The Golden Gophers (3-2 and (0-2 in the B1G) drop their Big Ten home opener against the Iowa Hawkeyes for the battle of Floyd of Rosedale this afternoon.
Here are my three takeaways from the Gophers tough loss this afternoon.
1) Decision to abandon the run
The Minnesota Golden Gophers's running backs ran the ball 22 times for 101 yards on Saturday (4.59 ypc), but the Gophers all but went away from the run in the second half. Tracy Claeys talked about in his press conference afterwards that he didn't think the offensive line got a lot done.
"We didn’t control the line of scrimmage. It’s simple. This game is a pretty simple game. We got whipped up front. I think up front we did a pretty good job on them. They definitely got us up front. Their secondary is physical on our receivers. We didn’t have as much space to catch the ball as we did on other teams. Not a good effort overall but we did fight. We battled and got the ball down there. We’ve lost two ball games on one series at the end so we are close. We have to learn how to play together. Last week, the defense didn’t play well enough for us to win. This week the offense didn’t play well enough. We have to play as a team.”
Even if your offensive line wasn't getting it done, the running backs still are talented enough and proved that on Saturday that they can do more with less. They were doing it all season last year, and were still averaging 4.5 ypc against Iowa. Yet, Shannon Brooks only had three carries at halftime and ended up with 10 on the day averaging 5.5 with a rushing score.
After Minnesota took the lead in the third quarter, they only ran the ball five times on the four subsequent drives, which I don't understand. Sure, penalities forced Minnesota into some second or third and long situations, but you're leading at home and the Gophers decide to throw with a quarterback that was struggling. Why not put it in the hands of your running backs who were playing well.
2) Defense played more than well enough to win
After the Minnesota offense carried the Gopher defense to start the season, the additions of KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford, plus Antoine Winfield at safety proved to be an effective one. Minnesota's defense was on the field for far too long as Minnesota's offense just couldn't sustain any drives.
Big plays came from KiAnte Hardin on the deep interception, Kamal Martin made a great play covering the Hawkeye out of the backfield for the pick, Nick Rallis caused a fumble and Minnesota's defense gave the offense all the chances in the world to get back on track and football is a team game, and the offense couldn't do anything with them.
Jonathan Celestin lead the team and arguably his best performance as a Gopher with 13 total tackles, and 12 solo ones, which can't be overlooked. Steven Richardson and Andrew Stelter were getting push on the interior and Winston Delattiboudere even got his first sack of the season.
Head coach Tracy Claeys on what was working today for the Gophers defense.
"“The kids were in a position to make some tackles and they did up until that last drive. We missed one and gave up the big play. We cut down on our big plays, didn’t give up as many. But we need to make that tackle there at the end. If we hold them to a field goal, then maybe it’s different. Defensively, we lost Antoine Winfield and I thought Jacob (Huff) did a decent job. He only missed a tackle on that one play. But defensively, they gave us the effort we needed today and the other side of the ball didn’t."
Minnesota's defense was on the field for a total of 72 plays on Saturday because of all the three and outs, but they deserved a win. The team finished with eight tackles for loss, six pass break ups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack.
Too bad this performance will get overshadowed as Minnesota played their best defensive game of the season.
3) Quarterback struggles
Mitch Leidner's stat line on Saturday.
39% completion percentage
I'm well-aware that Leidner may have played his worst game as a Gopher in terms of his decision making. He missed Drew Wolitarsky twice on key third downs, took some ill-advised sacks and made some poor throws into holes that weren't there and resulted in interceptions.
His offensive line didn't give him quite the protection that he'd seen in previous games, and his receivers dropped close to six passes on the day, as it just was a day to forget for this Minnesota passing game.
This is where I believe the people at the Daily Gopher put things in perspective with the following passage.
"This is where things get really frustrating. When the passing game is struggling and you are facing a defense that struggles to stop the run (11th in the Big Ten coming into the week) AND you have two running backs who are averaging 4+ yards per carry...why don’t you run the ball? Especially on first down. Even if Iowa knows it is coming, run the ball.
In the 4th quarter the Gophers held the lead and had three possessions. This is when Minnesota should be able to do what Minnesota do best...RUN THE BALL. But this was their play selection...
Rodney Smith - 1 carry
Shannon Brooks - 1 carry (5 yards)
Leidner had 1 carry
6 passes called
Those three possessions netted exactly zero first downs and 15 yards (20 gained, -5 for penalty). After that the clock was no longer on our side and we trailed by a touchdown so it was 100% passing, and at this point you are going to see more passes than anything else."
I will not understand the reasons for Minnesota deciding to abandon to run as Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith are talented enough to create with less than ideal blocking.
Gophers have to move on to Maryland next week on the road, who are coming off a 38-14 loss to Penn State. Going to be a vital game for both teams as they try to rebound off losses.