The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ snapped their 21-game non-conference winning streak in a humiliating 14-10 loss to the Bowling Green Falcons on Saturday, dropping their record to 2-2 and effectively cratering expectations for the rest of the season.
I know the usual format here is “The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly,” but I think we can all agree there was nothing elite about this particular loss. So we’re going to bypass “The Elite” and even “The Meh” altogether and dive right into “The Ugly,” leaving an “Honorable Mention” space at the end to at least call out a few positives from this disastrous game.
The worst loss of the P.J. Fleck era and one of the worst losses in program history. Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a closer look at this loss:
- The Falcons completed the biggest upset of the season so far as 31-point underdogs on Saturday, narrowly missing the all-time Top 10 upsets by point spread since 1980.
- Bowling Green was 0-5 last season, had not beaten an FBS opponent since Nov. 2, 2019, and have not finished above .500 since 2015.
- The Falcons ranked 155th in Sagarin (FBS/FCS) and 124th in ESPN FPI.
The Minnesota offensive line. One of the deepest and most experienced offensive lines the Gophers have had in years looked overmatched against a MAC opponent. That is completely unacceptable. They failed to consistently open up running lanes for Trey Potts, only paving the way for 62 rushing yards in the first two quarters. Potts did finish with 28 carries for 141 rushing yards, but the offensive line deserves very little of the credit for that. The Minnesota Movers also struggled in pass protection, with breakdowns in communication against stunts and blitzes that resulted in four sacks, all of which came on third downs.
Everyone involved in the passing game, from Tanner Morgan to offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. After completing his first two passes of the game, Tanner Morgan did not complete another pass until the final seconds of the first half. He finished the game 5-of-13 for 59 passing yards, throwing interceptions on both of the Gophers’ final two possessions of the game. He did lose Chris Autman-Bell on the first drive of the game. The Gophers’ top receiver limped off the field and never returned, vacating a wide receiver corps that then struggled to get separation against the Falcons’ secondary. Mike Sanford Jr. did the offense no favors, calling an endless stream of plays with long and slow-developing routes that allowed the Falcons’ defense to pin their ears back and tee off on Morgan. The Gophers failed in every aspect of the passing game.
4th & 1. I hated everything about this, starting with the fact that it was considered a gamble to go for it on 4th & 1 from their own 29-yard line in the second quarter. Minnesota should never be in a situation where they need to take a potentially back-breaking gamble against a MAC opponent. To make it worse, Fleck called a timeout, allowing the Bowling Green defense to catch their breath and get set up to stop the inevitable run. The Gophers failed to convert and even lost yards on the play, opening the door for the Falcons to take the lead four plays later with their first touchdown.
Special teams. To be clear, I am not referring to kicker Matthew Trickett, who was 1-for-2 on field goal attempts, with his miss coming on a 52-yard attempt. I’m also not really referring to punter Matthew Crawford, who continues to be hit-or-miss but at least pinned the Falcons inside their own 5-yard line twice. But I am definitely referring to the punt return unit. Brock Annexstad does not seem comfortable catching punts in traffic, at one point letting one bounce into the end zone for a 77-yard touchback. Trey Potts took over late and muffed a punt that bounced between five different players before Justin Walley fell on it. Special teams miscues also extended a Falcons drive late in the fourth quarter, first with a roughing the kicker penalty on a fourth down punt and later with an illegal formation penalty on a fourth down field goal attempt.
The Honorable Mention
The Gophers’ defense. None of the blame for this loss lies with the defense. They weren’t perfect, but they were given no margin for error by their teammates on offense. Holding a MAC opponent to 14 points should be more than enough for a Big Ten team. Minnesota limited Bowling Green to 170 passing yards and 22 rushing yards, tallied four sacks and six total tackles for loss, and forced a pair of turnovers. The Falcons were also 2-for-14 on third down.
Cole Kramer’s first career touchdown. Good for Cole.