall. But a better question is how their defenses will match up against us. Especially Wisconsin. The best offense they’ve seen is Michigan, who is currently 74th in points per game and 92nd in yards per play. Minnesota’s rank? 30th. Penn State is a bit of a different beast because they actually have a ton of talent they’ve recruited, but Buffalo, Pitt, and Purdue are all in the bottom third of FBS in regards to YPP and PPG.
UStreet: Cross the Rubicon when you arrive, and don’t worry about it before then.
Will this be the Gophers’ last game against Illinois with Lovie Smith at the helm?
GopherNation: Yes. I will be surprised if he makes it to the end of the season.
gopherguy05: I would think so. Both he and the AD have to be as close as you can to getting the pink slip. But you never know.
GoAUpher: No, but only because Illinois will do a very Illinois thing and let him hang around for one more off-season before canning him after the non-conference schedule next year when they should just cut ties now.
mowe0018: Gotta be. Lovie is hitting that point of complete indifference. Even a program like Illinois won’t stand for their on-field product. Whatever the buyout might be, they’ll find a way to move forward without the once-Super Bowl participant coach.
IowaGopher: Probably. I really don’t understand why no one can seem to turn Illinois around. That state is a recruiting hotbed of football talent. I just don’t think Lovie was the right hire. He was certainly a splashy hire made by a new athletic director looking to be bold, but Lovie in the college game feels like a stranger in a strange land.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Yup. Bye. I hope your replacement is as incompetent at running a college football program as you are, and that you’ve done enough damage with your recruiting that no matter how good they are that they won’t be able to dig out of the hole you created for them.
UStreet: Hopefully not. I’d like a favorable matchup against a bad team.