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Minnesota Football vs. Indiana: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

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The Gophers overcame a slow start to crush the Hoosiers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Minnesota at Indiana Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before we turn our attention to Axe Week, we take a look at what went right — a lot — and what went wrong — not much — in the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ 35-14 road win over Indiana.

The Elite

The Gophers’ defense. More than a few Gopher fans were probably shaking their heads and muttering, “Here we go again,” after Minnesota allowed the Hoosiers to march down the field for a 92-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. But Indiana did not score again until garbage time in the fourth quarter. Sandwiched between their two scoring drives were nine offensive possessions, which resulted in five punts, two interceptions, and a turnover on downs. The Hoosiers were limited to 52 yards of offense over those nine possessions. Credit defensive coordinator Joe Rossi for making the necessary adjustments to counter Indiana’s offensive game plan.

Ky Thomas. The redshirt freshman running back crossed the century mark for the fourth time this season, rushing for 105 yards on 26 carries and scoring two touchdowns on the ground. Thomas finally surpassed Trey Potts to become the Gophers’ leading rusher this season, with 625 rushing yards and four touchdowns in seven games.

Chris Autman-Bell. Contested catches have been few and far between among the Gophers’ wide receivers this season, so it was a welcome sight when Chris Autman-Bell came down with one in the end zone in the final seconds of the first half. It was initially ruled an incompletion before a reply review corrected the officiating crew’s error. Autman-Bell caught four passes for 44 receiving yards in the game, but two of them went for touchdowns.

Tanner Morgan. Amid calls for a change at quarterback, head coach P.J. Fleck talked all week about Tanner Morgan’s ability to reset and respond to adversity. His performance against Indiana wasn’t perfect, but Morgan looked more comfortable in the pocket than he has for most of the season. He finished the game of 14-of-20 for 196 passing yards and two touchdowns. Morgan had a couple of great throws, including his first touchdown pass to Autman-Bell and the dime he dropped to Dylan Wright for a 34-yard gain on 3rd & 8 in the third quarter.

Turnovers. The Gophers were able to win the turnover battle thanks to interceptions by Tyler Nubin and Phillip Howard Jr. Minnesota was not able to capitalize on Howard’s interception in the third quarter, but Nubin’s interception late in the first half set the Gophers up in Indiana territory and allowed them to extend their lead to 21-7 before halftime.

Going for the touchdown rather than playing for the field goal before halftime. Indiana decided to try and score before halftime with a freshman quarterback and 46 seconds left on the clock. Said freshman quarterback did what freshmen quarterbacks often do, forcing a pass down the sideline — to no one in particular — that ended up in Tyler Nubin’s hands for an interception. Minnesota capitalized on the mistake, attempting (and completing) three passes en route to a touchdown that allowed the Gophers to head into the locker room with a 21-7 lead.

Brevyn Spann-Ford hurdling defenders. No explanation necessary.

Conner Olson. The Gophers’ left guard set the Big Ten record for most career starts with 56.

The Meh

Failing to convert on 4th & 1 on the opening drive. Much has been said and written about Fleck’s decision-making in the red zone, specifically against Iowa. Well, he was aggressive early in the game against the Hoosiers, failing to convert on 4th & 1 at the Indiana 7-yard line on the Gophers’ opening drive of the game. It didn’t work out, but I like the decision to go for it rather than kick the field goal. I saw a few people on Twitter complaining about the play-call, but that feels like a bit like moving the goal posts. I’ll give Fleck credit for being aggressive.

The Ugly

The Hoosiers’ opening drive of the game. The Gopher defense came out flat-footed to start the game, allowing Indiana to march down the field for a 92-yard scoring drive. The Hoosiers only attempted two passes en route to the end zone, rolling up 85 yards on the ground.