The competition level will go up drastically when Big Ten play starts Sept. 27 at Ohio State, but for now, a young Gophers team learning how to win is getting plenty of experience. The 3-0 Gophers will try to move to 4-0 against a Florida Atlantic team that stayed with Michigan State in the rain last weekend in East Lansing.
"We're thrilled to death to be 3-0, but we also know that we have a ton of work to do," coach Tim Brewster said. "You think about the ceiling that we've got as opposed to other teams, with the youth we have. It's amazing."
The Gophers have already withstood injuries across the offensive line and at tailback, where starter Duane Bennett has been lost for the year with a knee injury. But Minnesota continues to find ways to win, even by relying heavily on freshmen like tailback DeLeon Eskridge, right tackle Ryan Wynn, center Trey Davis and right guard Chris Bunders.
Eskridge was the biggest surprise, rushing for three touchdowns against Montana State.
"What I want to see is (Eskridge) continue that, studying and practicing, and by the end of the week, we'll have a good feel this is the guy," he said. "Freshmen are also capable of taking a step back."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The line has been ravaged with injuries, the expected leading rusher has been lost for the year, and yet Adam Weber continues to complete passes, and the Gophers continue to find running backs who can get the job done. Two weeks ago, it was Shady Salamon. Last week it was DeLeon Eskridge. Sooner or later, playing all of these freshmen would seem to catch up with the Gophers. For now, they'll enjoy the success and winning — two things that haven't happened the last few years in the Twin Cities.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gophers continue to give up too many points and too many yards, ranking 10th in the conference in points allowed (22.3 per game), 11th in pass defense (268.3 yards per game) and 10th in total defense (381 yards per game). If that doesn't improve, all of these good vibes will be gone when the Gophers enter Big Ten play.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida Atlantic at Michigan State, Sept. 20 — The Owls will make their second straight trip to a Big Ten stadium after losing in the pouring rain to Michigan State last week. This game poses matchup problems for the Gophers, since FAU loves to throw the ball around, the Gophers are weak on pass defense, and there is no rain expected inside the Metrodome.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Eric Decker — Caught nine passes for 154 yards and a score against Montana State. Emerging as a top target for QB Adam Weber.
RB DeLeon Eskridge — In the battle to replace Duane Bennett, Eskridge appears to have the upper hand after becoming the first freshman in 22 years to rush for at least three touchdowns in a game. Eskridge should be the featured back moving forward.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Three-and-0 Gophers, you've gotta love it. You've got to be fired up." — Coach Tim Brewster, on the Gophers' hot start.