The final score between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Michigan Wolverines was a lot to a little. If you didn’t watch the game, you probably picked up a newspaper, or checked your cell phone and muttered to yourself — “Same old Gophers, getting crushed by Michigan.”
Call me crazy, and believe me I’ve had plenty of people in my life call me that, but I thought the game was deceptively competitive. I hate getting into what ifs, but bear with me here.
What if Mitch Leidner had hit Donovhan Jones in stride in the fourth quarter and pulled the Gophers within one possession at 28-20? Leidner failed and the Wolverines scored the final 14 points of the game to pull away with the blowout, 42-13.
All ugliness aside, there were plenty of positives from the game, starting with the play of the starting redshirt freshman quarterback.
WHAT I LIKED:
1. Mitch Leidner: He looked calm and decisive, as if he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Leidner showed calm feet, and despite the fact that he’s a run-first quarterback, Leidner kept his eyes downfield for most of the game looking to throw. He rarely panicked. His only interception was in garbage time when he choreographed his pass. Leidner fumbled on the opening drive, but he redeemed himself immediately, driving the Gophers down the field for their only touchdown, hitting Maxx Williams in the corner of the endzone for his first career touchdown pass. That drive engineered by Leidner ate up 10-plus minutes of the clock.
2. Maxx Williams: I’ve been saying this ever since I saw him play in the spring game: Maxx Williams is an NFL tight end. He’s a matchup nightmare with his size and speed. Leidner and Williams looked like they were on the same page for most of the game.
3. Chris Hawthorne: Outside of missing a few extra points this year, Hawthorne has been solid. He booted a 44-yard field goal to pull the Gophers within 11 at 21-10 and added a short field goal later. He’s been a pleasant surprise this year.
4. The cohesion of the coaching staff: It’s hard not to be impressed with this coaching staff. Jerry Kill suffered a seizure in Minneapolis on Saturday morning and wasn’t able to join the team in Ann Arbor. His staff executed the game plan and didn’t seem fazed by it, which was impressive. You can tell the staff loves Kill.
5. The offensive Line: This is a Jekyll and Hyde group to say the least. They’re up one week and down the next. They’re inconsistent, however they have come up big in spots along the way. The offense certainly hasn’t been lighting the scoreboard on fire, but this unit played well and allowed the Gophers to improve their rushing total from Iowa. The Gophers managed to rush for 136 yards against Michigan as opposed to 30 yards against Iowa.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
1. Third down defense: The Gopher defense allowed the Wolverines to convert 10-of-13 third downs. You aren’t going to win many ball games that way.
2. The running backs: Outside of a few nice runs from Rodrick Williams Jr., I thought the running backs didn’t show much of a pulse. How much longer before they consider pulling Berkley Edwards’ redshirt? If the Gophers want to make a bowl game, they may have to consider it.
3. Pressuring Devin Gardner: According to Gophers safety Cedric Thompson, Gardner “panics a lot.” Yet the Gophers didn’t force him to panic by putting pressure on him. Gardner had plenty of time to throw and ended up completing 13-of-17 for 245 yards with a touchdown.
4. The pass defense: It was bad. I thought the pass defense was going to be a strength for the Gophers. I was very wrong. The defense continued to give up a high completion percentage and allowed too many third and long conversions. Everyone is culpable: the pass rush, the secondary, and the linebackers.
5. Lack of confidence against good teams: I don’t know if it’s the maize and blue helmets, the Big House, the 111,000 fans or something else, but the Gophers never looked like a team that thought they had a chance to win. I suppose that confidence will come from winning Big Ten and rivalry games on a consistent basis, something this program hasn’t done in many years.