Things did not go well for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their season opener, to say the least. Now we begin the process of picking up the pieces before looking ahead to Maryland.
What is your Tweet-length (280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 49-24 loss to Michigan?
GoAUpher: Haiku time
Got married Friday
Nothing gonna bring me down
Defense was icky
Ustreet: Punting is winning and losing in the Big Ten.
GopherNation: It was just Game 1, but the defense has some work to do.
zipsofakron: I had a really good time for the first 5 minutes of the game. I even got some high-fives in.
Blake: The worst I’ve felt after a loss since Robb Smith’s swan song against Illinois in 2017.
gopherguy05: It wasn’t pretty, but plenty of time to get “healthy” and get back to form.
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
GoAUpher: I mean, it's gotta be Mohamed Ibrahim, right?
Ustreet: Mo Ibrahim.
GopherNation: Ibrahim is the obvious choice. He ran hard, was decisive and has the stats to back it up.
zipsofakron: Yeah, Mo Ibrahim.
Blake: The answer is Ko Kieft, you losers. (Okay, it was definitely Mohamed Ibrahim, but the Gophers’ first touchdown was to a red-haired tight end who looks like a viking.)
gopherguy05: It’s definitely Mo.
The Gopher defense was, in a word, atrocious. What aspect of their performance was most troubling, and do you feel that some, most, or all of their issues are correctable?
GoAUpher: I'm gonna pass on answering to remain in a really good mood.
Ustreet: Man, Michigan is going to be good this season. Outside of Ohio State, probably the-best-team-in-the-conference good. Thanks to Minnesota’s kicking woes and a missed block by Mo Ibrahim, six of the first seven Wolverine drives started in Minnesota territory. Run fits and maintaining assignments are the non-talent part of the performance that was most troubling, but I’m not worried that it cannot be corrected at this juncture. Lest we forget, last year Minnesota’s defense gave up tons of points to vaunted juggernauts Georgia Southern and Fresno State in the non-conference.
GopherNation: I’m going with the correctable mistakes line of thinking for now. Mostly this comes down to trusting what your assignment is and that the other 10 guys are going to do their job. Then people aren’t over-pursuing or watching the ball. Enough young guys on this defense that they need to learn to trust their read, trust your assignment, and just do your job. That comes with experience.
zipsofakron: They got, what, one stop the entire game? Michigan is good, but man, this defense has a longer way to go than we thought. They are correctable mistakes but it’s also not something you’re going to fix in one week. Having the opportunity to fix them against Maryland and Illinois is a blessing.
Blake: Not sure how you correct a defensive line that was a non-factor and got manhandled up front. Not sure how you correct a linebacker corps that has two starting spots, one occupied by an upperclassmen who looks as lost as ever and the other still “up for grabs” according to P.J. Fleck in his own postgame comments. And slot corner Justus Harris — a senior — was such a liability against the run that the Gophers switched to a 4-3 in the second half. Fleck and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi have both described Minnesota as a “developmental program.” Well, get busy developing. Otherwise this is going to be the longest nine-game season ever.
gopherguy05: Between the lack of push by the defensive line and the pretty awful run fits mostly by a true freshman, it wasn’t pretty. Again, plenty of time to improve part 2, but somehow someway the Gopher defensive line has got to figure out how not to get blown off the ball.
This was offensive co-coordinator Mike Sanford Jr.’s first game as play-caller. What are your thoughts on how he ran the offense?
GoAUpher: I didn't feel like offensive playmaking was a problem overall.
Ustreet: B. Having the first game be against a Don Brown defense is going to be a challenge. Minnesota did something that few teams do against Michigan: Have a 100+ yard rusher. They also missed two opportunities to come away with touchdowns that would have materially changed the composition of the game. It’s hard to say play-calling and not “The offensive line is down two starters” is the primary reason for Tanner Morgan being harassed all game.
GopherNation: I feel it was hit or miss. Some drives they were in a rhythm. There were a couple of really open receivers for big plays that Morgan simply missed. Which, as Ustreet was saying, changes some of the perception of the game (not the outcome). But very few offensive coordinators call a perfect game and Sanford is learning his team on the fly.
zipsofakron: The offense nearly put up 30 points, which would a lot of games in ordinary circumstances. I wouldn’t equate any shortcomings to play calling honestly, since the team was actually moving the ball fairly effectively. Would’ve loved to see some more slants mixed in though, given the pressure Tanner faced all night.
Blake: Tough to make a fair assessment considering how much pressure the offense was under to score. I can’t imagine they were able to stick to their original game plan for long.
gopherguy05: Incomplete. Not sure how much say he has on the offensive line play but I thought that was the most glaring issue of the night offensively. Working on blitz pick-up will be a major task in the near future.
The offensive line was missing two starters, with both right guard Curtis Dunlap and right tackle Daniel Faalele out. How would you grade their performance against Michigan?
GoAUpher: I dunno. A "C" probably. Offensive line was the biggest problem on the better side of the ball to be sure.
Ustreet: B-. The sacks and pass protection were bad. The rushing offense was pretty good.
GopherNation: The second half run blocking was really quite good. The pass protection throughout was quite bad. I’ll call it a C+. Left guard is an issue and center was a bigger issue that I was expecting.
zipsofakron: C-. Might as well have been Swiss cheese. I’m amazed the offense performed as well as it did considering the backfield had almost zero time to react with defensive linemen being so disruptive.
Blake: What Ustreet said.
gopherguy05: An average C. There were some bright spots and some really ugly spots. But it sure sounds like it’s these five going forward, so hopefully they can gel and figure it out.
Does this lopsided loss change your expectations for the rest of the season?
GoAUpher: Yes, but more in a "if this team isn't a fully functioning battle station on offense and special teams, things are going to be interesting" kind of way. Not in a "let's freak out because our pets’ heads are falling off" kind of way.
Ustreet: Nope. Of course if another unit gets smoked by COVID then yes it’ll be a challenge. I predicted a win, but that was because I was under the impression that Minnesota would have their starting kicker and punter. Fleck does not decide on a fake punt (separately which was executed poorly) if he has a punter available who can punt the ball more than 20 yards. Michigan does not start in Minnesota’s territory most of the time if the Gophers have a kicker who can kick the ball into the end zone.
I have seen fans suggest that this loss ruins the season and I honestly am not sure why that’s the case. In relative terms, outside of Wisconsin and Northwestern none of the West covered themselves in glory in Week 1. Wisconsin and Northwestern had the benefit of playing heinously bad teams. If Minnesota pops out another dud against a bad Maryland team, then I’ll start re-evaluating. Until then, losing to Michigan sucks, but in no way changes the Big West title race.
GopherNation: No. Michigan is a talented team who took an inexperienced Gopher defense to school. The offense worked out a few kinks and was able to move the ball against a good defense. I never expected this to be a great team in 2020, I thought this would be a good team, not great. My perception has not changed.
zipsofakron: It opened my eyes to how far the defense has to go to be serviceable, but I still think this can be a 6-2 team. We’ll know a lot more after the next two weeks. If they stomp the next two teams maybe we can be more confident that their situation is “better than Iowa but worse than Michigan.”
Blake: Unfortunately, yes, but I have no one to blame but myself. I soaked up a bit too much of the preseason media coverage — which is almost always a reaction to the previous year’s team, rather than an evidence-based assessment of the current year’s team — and convinced myself this program was ready to compete on the national stage. I also severely overestimated the gains (or lack thereof) that Fleck and co. have made in recruiting. I think this team would be fortunate to be 5-4 by year’s end. The defense is an absolute disaster.
gopherguy05: I think we all may have been underestimating just how rough fitting in all the new guys on defense might be. So yeah, 7-1 probably isn’t realistic. But if you can work out the kinks in your two easiest road games the next two weeks, then we can have a better look at realistic expectations for the final 5-6 games after that. Don’t see significant improvement, then it’s time to worry a bit.