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Instant Analysis on Minnesota's close victory over Ohio

MINNEAPOLIS - The Gophers pull out a late victory on Homecoming Saturday to give the Ohio Bobcats their first loss of the year and Minnesota improves to 3-1 on the year with Big Ten play opening next weekend. GopherDigest tells you what to takeaway from the victory.

Minnesota 27, Ohio 24

What happened

Shannon Brooks scored his second touchdown of the game with 0:30 left as Minnesota (3-1) perseveres to beat Ohio (3-1). The Ohio Bobcats had a chance to win the game on a Hail Mary attempt at the end, but it was batted down by the Gopher defenders to secure the victory. The Minnesota offense had 204 yards on the ground today and three rushing touchdowns after only averaging 2.3 yards per attempt on 44 carries the week before against Kent State. The Gophers special teams had some uncharacteristic miscues today including three muffed punts from returner Craig James. Minnesota also had the injury bug come up and bite them again as the following players didn't finish the game today:

  • WR Drew Wolitarsky
  • LB Cody Poock
  • CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun
  • CB KiAnte Hardin
  • Safety Antonio Johnson

All are key contributors and Minnesota will need to get some of these bodies healthy for next week's Big Ten opener on the road against Northwestern. 

What it means

Minnesota (3-1) finishes the non-conference with the record most projected and enter Big Ten play halfway to a fourth-straight bowl game. It wasn't a pretty win as Minnesota's special teams had numerous blunders from a few muffed punts, one ending in a short field and a kickoff return fielded out of bounds that caused the Gophers to start at the six yard line instead of the 35, but in the end Minnesota's offense carried this team to it's third victory of the season. A win -- no matter how it was earned -- keeps them on track.

What went right

Minnesota's running attack. 

Both the legs of two freshmen running backs in Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, the Gophers tailbacks averaged more than six yards per carry and Brooks had two touchdowns including the game winner with 30 seconds left. I give a huge credit to the Gophers offensive line and tight ends today after a dismal performance the week before, they came out motivated and gave these two freshmen lanes to run through all game. Quarterback Mitch Leidner set a career high in passing yards today with 264 in the Gophers victory as well.

Even though the Gophers defense had probably a mediocre day by their standards giving up 24 points, this Minnesota defense totaled nine tackles for loss, six pass breakups and two sacks. Junior Jalen Myrick had five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup and junior defensive tackle Scott Ekpe had two tackles for loss and four total tackles. I also want to credit true freshman Antonio Shenault who was thrust into significant game action in the second half after Boddy-Calhoun went out and he didn't look overwhelmed by the moment at all. Shenault finished with six tackles from his position as the slot corner. 

The kicking game was about the only thing that went right for the Gophers special teams as sophomore Ryan Santoso converted both of his field goal attempts from 49 and 24 yards respectively. Punter Peter Mortell had two of his three punts downed within the 20 yard line as well.

What went wrong

Minnesota got the victory, but limped out decimated with injuries. As I highlighted earlier, the Gophers lost two starters in the secondary with corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun and safety Antonio Johnson exiting the game with undisclosed injuries. Linebacker Cody Poock was out with a rib injury and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky immediately went to the sidelines after catching a key pass to give the Gophers a first down in the 3rd quarter and didn't return. True freshman corner KiAnte Hardin also went out with an injury and was without his pads and helmet on the sidelines in the second half. Minnesota needs this group among others already out with injuries to get healthy for a tough Big Ten opener against Northwestern next Saturday. 

The Gophers special teams was also an Achilles heal, which was very uncharacteristic for a Jerry Kill coached team. Sophomore Craig James muffed three punts today, including one in the 4th quarter that gave the Bobcats great field position. With both Boddy-Calhoun and Hardin out with injury, James was the Gophers only option. We'll see if that remains the case for next week. 

Co-Stars of the game

Freshmen running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith

Smith totaled 152 yards of offense this afternoon (94 yards on the ground and 58 on four catches through the air) and Brooks had 82 yards on the ground on ten carries and two rushing touchdowns. That's approximately half of the Gophers total offense today. Brooks in really his first Big Ten game on offense looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he exploded for 71 yards on three carries and a touchdown. Smith was extremely dependable for Leidner, especially in the screen game. Minnesota's future at tailback position is definitely shining bright for the next few years with Brooks and Smith leading the way. 

What's next

Minnesota opens their Big Ten season on the road next weekend in Evanston against the Wildcats of Northwestern. The Wildcats (3-0) offense, led by freshman quarterback Clayton Thorsen, is going to be an interesting matchup for this depleted Gopher defense. Minnesota's offense will also have to meet Northwestern standout linebacker Anthony Walker, who's been a one man wrecking crew for the Wildcats through three games totaling 36 tackles and 6.5 TFL. The Gophers have beaten Northwestern the last two times these teams have met, and Minnesota hopes that trend continues. 

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