Here are five takeaways from this afternoon's performance.
1) Running the ball consistently works
A week after getting 22 touches against Iowa, Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for 257 total yards on 42 touches for three touchdowns against Maryland. Shocker that when Smith and Brooks get touches, good things happen for the Minnesota offense.
A week removed from Gopher head coach Tracy Claeys calling out this Minnesota offensive line, Bart Miler and company responded to the effect of 229 rushing yards and only one sack. The Gophers lost starting right tackle Garrison Wright early in the second half and Nick Connelly came in and played well in his absence. It's clear that offensive coordinator Jay Johnson's game plan was to run the ball early and often with Conor Rhoda getting his first career start, and while the offense started slow, they were able to keep feeding Smith and Brooks and it made off on the long scamper from Smith.
Rodney Smith specifically deserves some love as he turned 19 touches into 154 yards and two touchdowns. Smith was a tough runner all day and showed off the speed on that 70 yard touchdown run.
Good things happen when Minnesota gives Smith and Brooks the ball, so lets hope the duo continues to average 40 touches a game here going forward.
2) Defense comes to play again
Through three quarters of play Saturday, Jay Sawvel's defense had only given 100 total yards and zero points. Even more impressive may have been that Maryland was averaging 274 rushing yards coming into today, and they ended the third quarter with 65 yards on 21 carries, and the day with 36 attempts for 130 yards. I think it's time to start taking this Minnesota run defense seriously and it's likely only going to get better going against Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue in their next three games.
Minnesota's defensive tackle play has been superb between Steven Richardson, Andrew Stelter, Scott Ekpe and Yoshoub Timms up front. All four have maintaining their gaps and getting penetration into the backfield, which is allowing the linebackers and secondary players to shoot the gaps for tackles.
Antoine Winfield also came up with his first interception of his career that happened to go 82 yards the other way for a touchdown. Minnesota forced four turnovers on the day and didn't turn the ball over once, and that itself is going to put you in a lot of favorable positions to win.
3) Rhoda is steady in debut
By no means did Conor Rhoda set the world on fire going 7/15 for 82 yards and one passing touchdown, but he managed the game and didn't turn the ball over. Rhoda definitely had some jitters in the first half as he wasn't trusting his protection and scrambling when he didn't need to, but he took care of the ball and made throws when he needed too.
Still zero doubt in my mind that Mitch Leidner is the undisputed starter when he does return from his concussion, but in the mean time, as long as Rhoda can keep managing the game, Minnesota should be fine.
4) Minnesota gets off the field on third down
On Maryland's first ten drives of the game, Minnesota only allowed the Terrapins to get past four plays ONCE. Meaning that nine of Maryland's ten drives, the Terrapins were four plays or less and ended up punting the ball, or turning it over.
That's going to win you a lot of ball games when the offense can never get anything going. Maryland mixed in a 11 play drive in there that they ended up punting on, so Jay Sawvel's defense for the second week in a row put up a stellar performance. Maryland ran 40 plays in the fourth quarter on four drives and that only resulted in 10 points with Minnesota primarily in prevent defense as they were up double digit scores.
Also want to give linebacker Jonathan Celestin some credit as he led Minnesota in tackles for the second consecutive week and was making plays all over the field. Should have had an interception on a screen, but ended with six solo tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. He's been key in limiting big plays.
5) Momentum to build on going forward
This win is big for so many reasons including stopping a two game losing streak, but more importantly it gives this Gopher Football team some momentum to build on heading home next week against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Minnesota's next three opponents:
Vs. Rutgers - 2-5 (0-4)
At Illinois - 2-4 (1-2)
Vs. Purdue - 3-3 (1-2)
A combined Big Ten record so far of 2-8, so this needs to be three straight Big Ten wins for Minnesota before they travel to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in November.
For the day though, Minnesota was able to dominate and get a 21 point victory on the road, which is definitely a building block for next week.