The Minnesota Golden Gophers completed a successful business trip to Boulder on Saturday, dominating the Colorado Buffaloes, 30-0, to extend the program’s 21-game non-conference winning streak to 21 games. There was a lot to like.
The Gopher defense. I think the Buffaloes are going to have real trouble putting points on the board the rest of their season, but credit Minnesota for taking care of business on defense. They pitched their first shutout against a Power 5 opponent since 1977. The Gophers finally generated a pass rush, recording their first four sacks of the season courtesy of Boye Mafe and Thomas Rush. They limited Colorado to 63 yards of offense, including -19 rushing yards. From top to bottom, the best game Minnesota has put together defensively in a while.
Justin Walley. The Gophers’ secondary made life even more difficult for Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis by limiting his options down field, and I thought Walley was a big part of that. The true freshman cornerback saw his first extended action of the season, playing most of the game as Minnesota frequently inserted him as the outside cornerback whenever Coney Durr moved inside to cover the slot. Walley had one pass break-up and made his presence known frequently.
Trey Potts and co. Even against a formidable defensive front, Potts cemented his place atop the depth chart at running back with 26 carries for 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns. But this game also featured the backfield debuts of Mar'Keise "Bucky" Irving and Ky Thomas. The pair of freshmen combined for 22 carries, 155 rushing yards, and a touchdown.
Chris Autman-Bell. Welcome back, CRAB. Minnesota’s top receiver returned to action for the first time this season since suffering an ankle injury in preseason camp and hauled in four receptions for 79 receiving yards. Autman-Bell set up the Gophers’ first touchdown of the game with an impressive 33-yard catch to set up the offense at the Buffaloes’ 13-yard line.
The passing game. The offensive coaching staff must have felt the Buffaloes’ secondary was vulnerable against the vertical passing game, because it seemed that much of their game plan was to chuck the ball down the field and hope for either a contested catch or a defensive pass interference penalty. I appreciate deep shots as much as anyone, but there were occasions were Tanner Morgan overlooked wide open receivers because he was locked in on the receiver running down field. Ultimately, the passing game was largely an afterthought because of the Gophers’ success on the ground, but I’m hoping for more creativity moving forward.
Special teams. Matthew Trickett had what I hope ends up being the worst performance of his career. He missed his first PAT and then missed field goal attempts of 24 and 46 yards. It was a disappointing performance after Trickett looked solid in the first two games of the season. Consistency has also eluded punter Mark Crawford, who shanked a punt for 30 yards in the second quarter and gave Colorado starting field position at their own 47 yard line.
Converting on third down. The Gophers were 3-for-11 on third down. Not great.
The end of the first half. P.J. Fleck has been criticized ad nauseum for his habit of burning timeouts early in the first half. The Colorado game saw Fleck use two of his three first half timeouts early in the first quarter and that came back to bite him late in the second quarter. The Gophers drove to the Buffaloes’ 37-yard line on the final play of the first half and the clock ran out, depriving Minnesota the opportunity to use their final timeout. Fleck was livid on the sideline and proceeded to have an animated conversation with the refs, making clear he felt the game clock was mishandled after the penalty on the previous play. But if Fleck had had his full complement of timeouts, he would have been better equipped to control the clock.