Following a season of frustration in 2007, Minnesota may have turned a corner by pulling out a 31-27 win over Northern Illinois Aug. 30. Then again, the squeaker victory showed just how far the Golden Gophers still have to go before challenging for a bowl bid.
The big plays that were so often the Gophers' downfall last season were still a problem. Touchdown passes of 91 and 52 yards put the Huskies back in the game and erased any positive momentum that may have been gained from the solid showing by the Gophers' run defense. NIU threw for 326 yards and averaged nearly 20 yards per completion.
On the bright side, the Gophers' offense was just as prolific, and this week against Bowling Green, quarterback Adam Weber & Co. will have to match that performance if they want to open the season 2-0. Bowling Green is riding high after knocking off Pittsburgh in Week One, and the Falcons' defense shut out the Panthers in the second half to pull off a major upset. The Gophers will need to establish the run and hope the defense can step up its game at home.
For now, head coach Tim Brewster is just happy to get a win. With all the heartache the Gophers endured on the field last season, just getting a victory was a step in the right direction for Minnesota football. Brewster realizes his team escaped with the win, and he's not about to let his ballclub ride too high afterward.
"Bowling Green is a good football team," Brewster said Aug. 30. "I watched the whole game, and they beat the 25th-ranked team in the country. I will tell you what, we have got out hands full next week. We know what a good team they are, we played them here last year. For them to go in to Pittsburgh and do what they did today was big."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Adam Weber and RB Duane Bennett showed they have taken steps forward in their development vs. Northern Illinois. Weber recorded 12 rushing attempts, but he was patient before breaking out of the pocket and played with plenty of poise. Bennett, meanwhile, showed patience as well, picking and choosing his holes before exploding through the line. If Bennett can continue to be a force in the running game, the Gophers will have a lot more opportunities off play-action passes, which should stretch the field.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: An optimist would say that the Gophers' pass defense didn't play all that poorly vs. NIU because if you take away the 143 yards in long passes given up on two TD passes in the second half, the Gophers only gave up 183 yards through the air vs. the Huskies. Of course, every pass counts, and it's especially troubling considering all the big plays Minnesota allowed last year. CBs Ryan Collado, Marcus Sherels and Traye Simmons need to gamble less and work to keep receivers in front of them if they are going to slow down BGSU's offense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Shoot, that was going back to my high school days. It was a little different but it was fun to be on the other side of the ball and playing a little defense. It was cool to be in that type of situation and have the opportunity to make a play." — WR Eric Decker on getting the opportunity to play on defense for Northern Illinois' Hail Mary passes on the final two plays in regulation.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Bowling Green, Sept. 6 — Both teams are coming off confidence-building wins and hope to make a statement early in the season by opening 2-0. Bowling Green faces the bigger prospect of suffering a letdown, but the Falcons will be at home and would love to knock off a Big Ten opponent. Minnesota simply can't afford a non-conference loss this season, and the Gophers must be ready to play 60 minutes of tough football if they are going to pull off the win on the road.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Adam Weber — Weber got off to a solid start in Week One, and his poise during Minnesota's game-winning drive could prove to be a turning point in his maturation. Weber needs to play with confidence early, and he likely will turn to his security blanket, WR Eric Decker, to find his rhythm.
CB Ryan Collado — After getting burned twice on long passes last week, Collado will be looking for redemption vs. Bowling Green. That fact could be a bit of a concern if Collado presses, since defenders who are pressing tend to try to do too much and are more prone to mistakes.
S Tremaine Brock — Brock was expected to be an impact player, and he hasn't disappointed. His leadership in the secondary will be critical if the Gophers are going to win at Bowling Green. He may have a tendency to overpursue, but his aggressiveness is a positive in the run game.
Big plays still haunt Gophers
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