First of all, let’s take a little more time to truly enjoy Saturday’s win. Then we will talk about the Bowling Green complex. But Saturday’s win was maybe the most dominating Gopher game we have seen since they kicked Auburn’s ass in the Outback Bowl.
I have advocated for several months now that this staff has consistently shown the ability to improve the Gophers throughout the season. This isn’t the Glen Mason days of dominating terrible teams early only to plateau and sputter in the Big Ten. No. PJ Fleck’s teams, since the 2018 season have shown measurable improvement from beginning of each season to the end.
I’ve discussed it before, but look at 2018 after the defensive coordinator change. 2019 was a year where they started slowly before being one of the best teams in college football, culminating in the Outback bowl ass kicking. Even 2020, which was forgettable in so many ways, was a much improved team from the early Michigan and Maryland losses.
Even as this 2021 team struggled early, and we’ll get to that Bowling Green loss soon, I was confident that what we believed to be the strengths of this team would eventually emerge as strengths. And the defense, which had many question marks entering the season, would continue to get better. And they have.
The offensive line put on a clinic on Saturday against Maryland. This unit, with all of it’s experience, is finally starting to dominate games as it should. Even as the offense loses two very talented running backs, the o-line is doing everything it can to make life easier for the next names up. To be honest, these guys dominated so much that the Maryland game was kind of boring. We run the ball a lot, perhaps too much. But in games like this past Saturday, you run and run until they decide to stop you. Maryland never did.
The beauty of this game, and presumably the next two, is that the Gophers have 2 young and talented backs who should get a lot of time to get used to the speed of a Big Ten game. Both Ky Thomas and Bucky Irving
The line was expected to be great, and I think it is finally living up to the notion. But defensively is where the real improvement is happening.
The defensive line is quietly becoming an incredible strength for this team (I’ll assume Blake does a better job of making this case), along with the linebackers and they are making things really difficult for opposing offenses. There were signs of this early in the year. The first half of Miami and the entire Colorado game are great examples of what we were seeing early.
The individual stats for any of the 8 regulars along the defensive line will not jump out at you. But collectively they are dominating. Boye Mafe is among the Big Ten leaders in sacks, but this side of the ball is really turning into a textbook example of everyone just doing their job and freeing up the right guy to make the play in front of him. Guys like Tril Carter, Nyles Pinckney and Micah Dew-Treadway are holding up the point of attack, allowing Jack Gibbens and Mariano Sori-Marin to make tackles. Mafe, Thomas Rush and Esezi Otomewo are generating enough pressure to help out the coverage. It is a thing of beauty.
So the defense is rapidly improving, the OL is dominating, the 3rd-4th-5th running backs are gaining their footing and the passing game is no slouch either when called upon. This team is becoming complimentary and dangerous at 5-2. Really makes you frustrated they aren’t 6-1, right?
The Bowling Green Conundrum
Here is ultimately the perspective I have on this game...
One game does not define a season.
I’ve heard it more times that I’d like from opposing fans. Something like, “How are we losing to a team that lost to Bowling Green?” And you hear it within our own base, “How did we ever lose to Bowling Green?”
Yeah, I get it, we SHOULD have won that game and there is no logical explanation. The explanation for that game is that sometimes players and coaches have a bad game. Sometimes enough of them collectively have a bad game that you are overtaken by an inferior team. The team sucked that day for whatever reason. And that loss may come back to bite us in the ass, but also what matters most is handling the games you have in front of you.
As I said last week, you absolutely cannot look ahead to Iowa until after the Illinois game. The moment this team starts thinking too highly of themselves, they will lose to Northwestern or Illinois. It has already happened once and Illinois just did it to Penn State.
Take care of your business this week at Northwestern. Do the things necessary to be ready for this game and dominate it, as you did Maryland.
Forget Bowling Green and take care of what is in front of you.