Mistakes Of Many Varieties Doom Gophers

The Gophers had a chance to make a game of it against Ohio State, but they simply made too many mistakes to have much hope. In the second half, it all unraveled.

Had every single aspect of Minnesota's game plan gone perfectly, there's still no guarantee the Gophers would have beaten an Ohio State team with a major chip on its shoulder in Columbus on Saturday.

But with a slew of turnovers, mistakes and injuries, the Gophers didn't have a chance. Minnesota (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) had four turnovers and eight penalties for 72 yards in a 38-7 loss.

Minnesota's not good enough to make multiple crippling errors against average teams. They're certainly not skilled enough to recover from them against a team like the Buckeyes that was coming off a surprise upset at Purdue the week before and playing in front of a Homecoming crowd.

Still, there were simple things that the Gophers could have done early to make a game of it.

While quarterback Adam Weber has been blamed for a lot of the team's recent struggles on offense, the junior quarterback made a lot of accurate passes that his receivers failed to catch.

Wide receivers Brandon Green and Eric Decker helped kill the momentum of a drive from Ohio State's 33-yard line in the first quarter with back-to-back drops on passes that hit them in their hands and chest, respectively. Tight end Eric Lair missed a third down pass that hit him in his shoulder pads. Wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight also botched a good throw by Weber in the first half.

Minnesota's defense showed early that it could hang with an inspired Ohio State offense. Terrelle Pryor proved all of the doubters and skeptics wrong with a sensational performance. But Minnesota held Pryor's offense to a touchdown in the first half. With Ohio State in the red zone in the final seconds before halftime, safety Kyle Theret intercepted a Pryor pass to preserve a 7-0 deficit.

But after halftime, the slow unraveling of a team that returns to Minnesota probably needing two wins in its next three games to finish the year bowl eligible, exploded into a flood of faults, nothing new for this season's Gophers' fans.

Troy Stoudermire fumbled the first kickoff of the second half. Ohio State converted that misstep into a touchdown. A Weber fumble and interception were both turned into scores in the second half, too.

If there was any positive moment Saturday for the Gophers it was the sudden emergence of MarQueis Gray, who had thrown one pass and rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries entering Saturday's game. He led the Gophers with 81 rushing yards and was also their most efficient passer — 5-for-6, 51 yards and a touchdown.

Sure, his touchdown pass to Stoudermire came in the fourth quarter when Ohio State's reserves were in the game. But with this stat line, it might be time to unleash the highly touted freshman.

GAME BALL GOES TO: QB MarQueis Gray — He led the Gophers in rushing and played with passion on a fourth quarter scoring drive even though the game was out of reach. The big question surrounding Gray all season has been: "What will he do if he plays a bigger role in the offense?"

The Indianapolis native proved his worth against one of the Big Ten's best defenses.

KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Kevin Whaley — The redshirt freshman only had 31 yards on seven carries against Ohio State, but he's clearly the team's new workhorse. Brewster thinks Whaley is on the verge of a major break out.

LOOKING GOOD: You have to give credit to the Minnesota defense. It held a fired up Ohio State offense to a touchdown in the first half. S Kyle Theret's last-second pick in the first half preserved Minnesota's seven-point deficit entering the second half. It's hard to blame the team's defense for the second-half onslaught. Not only was that unit fatigued, but Ohio State converted a fumbled kickoff and two turnovers into touchdowns. QB MarQueis Gray stated his case for a shot at the starting spot down the stretch.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Minnesota's receivers dropped catchable balls Saturday in crucial situations. This team isn't good enough to miss out on opportunities to move down the field, but that's what the team's receivers did Saturday. Kick returner Troy Stoudermire not only blew up at a coach, but he also fumbled the first kickoff return of the second half. He was eventually replaced.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Decker is our best player, so when he sprained his foot in the first half it was tough for the whole team. We have a saying that goes ‘Next man up' that says that the next person in line has to step up and make plays and its disappointing that those guys couldn't make the plays that we needed." — Tim Brewster on the impact of losing WR Eric Decker early Saturday.

NOTES

  • WR Eric Decker left Saturday's game in the first quarter with a foot injury. He returned briefly but left again in the same quarter and didn't return. He came out in the second half with a boot on his right foot and he was wearing his warmups. For Gophers fans, it was deja vu. Last season's Gophers lost their last five games and a Decker ankle injury had a lot to do with the collapse. After Saturday's game, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster didn't speculate about a timetable for Decker's return.

  • As if a 38-7 blowout on national TV isn't enough of an embarrassment, WR Troy Stoudermire's heated verbal exchange with special teams coach John Butler, following Stoudermire's interference penalty during a fair catch call on a punt, was also caught on camera. Stoudermire was pulled on kickoffs after he dropped two. Those errors completely nullified his garbage-time touchdown in the fourth quarter.

  • QB MarQueis Gray proved that he's capable of making a major impact with the Gophers' offense, but Brewster said he intends to stick with a two-quarterback system going forward. While that might be his plan today, Brewster doesn't have a guarantee about his future at this point. With a crucial three-game home stretch ahead, Gray will likely get a lot of minutes if Weber struggles.

  • WR Eric Decker's status for the team's next four games is not known. He didn't play at all in the second half and wore a boot on the foot he injured in the second half.

  • Brewster downplayed Stoudermire's exchange with special teams coach John Butler. TV cameras caught the entire incident. Stoudermire had to be restrained by multiple teammates.

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