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Minnesota Football: Postseason Exit Survey

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Our staff’s parting thoughts on the 2021 season of Gopher football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Illinois at Minnesota Photo by Matt Blewett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What is your Tweet-length (280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ fifth season under P.J. Fleck?

zipsofakron: Satisfied yet wanting more. And I’m excited about that.

Ustreet:

GoAUpher: Haiku time.

Bowling Green, da fuck?

How you lose to Bert tho?

Axe makes it all good

gopherguy05: Was pretty good, could have been better. Clean up the stupid mistakes and this could be really fun in the next couple of years.

wildcat00: AXE! AXE!! AXE!!! The win over Wisconsin pretty much papered over all the bad things for me this season.

GopherNation: When I get upset over a nine-win season with the Axe at home, please remove my blog credentials.

Who are your Offensive and Defensive MVPs for the season?

zipsofakron: I’m going with Ky Thomas by a nose over Bucky Irving on offense, only because I thought he had a few bigger, more timely plays. On defense it has to be Boye Mafe. What a beast.

Ustreet: The interior of the offensive line for just chucking dudes around all season. Boye Mafe and Justin Walley on defense. Most improved: Mariano Sori-Marin. Best one year wonder goes to Jack Gibbens.

GoAUpher: KO KIEFT FOR ALL THE PANCAKES.

On defense, gotta go with Boye.

gopherguy05: Offense it has to be the offensive line. Minnesota went through five different running backs and we didn’t see a steep drop off from one to another the entire season. That’s a great sign for the talent of the running backs, but the offensive line made that possible.

Defensively I’ll go Jack Gibbons. He stepped in as a one year guy and really brought major stability to the middle of the defense and allowed everyone else to make the flashy plays while he made all the ones that got overlooked, but really was the key cog.

wildcat00: On offense, it’s the offensive line for me. That Minnesota could pretty much just plug-and-play at running back is astonishing to me, even if the run game is something we’re known for. On defense, it’s Boye Mafe. He was a force of nature, and I’ll miss seeing him in action.

GopherNation: I concur that the offensive line was the real MVP this year on offense. We may never see a unit that talented and experienced again. Do we have a bevvy of talented running backs? Yes, we do. Do we think that their success was in large part due to a great offensive line? You betcha.

Defensively it has to be Jack Gibbens for me. He was productive and always around the ball, but more than that I think he had an influence on the entire linebacker room that made everyone better.

How would you grade the performance of Mike Sanford Jr.’s offense?

zipsofakron: A solid C. I know it seemed worse at times, but this is still a team that scored 30 points more often than not. But if thinking of “A” offenses vs. “F” offenses, this year’s iteration falls in the middle for me.

Ustreet: The same way Fleck did at the end of the season.

GoAUpher: I’d grade myself fine with him now being the offensive coordinator at Colorado. That said, by all accounts a good guy and I hope he’s awesome for the Buffs in every week but the one they’re in Minnesota.

gopherguy05: I’m fine with him having taken his talents elsewhere. The run game was good under him, but the passing game was a season-long struggle and it will be interesting to see next season with much of the same personnel returning if that falls on Sanford, or if Tanner really had regressed that much without two NFL wide receivers.

wildcat00: If we’re grading on a curve, he’s no worse than a B, but I’m also not too upset he’s no longer on the staff. So I guess in terms of absolute grading, it’s a C.

GopherNation: It was not the right fit and I have no problem with replacing him on the staff. I don’t really have a problem with specific play-calling, that’s really hard to judge other than being mad when a play doesn’t work vs. when it does. But my biggest problem was his lack of adjustments. So many times it felt like they came into the game thinking they’d have a certain advantage. The opposing defense would do something different but we would continue to do the same thing that wasn’t working. If Bowling Green is sending all kinds of pressure and disrupting the passing game, how about getting them off balance with a screen? If Illinois is playing 12 yards off your receivers, how about some short or intermediate routes to take what they are giving you?

With all of that said, we were pretty damn good at running the ball. The offense wasn’t terrible.

How would you grade the performance of Joe Rossi’s defense?

zipsofakron: A-. The consistency from game to game was something to behold and the halftime adjustments were always really good. After the Miami (Ohio) game, Rossi’s defense gave up more than 23 points only one time.

Ustreet: A

GoAUpher: A. GRAPE JOB, JOE!

gopherguy05: Really good. Rossi deserved the raise he got a few weeks ago and now P.J. has to go spend what he needs to to make sure defensive line coach Chad Wilt sticks around too. A’s for both.

wildcat00: Solid A. No complaints, and also some pleasant surprises.

GopherNation: You may recall that coming into the season most of the questions we had here around the defense. Turns out this side of the ball was dominant. Joe Rossi did a fantastic job this year. Adding a couple key transfers helped, but Rossi gets a ton of credit. I have tremendous confidence in him going forward.

How would you grade the season overall?

zipsofakron: B. The losses to Bowling Green and Illinois suck, but they also won nine games, have the Axe, shut out a Power 5 team on the road, and won their bowl game. From a rubric standpoint, a B+ season would have been this one plus BG and Illinois wins. An A- season would have been somehow finagling a Big Ten West title. An A season would have been a win over Iowa and Bucky with a New Year’s Six/New Year’s Day bowl appearance, and an A+ season is going undefeated.

Ustreet:

GoAUpher: Have to go with the crowd here, solid B overall. Had we beaten Iowa but still lost to BGSU and Illinois, I’d have gone with A for the trophies, but those two losses really drag down the average for what was otherwise a pretty darn good season.

gopherguy05: B is the right answer. Unfortunately this responses to this survey are showing more consistency than the Gophers did over the full season and that keeps it from an A grade. But any season you win the Axe is great, the Colorado game was tons of fun even through the Buffs kinda suck, and closing it all out with a bowl win just keeps the momentum moving towards 2022.

wildcat00: This was an A- effort for me. A because 9 wins is 9 wins. Minus because it could have been 11 wins!

GopherNation: This was a very good season. I’ll grade it with an A-. Had 2019 not happened, people would be much happier with 2021. The Bowling Green and Illinois losses are what people are going to remember the most. It is the “what could have been” that sucks. But they had 9 wins, secured the Axe, beat 2 other P5 programs allowing 6 total points in those two games (both away from home). I have no complaints and more than anything, I have high confidence in the foundation of this program.

Of the seniors who will not be returning next season, is there one player in particular you’re going to miss most?

zipsofakron: Ko Kieft is such a high-I.Q. player and does a lot of dirty work that I think embodies this program, so I will be sad to see him go. Daniel Faalele was just such a spectacle that it will a bummer not to see him on the line any longer.

Ustreet: Naw, all stories have endings, and the ending is just a new beginning.

GoAUpher: It’s the offseason, which means we have already moved into “BUT THE NEW GUYS HAVE GOTTEN SO MUCH BIGGER AND STRONGER IN THE WEIGHT ROOM THINGS ARE LOOKING GREAT WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” mode. Join us there, Blake.

gopherguy05: I’ve always been a Coney Durr stan and we will miss him a ton next season. But it’s always fun to see the new guys come in and replace the old ones and hopefully be even better.

wildcat00: I will miss the heck outta Ko Kieft and Boye Mafe. I wish this entire group much good fortune in the future.

GopherNation: All of them. The offensive line and defensive line are so vital in college football and we lose a lot along both lines. We will miss all of those guys. But this is part of the beauty of college football. There is turnover every single year. Time to become a program that builds depth.