1) Offensive line needs to get healthy
I outlined this on the board yesterday, but Minnesota could really use a bye week right now as injuries are absolutely decimating this offensive line and it showed in their play on Saturday.
- Starting left tackle Jonah Pirsig is battling a shoulder injury
- Starting left guard Jon Christenson is out probably until the Halloween night game against Michigan and now starter Joe Bjorklund is battling his own knee injury and isn't 100%
- Starting right tackle Josh Campion is just coming back from a concussion
- Former starting right tackle Ben Lauer is clearly not close to 100% as he's trying to get back from his own knee injury
- Sophomore tackle Alex Mayes hasn't dressed yet this season with an unknown injury as well
Regardless, the bye week isn't for another three weeks, so Minnesota needs to do something to try and figure out these offensive line woes. If I had a say (which I'm fully aware that I don't and that my opinion has absolutely no say in the matter), this is what I'd do for this week's game against Ohio.
LT: Jonah Pirsig / Foster Bush
LG: Tyler Moore / Josh Campion
C: Brian Bobek / Tyler Moore
RG: Connor Mayes / Isaac Hayes
RT: Josh Campion / Foster Bush
That means I'm sitting Joe Bjorklund and Ben Lauer for the game and starting true freshman Tyler Moore at guard. Watching the film, it was clearly evident that both guys were not healthy. Giving them a week off to get treatment and get healthy (er) for the Big Ten opener against Northwestern would be priority number one for me. That does mean Tyler Moore gets his redshirt pulled (which Kill said was going to happen anyway about four weeks ago) and starts at guard. Moore worked at guard all spring and early in fall camp, so it's not an entirely new position to him and maybe his physicality can spark something in this group. As Kill said in his press conference following the Gophers win on Saturday, it all starts up front and to get the offense on the right track again, these big boys have to start eating again this week.
2) Gophers tight end depth being tested
Another position that's been eviscerated by injuries has been the tight end position and that hasn't helped any either. Minnesota's top three projected tight ends coming into the season were out for Saturday's game.
- Starting senior tight end Lincoln Plsek, who had played in over 30 games prior to 2015 is more than likely out for the season with a back injury
- Other expected starting tight end Duke Anyanwu is more than likely out for the season with a knee injury
- Former starter Brandon Lingen was out with a concussion
- Throw in that TE/H-back Jerry Gibson was used on special teams and had his ankle wrapped in ice on the sidelines after a play, this depth is seriously being tested.
Sophomore Nate Wozniak had done extremely well through the first two games of his collegiate career, but struggled some against Kent State. Walk-on Nick Hart saw a lot of snaps and even walk-on Noah Scarver saw a series out there, but they just weren't as effective as previous games. The hope is that Lingen will be back this weekend and that'll be a huge help, but this group needs to improve as well.
3) Defense puts the cuffs on
Minnesota forced ten punts, only had 142 yards of total offense against them and Kent State only had three plays in the Gophers territory. All of that is absolutely absurd and I hope that's something Gopher fans take away from the win on Saturday. From the defensive line, to the linebackers to the defensive backs, it was a dominating performance. Linebacker Cody Poock was on player in particular that stood out again as his instincts are very reminiscent of former Gopher great and now Dallas Cowboys LB Damien Wilson. The exciting thing is as well as Tracy Claeys' defense played on Saturday, there was definitely room for improvement and Minnesota will hopefully get starting safety Damarius Travis back for Ohio as well.
4) Keith heating up
Senior defensive end Alex Keith is one guy that I don't think has received enough attention so far this season, especially from his performance on Saturday. Keith had five tackles, a tackle for loss and two passes batted down. Keith has been able to stay healthy through the first three games this season, which is a huge reason for his success, but also he's been able to stay fresh during game because of DL coach Jeff Phelps' rotations. Keith has also forced numerous pressures as well, so hopefully he can continue this early success into the Big Ten season.
5) What to do at quarterback
I understand that certain members of the local media seriously want a quarterback controversy, but I just don't see it yet. Yes, Leidner horribly under threw the fade route to Rashad Still for the interception and threw another pick as well on a 50/50 ball to Eric Carter, but I don't put a majority of the blame on his shoulders for the lack of success in the offense Saturday. Minnesota's MO under head coach Jerry Kill and offensive coordinator has been to establish the run first and foremost, and when that doesn't happen, there's going to be problems. I also understand that Ohio had eight or nine guys in the boxes for some of the game and Minnesota needs to be able to pass out of that and take a shot into one on one coverage now and again. Throwing out true freshman Demry Croft isn't going to solve anything right now as the offensive line needs to find something to start establishing the run again, and keeping Leidner up right and not scrambling out of the pocket. I still think though that Croft or Jacques Perra, whomever is the true backup quarterback needs to see some reps this Saturday, but we'll see if the right situation arises for that.
Minnesota's offense does need to get something going against Ohio heading into the Big Ten season, but it's not just a one person situation, it rests on the entire unit as a whole. As people sometimes forget, football is a team game.