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Minnesota Football vs Wisconsin: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

The Gophers end the season on a sour note

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we’ve come to the end. Let’s get to it.

The Elite

Mohamed Ibrahim. What a season. Ibrahim rushed for 151 yards against one of the best rushing defenses in the country, bringing his season total to 1,076 after seven games. Absurd. He also became the first running back in school history to run for at least 100 yards in eight consecutive games. Ibrahim is a special talent. Don’t take him for granted.

Cam Wiley’s first career touchdown reception. The wheel route! You love to see it.

Minnesota fought hard all season long. There are no moral victories in this sport. But there were people after the 0-2 start to the season — myself included — who doubted that this team would win a game all season. They went on to win three games, and took Wisconsin down to the wire in a game that most of our fans expected to be a blowout in favor of the Badgers. One of our own commenters even said it would take a “literal miracle” for Minnesota to beat Wisconsin on Saturday. This has been a challenging season for a variety of reasons, but it is clear to me that this is a team that put in the work every week and tried to make the best of difficult circumstances. The results were obviously disappointing, but I don’t doubt the effort.

The Meh

The Gophers’ defense. Better, but not good enough yet. I’m encouraged by the improvement we’ve seen on the defensive line — De’Angelo Carter and Rashad Cheney are going to be studs — and at linebacker, but this unit needs to take a big step forward next season.

The wide receivers not named Chris Autman-Bell. Fans were curious how the Gophers’ passing game would fare without Rashod Bateman, but Saturday’s game also took Chris Autman-Bell from them, forcing a lot of unproven wide receivers into the spotlight. True freshman Daniel Jackson seems to be the most promising of the bunch, although at one point he did make a freshman mistake that cost them a first down. Redshirt freshman Mike Brown-Stephens came up with a couple big catches, including the first touchdown reception of his career. But the drop-off from Tyler Johnson and Bateman has been steep, and all eyes will be on this position group next season to see who can step up and be a difference maker.

Tanner Morgan. Tough game for Tanner: 13-of-25 for 160 passing yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He ends the season with 1,374 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions and completing 57.9 percent of his passes (106-of-183). Obviously a far cry from his record-breaking season a year ago. There were of course contributing factors outside his control, including a new offensive coordinator without the benefit of a full offseason to learn the offense. But Tanner has also stared down receivers, rather than go through his progressions, and made ill-advised throws into coverage. He has work to do in the offseason.

The Ugly

Minnesota’s offense in the red zone. How can you not dwell on the Gophers’ missed scoring opportunity at the goal line in the second quarter? Ibrahim’s touchdown — and the go-ahead score — is called back due to a holding penalty on Nathan Boe. Then Tanner Morgan forces a throw into coverage and it is easily intercepted by the free safety in the end zone. Then of course Minnesota’s overtime possession wasn’t much better. Just brutal.

Special teams. This loss is not on the shoulders of walk-on kicker Anders Gelecinskyj, but I do think the coaching staff needs to look in the mirror and ask how they ended up having to rely on a walk-on kicker in overtime. Punting has also been subpar this season. In other words, I’m curious what special teams coach Rob Wenger’s performance reviews are like.

Another losing streak to Wisconsin. Ugh.

Author’s Note: Thank you to everyone who stuck it out with us through this tumultuous season! It’s been a challenging season, in addition to being a challenging year for obvious non-football reasons. I hope our football coverage here at The Daily Gopher was at least able to provide content and conversation to distract you from any real-world anxieties — though I recognize Gopher football has itself been a source of anxiety for many this year. I’d be lying if I said this has been a fun season writing about the Gophers, but it is rewarding to know people are actually reading what I write and that I can occasionally provoke healthy debate and discussion.

Happy holidays and thanks again for reading!