The good news: The Minnesota Golden Gophers have emerged from their non-conference schedule 3-0, capped by a dramatic 35-32 victory over the Georgia Southern Eagles. The bad news: They haven’t exactly emerged unscathed, with a bye week now to diagnose and recover from a staggering number of self-inflicted wounds.
First question: Was there ever a doubt?
GopherNation: I was confident throughout. Did 3rd and 29 have me a little nervous? Obviously, but never a doubt.
GoAUpher: What is doubt? The nature of it? Its qualities? Can it be defined by words alone or is it something that must be experienced?
...Some doubts, yes.
gopherguy05: Yep. Once again we played with fire and somehow only walked away with a bit of singed arm hair and not the entire house in flames.
zipsofakron: Is there ever a doubt?
IowaGopher: Yes. Several, in fact. I was resigned to a loss as soon as the strip sack was returned for a touchdown. I figured their luck had finally run out. Fortunately, I was wrong.
mowe0018: Honestly, I always thought we would win. I believe in my pregame predictions until they are unequivocally proven false. Call it hubris. Call it insanity. Call it whatever you will. But it works in cases like this game.
wildcat00: Yes. In fact, it was all pretty much just doubt until the last seconds of the game.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Nope. I even predicted that Tyler Johnson would get the circus catch to one of my Off Tackle Empire colleagues. Please ignore the Tweet I had about my heart rate towards the end of the game.
UStreet: Never in doubt.
Now what is your Tweet-length (280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 35-32 victory over Georgia Southern?
GopherNation: Losing the eye test, still winning.
GoAUpher: Time for a haiku.
Option go away.
Breathe and enter the bye week.
I see you Purdue.
gopherguy05: Worst 3-0 team in the country is better than being the best 0-3 team in the country. But this crap is getting old fast.
zipsofakron: 3rd and 29 from your own six yard line with two minutes left and a touchdown needed to win might sound daunting, but that’s just table stakes in 2019.
IowaGopher: Undefeated amirite
mowe0018: Just win, baby. 3-0. Bye week. Let’s iron it out and plunge into the unknown Big Ten West.
wildcat00: Phew. 3-0.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: It could have been worse.
UStreet: That game was Stefon level great if you were a neutral observer.
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
GoAUpher: Tyler Johnson. Tyler Johnson. Tyler Johnson. Tyler Johnson. Tyler Johnson. Tyler Johnson. Tyler Johnson. Tyler Johnson.
gopherguy05: Dalvin Coo—ohh sorry wrong game. Tyler Johnson, duh. But I’ll give a bit of love to the Gophers’ defensive line, who came to play in the second half and continues to help stuff the run.
zipsofakron: The only answer here is Tyler Johnson. If he doesn’t receive a target on every future offensive play then something is wrong.
IowaGopher: Tyler Johnson will be the consensus choice, but how about Bryce Williams managing to stay on two feet while nearly every other running back on the depth chart ended up in the medical tent? That is a feat worthy of some recognition.
mowe0018: Tyler Johnson. No need to be contrarian this week.
wildcat00: I’m just going to quote Tanner Morgan here: “[No. 6] is the man, just point blank, period.”
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Yeah, it’s Tyler Johnson.
UStreet: Demetrius Douglas for his key catches on the winning drive.
Which was worse: Tanner Morgan’s pocket presence (or lack thereof), the offensive line play, or Kirk Ciarrocca’s play calling?
GopherNation: A bit of a toss-up between the offensive line and play calling, but the line struggled so much. Maybe play calling gets better if the offensive line can clean things up.
GoAUpher: Play calling gets my ire, but offensive line concerns me the most.
gopherguy05: They play calling has not been good. I don’t know if one of our checks at the line has gotten us more than one yard yet. I’m not sure if that’s on Tanner and his decision-making or Kirk and what he sees on the sidelines, but man, its been really, really bad.
zipsofakron: The play calling thus far has been atrocious. Run into a brick wall, run into a brick wall, 20-yard passing play to Tyler Johnson. Which of these sounds most effective?
IowaGopher: It’s neck and neck between the offensive line play and Ciarrocca’s play calling for me. The offensive line has been a huge disappointment to start the season. It’s a very young unit — and I think we forget that at times — but there is so much talent there. It’s frustrating to watch them struggle. I did not anticipate how much we’d miss Jared Weyler and Donnell Greene, and this is not a knock on either of them. That’s a sign of how much faith I had in the starting five that would be stepping on the field without them.
mowe0018: O-line. At some point in time, they need to take responsibility for the lack of holes for running backs and time for quarterbacks. I believe they can fix it because they did so last year to great aplomb.
wildcat00: It’s a combination of terrible play from the offensive line (an otherwise talented and capable unit, mind) and equally terrible (and unimaginative) play calling from Ciarrocca.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Play calling. Stop with the goddamn RUTM already or I’ll seal you into the basement of TCF Bank Stadium with that Cask of Amontillado.
UStreet: The play calling is supposed to adjust to the strengths and deficiencies of a team. There is a lack of adjustment at present.
How are we feeling about Joe Rossi and his Gopher defense three games into his first full season as coordinator?
GopherNation: I think the defense might even be a little underappreciated at this point. They actually shut down Georgia Southern from doing anything in the second half. They forced the fumble giving the offense the ball in scoring position, that led to the blocked field goal. And it was the offense who gave up the other touchdown on the strip sack. Defense dominated. The Purdue game will be interesting.
GoAUpher: Comfortable? I'll go with comfortable.
gopherguy05: The defense has been a bit inconsistent. They will look great for a few quarters and then give up a few big plays. But at the moment I feel more confident in that unit than I do in the offense as a whole.
zipsofakron: I haven’t yet thought, “Wow, the defense is really bad right now,” this season, so I guess you could say it’s going pretty well.
IowaGopher: I thought they certainly played well enough against Georgia Southern. They were only responsible for two of the Eagles’ four touchdowns, and those two touchdowns both came after turnovers in Gopher territory. But overall, I’d say Rossi has acquitted himself well, although there have been frustrating inconsistencies. All eyes will be on the defensive line and the underclassmen linebackers behind Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin, because I think those two groups will make or break this season.
mowe0018: Looking at GSU’s second half offensive output gives me positive feelings about the defense. But we are still quite thin at all three levels, so major injuries must be avoided at all costs to remain positive about the condition of the unit. Nobody ride any scooters during the bye, mkay?
wildcat00: I’m going to cut Rossi some slack if only because Georgia Southern’s stupid offense has given better teams fits in the past. But there’s also plenty of room for improvement.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: We’re having way too many breakdowns and the number of chunk plays has been a little bit unnerving. But it’s the non-conference and there have been a few surprises. It’s time to get into the B1G West and start seeing some trash instead of feisty teams that have a point to prove.
UStreet: Hard incomplete because there is (I hope) no way that the defensive playbook has been cracked open more than a speck.
What was the biggest surprise — the good kind of surprise — and the biggest disappointment of non-conference play?
GopherNation: I’ve been surprised with wide receiver depth and the secondary. I had very high expectations for #6 and Bateman, but Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas have also been very good. My biggest disappointment is the right side of the offensive line. The left side was supposed to be the question mark, but so much pressure and hits in the backfield have come from that right side.
GoAUpher: GOOD: That we'd see Antoine Winfield, Jr. walk-off interception Fresno State again. BAD: That the team has put themselves in position to require walk-off interception moments in all three games.
gopherguy05: The good has to be that we are not relying on just Rodney Smith and Tyler Johnson to run the offense. Bateman has been huge, but also big plays from Chris Autman-Bell and Douglas in the slot have been great. At running back, get a healthy Mohamed Ibrahm and you have a true two-headed monster, assuming the offensive line can figure it all out. Which brings us to the bad. Woof. The offensive line has been a massive disappointment, and if you had said at the beginning of the season that the right side of Curtis Dunlap/Daniel Faalele was worse than the left side of Sam Schlueter/Blaise Andries, well I would not have believed you. But here we are at the start of the Big Ten season and it’s a major concern.
zipsofakron: The amount of perceived luck they’ve needed to get by each of these teams is horrifying. Is it the universe smiling on this team? Doubtful, but the biggest disappointment has been that they simply haven’t passed the smell test after three games. Wins are wins, but there hasn’t been anything convincing about any of them. Fun surprises? How about that the receiving corps has been exactly who we thought and said they were. They’re every bit the weapons Fleck needs them to be.
IowaGopher: The biggest disappointment, as I mentioned earlier, has been the offensive line play. I’m still optimistic they’ll gel more as the season goes along, but it has been not been an ideal start, to say the least. The biggest surprise, at least in terms of a positive development, is tougher. I’d probably have to go with how invaluable Kamal Martin now seems to the defense after missing two of the first three games, which is sort of a positive and a negative, I suppose. But he had a great game against Fresno State to illustrate the kind of impact he can have, and the Gophers are clearly going to need him healthy down the stretch.
mowe0018: SURPRISE!: We seem to have fallen on the positive “luck” side for once in several key moments during the first three games. Perhaps that will continue into conference play? DISAPPOINTMENT: Lack of imaginative offensive game-calling and no true utilization of our biggest strengths (WRs) in more interesting ways, especially considering our head coach being a former wide receiver.
wildcat00: I’m always surprised when the Gophers get lucky, and for that luck to run over three games is kind of insane, and definitely a good sort of surprise. That brings us to the disappointment, i.e. why on earth did we need this much good fortune to go 3-0 in the non-conference? We haven’t been executing well on offense, and I think the staff and the offensive line share equal blame for this.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: Absolutely offensive line play, in particular the right side of the line. When you’ve got a pair of four-star kids over there and it looks like they can’t communicate or move their damn feet, that’s a surprise that I didn't expect or ask for.
UStreet: The pleasant surprise is that I have had a ton of fun watching the Gophers win one score games. The negative surprise is what WhiteSpeedReceiver said.
How do these first three games affect your expectations for the rest of the season, if at all?
GopherNation: I have lowered expectations, sadly. I don’t think that we have a talent issue and I think that most of what has slowed this team is correctable. But after three games I’m not seeing a whole lot of progress. Fortunately they still have three wins and zero losses. But they need to play better.
GoAUpher: If the self-inflicted wound thing keeps up, my prediction is gonna be off by three or four games probably. But if they clean up some stupid, this team is still capable of winning the West.
gopherguy05: To be honest, I really don’t know. If they keep this up, I think 9-3 is not going to happen. But then again they looked awful against Nebraska and Illinois last year and came back to boat race Purdue and Wisconsin. Coming off of the bye and into West Lafayette will tell me a lot more about how I think the season can go. They have two weeks to get crap figured out before their overall talent level won’t let them escape the awful execution and idiotic mistakes anymore.
zipsofakron: You don’t win games by accident, so they’ve done enough to be 3-0, including win a true road game and overcome some pretty incredible adversity. This was never going to be a cakewalk through the season, but we’re a couple fluke Georgia Southern plays away from feeling like the ship is righted before heading into conference play. I’m still feeling good about their prospects, and trust the staff to make some adjustments to get this right in the coming weeks.
IowaGopher: I will admit that even my cautiously optimistic preseason expectations have been somewhat diminished by how the Gophers have played so far, regardless of their record. But I don’t want to put too much weight on these first three games, because the team has the opportunity to improve and get better each week. If they don’t, it’s clearly going to be a long season and we can forget about Minnesota being competitive in the Big Ten West. But I don’t think the sky is falling quite yet. Stay tuned.
mowe0018: Haven’t changed one bit. “Surprise” division contenders across college football always have hiccups in the early going against teams who are either perceived as not very good or just aren’t very good and the “surprise” team was just figuring things out in their first few games of a season (see: 2018 Northwestern, any team that has won the ACC Coastal in the last decade, 2013 and 2014 Mizzou, etc). 9-3 here we come!
wildcat00: I think luck is not duplicable from game-to-game, so the 3-0 start hasn’t given us much of a basis to predict the rest of the season. That said, it’s often the hallmark of a good team that it can overcome adversity as well as its own mistakes to win games, and if they tighten up the execution on offense, the Gophers will be in good shape. If not, it’s all going to get ugly so fast.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: I don’t think it’s really changed anything. Are we lucky to be 3-0? Yup. But watching the rest of the teams on our schedule has me just chuckling to myself because everyone else has been rather trash or just played trash.
UStreet: I predict that they go undefeated every year. So far I’m right.
How will you be spending your bye week Saturday?
GopherNation: Working and cheering for Michigan.
GoAUpher: Working. Not kidding.
gopherguy05: Family time. And watching Michigan and Wisconsin hopefully get hit by a meteor.
zipsofakron: Huffing into a bag and watching the Twins continue their playoff push.
IowaGopher: Probably going to see Ad Astra and relishing the fact that the Gophers’ bye week means my blood pressure won’t spike dramatically for a fourth consecutive week.
mowe0018: Attending the Missouri-South Carolina football game.
wildcat00: I hate bye weeks. That is all.
WhiteSpeedReceiver: I’ll probably be attending a game, I just haven’t decided which one yet.
UStreet: Practicing my answers for the next survey. Too many words this week so I need to change my best.