Offense Steady, Defense Suspect in Gophers Season Opening Win

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No one knew what to expect going into the Minnesota Gophers opener against Middle Tennessee State Thursday night, but all in all, Gophers running back Duane Bennett summed it up pretty well.

“I’m glad we came out with the victory,” he said after grinding out 187 yards on the ground.

Considering all the holes left last year by Eric Decker, Nate Triplett and all the other contributing seniors that have now moved on to the real world, Gopher faithful have to be happy with the result.

Yes, it was only a 24-17 victory in the end, and realistically no Sun Belt opponent should ever beat a Big Ten team, but looking at the stats and how the Gophers got the victory, it sure seemed like a lot more than a seven point win.

27 first downs to only 12 for Middle Tennessee State, 45 minutes of possession, and 431 total yards are extremely impressive offensive statistics, especially for a Gophers offense that struggled so mightily on the ground last year.

Adam Weber was not called into action often, going 10-17 with 150 yards through the air, and had a pretty pedestrian game.

That being said, perhaps not having to put the ball in his hands much early is a good thing.  Weber might be able to use this win as a confidence booster because of the lack of mistakes he made.

Adam Weber

If there was one surprise throughout it was the Gophers running game.

A team that averaged under 100 yards a game on the ground last year nearly tripled that output and used the ground and pound to get that 45 minutes of possession.

Bennett’s 187 was the Gophers first 100 yard rusher since 2008, and the Gophers offensive line looked solid in pretty much every aspect, a huge concern entering this game.

Gophers full back Jon Hoese took advantage of the O-line’s prowess Thursday, scoring all three of the Gophers touchdowns, and if there was ever a guy you were rooting for in this game, it was him.

Hoese’s father suffered a stroke earlier in the week and made the last minute decision to make the trip to Tennessee with the team.

One could say that decision worked out pretty well for the team and for him, and Gophers coach Tim Brewster put it very well after the game.

“The story of the game is John Hoese. It’s a story about a kid whose dad is gravely ill, and he played his heart out for?his father tonight. He scored three touchdowns, and we gave him the game ball. That game ball is going to go to?Terry Hoese. That’s the storyline tonight, celebrating the love a son has for his father and the love a father has for his?son.”

On the other side of the ball, there have to be a few more concerns for the Gophers.

Although the Blue Raider offense was only on the field 15 minutes of the game, they managed 312 yards of offense and nearly seven yards per carry out of their hurry up offense.

Perhaps even more concerning was the Gophers allowing Logan Kilgore, Middle Tennessee’s QB in the stead of suspended starter Dwight Dasher, to complete over 70% of his passes and post a 160 QB rating.

The defense was always the weaker side of the ball coming in considering nine of the starters were either spot players last year or completely new to the starting gig this year.

Unfortunately, the signs of meshing as a unit were not there in this game against a team featuring a backup QB and a running back by committee approach.  The performance of the defense will need to show improvement next week against South Dakota to get some shred of confidence heading into the showdown with USC.

usc football

Overall, you have to look at a number of factors when judging this performance by Minnesota.

Firstly, they were playing an inferior opponent, so victory was a must in an opener that had potential to be disastrous.  If you lose to Middle Tennessee State, the season has the possibility of spiraling out of control early.

The Gophers committed very few penalties, controlled the ball, and were able to run the rock, which are three huge positives from a recipe to win standpoint.

Fundamentally, it was a sound game, which is a good sign in the first real contest of the year.

In the passing game, you still don’t really know much.

No receiver stood out, which isn’t encouraging considering the limbo the receiving core is in, but they didn’t have many chances, either.

Adam Weber is this team’s quarterback, that much we do know, with Marqueis Gray not seeing a snap under center.

Weber will need to be a force in the Big Ten schedule and against USC in week three, because the running game won’t be as good as it was Thursday again this season.

The offensive line did their job, handling a very undersized D-line of Middle Tennessee.  The Gophers probably won’t have an easier task up front this season than these first two games, and hopefully won’t be shell shocked to see grown men step up in USC uniforms in week three.

At the end of the day, regardless of all of the defensive struggles or the offensive successes, you’re 1-0, and that’s the first step in the direction the Gophers want to be going.

Check in for the preview of the Gophers and South Dakota early next week.

-Mike Gallagher

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Comments

  1. let’s hope this isn’t the highlight of the season! nice to beat who we’re supposed to beat, but it only gets tougher from here on out…

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