MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. | Gopher fans have had more than a few hours now to vent about Minnesota's close lose to No. 2 TCU on Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota now has eight days to prepare for a Colorado State team coming off a 10 win season in 2014, making this a good time to look back and revisit what we learned from the Gophers first defeat of 2015. Here's a closer look at what GopherDigest took away from the loss.
- Freshman RB Rodney Smith is going to be special. Smith saw his first game action as a Golden Gopher last night and definitely didn't disappoint. After both he and senior Rodrick Williams had seven carries for 30 yards at halftime and the redshirt freshman really emerged in the second half, rushing for a total of 88 yards on 16 total carries and a rush touchdown. Meaning in the second half, Smith received nine carries for 58 yards and a score, rushing at a clip of 6.4 yards per carry. Not bad against the #2 ranked team in the country and one of the best defenses that the Gophers will face all year. The Jonesboro (Ga.) native showed good patience and vision hitting the hole with authority and has the wiggle to make a man miss and get to the second level. I know Minnesota has a proven track record of going with a running back by committee approach under Jerry Kill, but Smith was a lot more effective against the defense in the second half.
- Gophers offensive tackles needs to get healthy soon. News came out just before game time that senior offensive lineman Josh Campion wouldn't be playing after he was announced on the depth chart the day before as the starter at left tackle. Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said after the game in his post game press conference that Campion has a concussion and that kept him out for the game, but that's scary news for Gopher fans. Campion has a history of concussion problems heading all the way back to 2011 when he was forced to redshirt because of lingering concussion issues. I'm really hoping that Campion can get over his symptoms soon as Ben Lauer isn't healthy yet and that forced Jonah Pirsig to slide over from his right tackle spot. Once Pirsig and Bush settled in, they did a solid job, but this offensive line is better with Campion who started the last 39 games of his career.
- True freshman Julian Huff was outstanding. I knew that linebacker Julian Huff was going to play a lot heading into the season, but he was on the field a ton last night. Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys had Julian playing a standup defensive end role and I'd argue that there wasn't a better defensive lineman getting pressure on the QB Boykin than Huff last night and the freshman finished with seven total tackles in his first collegiate game. It's clear from last night Huff has very good instricts on playing the ball carrier and his initial burst off the line and closing speed are something that Minnesota fans are going to love for the next four years. The stage definitently didn't seem too bright for the Bolingbrook native and if the first game is any indication, Huff is going to be a key contributor on this Minnesota defense in 2015
- The Gophers secondary is as good as expected. Minnesota's top four leading tacklers last night in order were Damarius Travis, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Antonio Johnson and Eric Murray. Yes, that's the Gophers entire secondary and going against this potent TCU offense, they performed admirably well. These four seniors didn't allow any big, game-changing plays, were always around the ball and were an extremely large component of the reason that Minnesota snapped TCU's streak of 15 straight games of at least 30 points, which was the longest in the FBS. I fully expect that TCU will score at least 30 points in every game the rest of the year, so the Gopher defense was a huge reason that Minnesota had opportunities to win the game in the 4th quarter. As much hype as this Gopher secondary had coming into the season as not only one of the best units in the Big Ten, but the nation, I thought they lived up to the hype last night.
- Leidner and the receivers still getting on the same page. I don't think the stats really tell the full story when you look at quarterback Mitch Leidner's stat line last night. The Gophers QB finished 19 of 35 (54%) for 197 yards and a passing touchdown. Throw in the the wide receivers and running backs had more than a few drops and the Gophers just aired it out at the end of the game, Leidner's line would be in the high 60's for a completion percentage. Is his ball still wobbly, yes, but that's to be expected and should be nothing new. He's not going to be perfect and missed on a few throws as well, but considering the majority of Leidner's playmakers were playing in their first significant collegiate game (Eric Carter, Rodney Smith, Nate Wozniak, Melvin Holland, Rashad Still, Jeff Jones) there were encouraging signs last night. Minnesota's offensive under Matt Limegrover is a lot of timing routes between the quarterback and receivers, so still a lot of time in the season for the Gopher offense to improve.