I had a feeling the Gophers were going to play their best game of the season against Northwestern and they did just that. However, I had no idea they were going to win or that Jerry Kill was going to make an appearance. Speaking of Kill, if this doesn’t get you fired up and emotional, then you probably aren’t a Gopher football fan.
I got irked when some people “assumed” that the Gophers would go 0-8 after they lost at home to Iowa. That is so silly to gauge how a team is going to finish after the performance of one game. Now I’m not going to sit here and try to excuse how the Gophers played against the Hawkeyes because it was a bad look and I was as unhappy as anyone, but you can not draw conclusions on the entire season from that.
You also can’t draw conclusions from the Gophers beating Northwestern on the road. “Oh we beat Northwestern so now we’re winning 8 ball games!” That’s not the case either.
This is what we know: The Gophers are 5-2 and have a legitimate shot at returning to a bowl game, they are just one win shy of bowl eligibility.
So let’s take a look at what we liked and didn’t like from the Northwestern game.
WHAT I LIKED
1. Ra’Shede Hageman: He was absolutely spectacular. He batted three passes, intercepted a pass, and registered a solo tackle. He was wreaking havoc all game. Easily the best game from Hageman as he played like an All-American.
2. David Cobb: Nothing personal against Donnell Kirkwood who provides tough, physical north/south running, but Cobb provides a little juice and cutback ability. I noticed many plays where Cobb would twist and turn looking for extra yardage. That is something that has been missing from this group of running backs. i.e. Rodrick Williams and Kirkwood.
3. Jerry Kill making a cameo: Anyone that has paid attention to this program in the last three years knows that Jerry Kill is building this program the right way. Kids are going to classes, their grades are improving, their attitudes are improving, and they play hard. Not to mention they look bigger and stronger. To see the man that has worked so hard make the trip all the way down from the Twin Cities to watch his team play just goes to show you the effort and amount of work he has put into turning this program around.
4. Philip Nelson: I was as vicious in analyzing Philip Nelson’s progress as anyone. In fact I had left him for dead. I was already starting to wonder if Nelson would consider a transfer — which in hindsight was a ridiculous line of thinking on my part. I had fell into the trap of Monday Morning Quarterbacks that would quit on the faith of a kid after one lousy performance. Nelson made us all eat crow. I’ll be honest I didn’t even think he had this in him: 8-11 passing for 112 yards and one touchdown — it should have been two touchdowns but the offensive pass interference call on Fruechte was preposterous. Nelson was the clear leader of the offense on Saturday against Northwestern and I don’t know if they would have won the game without him.
5. Peter Mortell: I need to give the punter some love, because punters need love too you know. Mortel averaged 44.7 yards per punt and pinned two inside the 20. He has been a very underrated member of this football team. He’s also a fun guy to follow on Twitter.
6. The defensive play calling: It was exemplary. Tracy Claeys called as good of a game as I have seen from him as defensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota. And to top it all off, he did that while being the active head coach. Hats off to Coach Claeys!
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
1. The clock management at the end of the first half: As good of a game as Tracy Claeys had , the clock management at the end of the first half was inexcusable.
2. The refs: I hate to be the guy that complains about officiating, especially after a win, but they cost the Gophers 14 points and I’m not being facetious. The OPI call on Isaac Fruechte was as lousy of a call as I have ever seen from Big Ten officials. Also, with the Gophers up 20-10 and Northwestern facing a fourth and 14, Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian threw an incomplete pass to receiver Tony Jones. However, Minnesota cornerback Eric Murray was flagged for pass interference on a ticky tack call that extended the Northwestern drive and eventually led to a touchdown and some anxious moments for Gopher fans.
3. Maxx Williams dropping passes: My jaw dropped to the floor when I saw Maxx Williams drop a couple passes. That isn’t like him and it’s a trend I don’t expect to continue.
4. The tackling on the first Northwestern TD drive: A horrific effort by Derrick Wells in which he laid a shoulder into the Northwestern receiver on a third and long play. If Wells made that tackle, Northwestern would have been forced to punt the ball. Instead Wells’ lackadaisical effort allowed the Northwestern drive to continue, which ended in a touchdown.