Report Card: Western Illinois

Minneapolis, MN. - Minnesota came in undefeated to take on Western Illinois and left undefeated, but it took more than they would have liked in a victory. GopherDigest grades how the offense, defense, special teams and coaching performed in their ugly 29-12 win.

Offense- This was not a good week for Minnesota on the offensive side of the ball. The main reason had to be not being able to move the ball against a small Western Illinois defense. The other reason had to be starting quarterback Phillip Nelson going down and not returning in the game. Backup quarterback freshmen Mitch Leidner had a good game in relief by stepping in midway through the game by going 7-8 passing for 105 yards and rushing for another 64 yards as well. The offense did put up 29 points and generate over 330 yards with 220 of the yards coming on the ground. Junior running back Donnell Kirkwood did suit up for the game, but did not see game action. The Gophers really used that stable of running backs they had and it paid off. The passing game will be critical in the coming weeks to develop and produce, but for now that ground and pound method has worked.

Grade: C

Defense- The defensive was good, but not great this past game. The front seven really shut down the Leatherneck running attack by only allowing 68 yards on 30 carries for a mere 2.3 average per rush. Their passing game was better, but not tons better with letting Western Illinois quarterback Trenton Norvell was 11-23 for 162 yards and 2 touchdown passes. He had a solid game, but never really made a huge impact on the game. The Gophers limit the big plays for most of the game and really made the Leathernecks work for their yards. They gave up 11 first downs and only allowed 4 third down conversations on their 14 attempts. Western Illinois finished the game with 230 yards and just 12 points, which for Minnesota is a success, but they know they still got a lot to work on with their rebuilding secondary.

Grade: B

Special Teams- While there were no big plays this week from Marcus Jones except for blocking a extra point, kicker Chris Hawthorne and punter Peter Mortell were very solid once again. Hawthorne connected on three of his extra points and didn't attempt any field goals against the Leathernecks. Mortell has punted 11 times this year so far with an average of 43 yards per punt. Five of those punts were from the Western Illinois game, where he averaged 45.7 yards per punt. That can be huge in games by flipping the field and giving the opposing offense a long field to have to go. There was nothing to complain with here, but they didn't have any of the big plays they have had the previous two weeks.

Grade: B

Coaching- This has to be the hardest section to grade this week after what happened. There are two sides to look at it. On the one hand, the team came out slow and had a bad start to the game. No offense to Western Illinois, but Minnesota should have had a put a better effort in the first half and to be only up three points at half is nothing to be proud of. On the other hand, when Coach Kill went down, the coaching staff regathered and stayed calm. The Gophers put up 14 points in the second half while not letting Leathernecks score for the rest of the game. I will give this a spilt grade because of those two sides of what happened this past weekend. 

Grade: C


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