After having an opportunity to re-watch the Gophers loss against #16 Northwestern, here are some parting thoughts.
It's not all on the quarterback
Yes, I know that Mitch Leidner was "pulled" in the fourth quarter for true freshman Demry Croft, but still not placing a majority of the blame on these two. Minnesota's quarterbacks combined for 99 yards and a 46% completion percentage and an interception, so they weren't great, but they're not being given much of a chance right now. Sure Leidner missed some throws as did Croft who should have had a couple interceptions, but they're not getting enough time in the pocket and are being put into tough situations on third and longs where the defense can pin their ears back and come after the quarterback. Minnesota does need better play out of this position obviously, and it's the easiest "quick fix" as the offensive line or tight ends aren't going to get healthy overnight and the receivers aren't going to mature in one week. I'm in the boat now of now that Croft's redshirt is burned, you need to play some in at least a quarterback by committee for the rest of the season. I'm still a little hesitant to throw Croft out there as I don't want him to get pummeled for the rest of the year, but it's clear that he's got the most upside and talent at the quarterback position on the roster. That's no shot at Leidner, but just reality. I believed earlier in the season that Leidner have Minnesota the best chance to win, but with the offense struggling to get anything going, I think it's time to make a change and run with the true freshmen Croft the rest of the season. They'll be some lumps sure, but he's the quarterback that I believe gives the Gophers the best chance to succeed.
Soul searching on offense
I've watched the game back three times now and my thoughts on the offensive struggles is that there's no quick fix. Zero. The offensive line is a M.A.S.H. unit as LG Joe Bjorklund left the game in the second quarter and Foster Bush who replaced him is really Minnesota's last option on that OL. Junior Isaac Hayes is still an option, but he had a lot of struggles during fall camp and behind Hayes is all freshmen. With Christenson, Lauer, A. Mayes and potentially Bjorklund, there's little depth left for any more injuries on the OL before a redshirt is pulled. While Leidner hasn't been great, he also hasn't had anyone who can consistently get open downfield, which causes him to hold the ball longer than he should, which results in a sack or negative play. The receiver group hasn't been able to get consistent separation from their defenders and Leidner is hesitant to try and force balls into small windows, as doesn't want to turn the ball over. The tight ends and fullbacks didn't have their best performances of the year from a blocking standpoint as the edge defenders were too far in the backfield too many times. The running backs were the group that I thought didn't leave many yards on the field as they consistently created yards, but pass protection was a little iffy. Again, the whole unit as a group needs to find something positive to build on this week as Purdue isn't a push over, and that made require some change.
Defense is actually playing well
Hey that's a positive. Despite being down All-American Briean Boddy-Calhoun, future NFL safety Damarius Travis, sophomore Craig James and JUCO All-American Ace Rogers playing on a bad knee, this Gopher secondary continues to play well. The depth there is seriously being tested as two true freshmen are seeing time on the field now because of injuries in KiAnte Hardin and Antonio Shenault. The defense was very solid on Saturday even though the score may not reflect that as 14 points came in a scoop and score for a touchdown and then a punt return had the defense pinned inside the five. Take out those two plays and Minnesota loses 13-0 after being on the field for far too long Saturday. Guys like Eric Murray, Antonio Johnson and Jack Lynn came to play Saturday and I hope that doesn't get lost in shuffle. Minnesota does need to get that secondary healthy though.
Injuries stacking on injuries
I'm starting to wonder if this 2015 season is turning into a what could have been because of all the injuries Minnesota has sustained thus far. There's still a lot of time to change that narrative starting next week against Purdue and again for the home opener against Nebraska, but Minnesota had 7 projected starters who were projected to start the season out on Saturday against Northwestern.
- Tackle Ben Lauer
- Guard Jon Christenson
- Guard Joe Bjorklund
- Tight end Lincoln Plsek
- Tight end Duke Anyanwu
- Corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun
- Safety Damarius Travis
Plus, safety Ace Rogers, tight end Brandon Lingen, wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, offensive lineman Josh Campion, tackle Jonah Pirsig, linebacker Cody Poock, safety Kunle Ayinde, corner Kiante Hardin and safety Antonio Johnson have missed time this season because of injury, it's remarkable Minnesota has had this much success so far this season. All of those guys I've listed have played significant snaps for Minnesota so far this season and that's a total of 16 guys who are/were injured. Injuries are something that happen with the game of football, everyone knows that, but it just needs like one of those years where Minnesota can't catch a break with injuries.