As I gathered with three other esteemed TDG colleagues before the Nebraska game, I kept saying that I really just had NO CLUE what to expect from this Gopher team. There are so many questions at nearly every position and what we were going to see on the field was just a complete mystery to me.
Did we get them all answered? No, not really. But we can at least begin to see more than just the speculation we’ve had all summer.
There were many encouraging things from Thursday’s week 1 win over Nebraska. You only get 12 regular season games and anytime you get a win, that’s a good thing. But this was also a conference win over a rival. The atmosphere was electric with the sell-out crowd and while the game was a little rocky, it was a win.
Perhaps the best thing about the Nebraska win is that the Gophers were able to get things on film and a clearer picture on what needs to be improved for Eastern Michigan and the rest of the season.
Let’s take a look at some of the questions we had and what we learned.
Will the offense be more balanced?
Well, the expectation here was that the offense would move from being run-dominant to a more balanced offense. That didn’t exactly happen. The 2022 Gophers ran the ball over 67% of the time. They attempted a grand total of just 281 passes last year, which was dead last in the Big Ten by 45 attempts. Even Iowa’s offense attempted 5 more passes per game than the Gophers did.
But instead of this ratio getting closer to 50:50, the Gopher offense threw the ball a lot in week 1.
44 pass attempts.
25 rushing attempts.
The issue here wasn’t that we were trailing for significant portions of the game and passing was necessary. This was a Gopher lead for the entire first half and was a 1-score game throughout the entire game. A balanced offense was certainly an option, but running the ball was a struggle.
This leads me to my next question...
How will life after Mo be?
So far the answer to this question is, “Not great, Bob!”
I’m not calling this a complete disaster, and I’m not at all trying to compare this year’s backs to Ibrahim. But the initial results of the rushing attack were not impressive.
The very last play from scrimmage was an 11-yard run for Tyler, which was absolutely critical for the game-winning Kesech field goal, moving the offense from the 40 to the 29. I’m very grateful for that play-call and run by Tyler.
Prior to that individual run, Tyler and Byrce Williams combined for 44 yards on 15 attempts. Just under 3.0 yards per carry is not going to get it done. Freshman, Darius Taylor, got some 2nd-half action and was given 1 carry. Which he took for...3 yards.
Kaliakmanis had 3 rushing attempts for 15 yards (taking out the sacks and kneel down), his legs are going to be a significant weapon throughout the season.
But the team had just 6 rushing attempts in the 2nd half to 25 passing attempts. And this was always a 1-score game. This says a lot about the confidence level the staff had in the offense’s ability to run the ball. This may be partially on the running backs, this may be partially on the offensive line.
This leads me to my next question...
What can we expect with the new offensive line?
Also, not great. The Gopher offensive line was replacing 3/5 of last year’s line and there was reason for concern. The Nebraska game really did very little to assuage those fears. Three sacks allowed and 3.0 yards per rush from your primary backs is not comforting.
There was speculation that there would be some players changing positions to perhaps strengthen this unit, particularly Qiun Carroll moving from RT inside to RG. But Carroll remained at tackle and instead, we saw Martes Lewis at guard. Nathan Boe at center with Tyler Cooper at LG were not surprising.
The collective result was not encouraging.
It wasn’t a total disaster, and we really should have realistic expectations after graduating the talent we did from the interior OL. But it needs to be better, especially in the run game.
The good news here is that offensive line coach, Brian Callahan has demonstrated over the years that he is very good at what he does. I have confidence here that this will improve throughout the season. This is a time when playing a conference opponent to open the season gives you an opportunity to expose things that need to be worked on.
But what about the defense? There were questions there too.
Can the defensive line get pressure on opposing quarterbacks?
A year ago the Gopher defense had just 19 sacks for the season, an average of under 1.4 per game. And 8.5 of those came from linebackers. So the question was, can the Gophers start to get pressure on quarterbacks from their front four?
Well, finally I think we got a positive answer to this. The defensive line combined for 3 sacks plus three more quarterback hurries. And while those are not eye-popping numbers, when you add the context that there were only 19 pass attempts by Nebraska, those numbers start to look really good.
This is encouraging, especially considering the number of players lost from the defensive line rotation.
Speaking of losing key players...
How will the Gopher secondary replace 2 NFL draft picks?
In my secondary Upgrade/Downgrade post I said how I have complete confidence in Justin Walley and TylerNubin. Both are potential NFL draft picks who I anticipate will each have an elite season. Those two did not disappoint. Nubin had 2 picks, earning himself Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. Walley had 8 tackles, 1 pass breakup and forced the key fumble that led to the game-winning field goal.
But my worries were around the other 2 starters in secondary.
And, like the defensive line question, this one seems to be trending in the right direction.
Tre’Von Jones, starting at corner opposite Walley, had himself a very nice first game as a Gopher. The Elon transfer led the team in tackles with 9 and he had the huge interception in the endzone at the end of the first half.
At the other safety, there really wasn’t anything that stood out. Darius Green, Jack Henderson and Aidan Gousby all contributed without anybody really standing out. I do believe that it was Green who abandoned covering deep on the Nebraska touchdown, but I’m not going to let that singular, broken play define anything for him yet.
But this question appears to be one of less concern so far.
There were (or are) other questions. Are the receivers going to be better than last year? Or how much can we expect from the linebackers? Will special teams be more consistent? All are important, but I think, in my view, these were less significant than the five listed above. We will likely have more to write about the emergence of Daniel Jackson and if there’s reason to be excited about the future of Maverick Baranowski.
After game one, there are certainly areas that need improvement. A week against a good MAC opponent will be another opportunity to get better and further refine the answers to these questions.