I’m not sure how much longer Lovie Smith has in Champaign, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers were able to score another victory against him on Saturday, prevailing 41-14 over the Illinois Fighting Illini for their first win of the season.
How much stock are we putting into this game? Let’s dig in.
What is your Tweet-length (280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 41-14 win over Illinois?
GopherNation: Man did it feel nice to get a win and a win where the Gophers controlled throughout.
Ustreet: Illinois punted on a 4th and Goal.
GoAUpher: Haiku time...
Punting is winning
Unless you are Illinois
Mo is the man y'all
gopherguy05: That is the 2020 team we all expected to see. Hopefully it’s a trend and not a mirage?
wildcat00: More Mo please.
zipsofakron: This is pretty much what I thought we’d see last week against Maryland, but alas.
Blake Ruane: I liked that game better than the first two games by a wide margin.
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
GopherNation: The defense. Collectively it wasn’t perfect and they had the benefit of facing a severely depleted offense, but they forced punts all day.
Ustreet: Mo Ibrahim with a shoutout to the right side of the offensive line.
GoAUpher: Mo. Mo. Mo.
gopherguy05: All the running backs plus the offensive line, but Mo gets the full callout.
wildcat00: More Mo please.
zipsofakron: Dragan Kesich, baby. Seven kickoffs, four touchbacks, and Illinois never started beyond the 19 yard line.
Blake: Boye Mafe is fun to watch.
Mohamed Ibrahim is in the midst of what could be a historic season for him at Minnesota. What has been the key to his impressive start to the season?
GopherNation: Clearly it is his elite breakaway speed. Okay, maybe not. But I think it comes down to his vision and balance. It’s not like he’s an elite athlete or it takes three guys to bring him down. He just finds the holes, makes the right cuts, and doesn’t come down easily. Reminds me of David Cobb in some ways. But it should also be noted that the offensive line is run blocking rather well. Since the second half of the Michigan game, they have done an elite job of rush blocking. Ibrahim isn’t having to break a tackle in the backfield before gaining 3.5 yards. He’s getting holes, he’s making great reads and running with a purpose.
Ustreet: Vision and the effective execution of outside zone by the entire offense.
GoAUpher: It's gotta be the shoes.
gopherguy05: His vision is elite. He doesn’t have the break away speed but he can find any hole that the offensive line creates and maximize its potential.
wildcat00: Great blocking from the offensive line and the vision to hit the hole.
zipsofakron: He said it himself and that’s because he’s been more patient with his offensive line, pausing just a split second longer to let the play develop instead of just ramming forward for three yards.
Blake: Prior to the start of the season, running backs coach Kenni Burns touted Mo’s elite understanding of the offense, and I see what he means after three games. It’s not just about vision, but also being a student of the game and knowing how the rest of the offense — specifically the offensive line — operates. He shows unbelievable patience before finding a crease and cutting up field, and part of that is knowing the assignments of your blockers and trusting them to follow through as the play develops.
Tanner Morgan has had a quiet start to the season. How would you grade his performance through the first three games?
GopherNation: B+. He’s been fine and not asked to do a lot. The ground game was so effective in the Maryland and Illinois games that we haven’t had to rely on his arm as much. That will change at some point and I have faith in Morgan.
GoAUpher: B? Let's say a solid B.
gopherguy05: B-. He hasn’t been great, but even if he was great, the defense hadn’t been giving him any help until last Saturday.
wildcat00: He’s fine. Not earth-shatteringly good, but not a team liability either. The offense really hasn’t been the issue for this team, IMO.
zipsofakron: B. He looks like Tanner from last year without Tyler Johnson and fewer pass attempts.
Blake: B seems about right. He hasn’t played as well as we know that he can, but the offense hasn’t asked a lot of him and he hasn’t really made any critical mistakes.
The Gopher defense showed improvement at all three levels. What area of improvement were you most impressed with against Illinois?
GopherNation: Guys were just where they were supposed to be. It’s amazing how much better an entire defense looks when all 11 guys are doing their jobs.
Ustreet: Run fits were actually fit.
GoAUpher: Playing Illinois helps. Hopefully that wasn't too much of it.
gopherguy05: The linebackers were mostly where they needed to be and instead of making a play three out of every ten times it was more like eight or nine. Hopefully they can continue to improve their tackling against teams that will have better running backs than Illinois.
wildcat00: I mean, we played Illinois? You know, a team that punted on 4th & Goal.
zipsofakron: Still a little dicey. I feel like Illinois gave the defense a few gifts along the way. Still, 14 points is 14 points.
Blake: I was pleasantly surprised with how well the defensive line performed without starting defensive tackle Keonte Schad. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle De’Angelo Carter was disruptive up the middle, and both defensive ends Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo had their best games up to this point. They even set the edge at times!
How much stock are you putting in this defensive performance considering the quality of opponent? What aspects of the defense will you have your eyes on moving forward?
GopherNation: More than most, I think. This unit is not going to be dominant this year, it just won’t happen. But learning as they go, trusting their teammates to do their assignments and then the unit growing together is what I’m expecting. The Illinois game was a step in that direction, giving all of those guys more confidence in what they are trying to do collectively.
Ustreet: Relatively little. The same ones I had before this game.
GoAUpher: Illinois opened as 7 point underdogs to Rutgers, which should tell you everything you need to know about Illinois. I'll continue to approach this season with superstition and distrust as it is clearly a #chaosseason.
Winning is sure a nice cure for #chaos for a little bit at least though.
gopherguy05: Illinois is awful, but I have some hopes that the positional woes were semi-fixed. You still need to work on wrapping up and actually tackling, and the offense has not been the problem, but we will get a much better idea Friday night if last week was a trend to the positive, or just a good performance against a garbage team.
wildcat00: Not a whole lot.
Blake: I will accept improvement, even against an opponent like Illinois. They still have a long way to go, but I credit them for taking care of business.