After a 14-7 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes one thing is clear — what is going on offensively for the Gophers just won’t cut it.
Head coach Tracy Claeys put it rather bluntly following the game.
“We played well enough defensively to win the game; offensively, we didn’t,” Claeys said. “In this conference, you have to have both sides playing well together.”
Minnesota had just 268 yards of total offense on the day, while also mustering up just 13 first downs. That simply can’t happen if you want to win football games. Neither can a team afford to have a quarterback go 13 of 33 for 166 yards and two interceptions.
Those final stats don’t tell the whole story either, as Leidner failed to complete a pass until right before halftime. Leidner had completed only nine of 24 passes for 91 yards before a crazy effort on the final drive of the game too.
As a result of that horrific offensive performance, Floyd of Rosedale will return to Iowa City with the Hawkeyes. It also means Minnesota’s trophy case will remain barren until it runs in to Nebraska and Wisconsin later on this season.
Saturday’s result felt like a turning point, and not the good kind the Gophers were hoping for this offseason. Instead, it felt like a moment for the coaching staff to start to rethink what is going on offensively.
"You can always come up with excuses, but you have to find a way to get it done." Claeys, on today's game.
— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 8, 2016
With Shannon Brooks, Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary in the backfield there is enough there to help you win games. But, the running game can’t win games alone and Leidner has yet to prove he can consistently win you games with his arm.
That’s a problem as Leidner enters his final month-plus of college football. Even with a change of coordinators and coaches on the offensive side of the football, things look and feel the same as they always have with Leidner behind center — stagnant.
It also means it is time for some serious soul-searching for the Gophers offensive coaching staff. That’s especially true because it seems as if the parts are there to be successful in the passing game.
Wide receivers Drew Wolitarsky and Rashad Still are quality pass catchers, but like Leidner, lack consistency.
Still helped to extend the final effort for the Gophers offense on Saturday. He made two great catches to secure back-to-back first downs on Minnesota’s final offensive drive, but Leidner couldn’t continue to stay hot.
Instead, a drive that started at the Gophers own 12-yard line stalled out at Iowa’s 18-yard line thanks to four straight incomplete throws from Leidner to his receivers. That can’t happen when the game is on the line and you are a senior quarterback.
Clearly something just isn’t clicking, because there were times on the final drive and throughout the game where one could see why NFL scouts were intrigued by him in the offseason. That potential has been there all along, but as he plays his final season in a Gophers uniform nothing has really changed.
With the coaching staff needing to answer some very serious questions about its offense, perhaps the most important question they have to ask themselves is this one — Is Mitch Leidner really our best option to win big games?
He may be good enough to get you through matchups with Illinois or Purdue, but against high-powered defenses like Nebraska and Wisconsin? That’s hardly going to be the case.
The coaching staff also sent an intriguing message after the game, barring Leidner from speaking to the media in post-game press availability. Clearly the program doesn’t want the questions over his status to snowball based on anything he would have to say at all.
But, that is the least of the Gophers problems, because most coaching staffs would’ve found a way to look to spark their offense with some changes.
Minnesota’s biggest problem seems to be that it doesn’t have an option to spark the offense, so Leidner continues to be the option they are stuck with. That’s partly on coaching, as well as on how it has recruited the position.
Hope does spring eternal with the arrival of Seth Green on the University of Minnesota campus this past January. However, he doesn’t appear on the depth chart and appears likely that the staff really wants to skate by with a redshirt year for him.
But, at this point is there really much to lose? Perhaps, Green could kick-start the offense and keep Minnesota in the race for a Big Ten West division title. Perhaps Green struggles a bit, but learns from the experience.
He’s clearly the hope for the future, and maybe it is time for the future to be right now.
No matter what the choice is, the coaching staff has to find the answers it is looking for. Otherwise a Big Ten West division title is going to quickly and painfully slip between their fingers.
It would be a shame to waste a quality defensive effort due to stubbornness on offense. It would also be a shame to see Claeys’ stubbornness cost him an opportunity to really be the long-term option as the head coach.
With a $500,000 buyout on the table for new athletic director Mark Coyle, play like what happened against Iowa certainly has to give the new AD reason for concern about the viability of this program going forward.
The foundation is there, and many wonder when this group will take that final step to be a real contender. It may only come with the willingness to make a bold move at quarterback.
Minnesota gets Big Ten off to bright start in bowl season
It’s the one time of the year where almost every fan of a team in the Big Ten can come together — bowl season. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats and no tide is higher than taking a strong narrative in to an offseason.
The Minnesota Gophers got things started on Wednesday and the “Row the Boat” crew started things off well with a 34-10 demolition of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Bowl season also seems to provide a glimpse forward from time to time, and in the case of the Gophers they continued to see progression in the run game.
Redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim set a career high with 224 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns in the win.
That led to no need to test the arm of freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan, who threw just 13 passes on the day. He connected on seven of them for 132 yards and a pair of scores as well.
Star receiver Tyler Johnson caught both of those touchdown passes, including the final score of the game with 6:19 to play in the final quarter.
Overall, this game hit all the marks for the plan to be “elite” at Minnesota.
The Gophers defense had been a sore spot for most of the 2018 season and just like they did in the regular season finale against Wisconsin, they showed up big time.
Minnesota allowed just 283 yards of total offense to Georgia Tech, including just 206 yards on 44 carries for an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets went just 4 of 14 on third down in the game as well.
It all added up to a very positive performance for the Gophers and a nice start to what could be a very difficult bowl season for the Big Ten.
The cautionary tale may be reading too much in to a big win on the scoreboard. After all, Georgia Tech is in the process of a major transition away from the triple-option offense as Paul Johnson was removed as head coach following the regular season.
Still, the details suggest this is a Gophers program heading in the right direction at the very least. Dare we say it was an “elite” win for a program needing momentum going in to this offseason?
It certainly was a nice way to start things off if you want the Big Ten to do well this bowl season.
Gophers finally grab the Axe, manage to make big statement in the process
It’s been 14 agonizingly long years, but the streak has finally come to an end and the Minnesota Gophers have taken possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
To make the win even sweeter, Minnesota became bowl eligible as they chopped down the goalposts at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 1994.
It is time to revel and celebrate for sure. As head coach P.J. Fleck stated after the game, “this is for the state of Minnesota.”
But, this win was more of a statement than just ending a streak. How Minnesota beat the Badgers told a tale of a team ready to compete at a very high level.
Much has been made of the growing pains of a young Gophers team. On Saturday, that team finally put it together for 60 minutes in all three phases of the game.
There was a punt return for a touchdown and three made field goals from the special teams. Minnesota’s defense held Jonathan Taylor out of the end zone, forced three interceptions and a fumble out of Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook and the offense took those four turnovers and capitalized on them to the tune of 24 points.
The Gophers defense played so well on Saturday and really throughout the final few weeks of the season that interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi had the interim tag removed after the game according to Fleck.
Minnesota didn’t win on a miracle or a fluke play. The Gophers were the better team on the day. That’s important to remember.
So is the fact that this young team will now have 15 more practices and chances to get better because of this win.. Given the youth of this team, those moments are invaluable.
The experience of getting back to a bowl game will also help. Every chance to be competitive matters.
But now the bigger questions will be asked. Can the Gophers use this win as a game-changer for this program in general? Is this the defining moment of the Fleck era or a fleeting moment of glory?
Only time will answer those questions, but it is hard not to be positive about this program after getting the biggest albatross removed from around the neck of the Gophers program.
Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut
Plenty of people were curious about the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback coming in to the season opener. After all, it’s not often that a true freshman walk-on gets the starting nod.
But, the attention and pressure of the first college game was not too much to handle for Gophers quarterback Zack Annextad. After a few shaky moments early on, Annexstad looked like he belonged on the field in the Gophers 48-10 victory over New Mexico State.
Annexstad wasn’t super accurate, completing just 48 percent of his passes. But, he more than made up for it with a blistering 220 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he kept the Aggies from picking him off all game long.
Perhaps the best bit of news is that it appears the Gophers may have more than one good target for Annexstad to work with. Veteran wide receiver Tyler Johnson was on point, catching five passes for 100 yards and both of the touchdown throws.
Rashod Bateman caught five passes and Chris Autman-Bell had four to his name as well.
Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Seth Green looked dangerous as an all-around player. He touched the ball in the backfield twice and scored on both of those touches, giving future opponents plenty to think about when it comes to game-planning for the Gophers.
Minnesota also showed off an impressive run game after a rocky start on the ground. Star running back Rodney Smith racked up 153 yards and the Gophers ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns as a team.
Add in a defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground and only 10 points and there is a recipe for success going forward.
Of course, one has to take in to consideration the caliber of opponent, but for a team with a lot of question marks on offense, there’s little doubt this was a confidence builder.
While there will be plenty of improvement needed in order for Minnesota to be competitive come Big Ten play, this offense looks and feels different than it did a year ago.
As far as debuts go, there certainly was promise shown from Annexstad and that’s really all you can ask for from a freshman making his first start.
Gophers, Huskers could have games altered by Oregon wildfires
Mother Nature could wreak havoc on college football this upcoming weekend, but the majority of the news has been focused on an impending hurricane barring down on Florida.
A look out West and things are just as dangerous and deadly, as wildfires are raging in California, Oregon and Washington. That could present a big problem for the Minnesota Gophers game on Saturday night with the Oregon State Beavers and Nebraska’s visit to the Oregon Ducks.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites sources within the Pac-12 saying that the game time may be moved or the game moved all together.
While the fire isn’t the problem, it is the air quality in the Eugene area that is. Oregon has already had to move practice closer to the Pacific Coast and the air in Eugene appears to be a major issue.
The smoke in Eugene, where an air protection agency listed the air quality as “hazardous,” prompted Oregon to move its Tuesday practice to Florence, near the Pacific coast.
The good news is that the smoke cleared enough a day later for the Ducks to return to practice in Eugene. But, there is reason to believe the game could still be an issue as smoke is expected to return.
The smoke is supposed to return at some point. But we just don’t know when. … There are too many variables for us to look that far ahead of time.”
Yes, that means we won’t know about the status of Nebraska-Oregon until Saturday itself.
Meanwhile, things don’t look as precarious for the Gophers matchup, but that doesn’t mean change would be out of the question.
“Based upon the information provided by the air protection agency and the expert health and safety advice of the respective University medical professionals, a decision will be made on whether or not to adjust game times and/or dates with the safety of student-athletes and fans as a priority,” Andrew Walker, the Pac-12’s vice president of public affairs, wrote in an e-mail to the (Portland) Oregonian.
Once again, it appears things are going to be in a wait-and-see mode in Corvallis as well.
It hasn’t affected Minnesota all that much, as they are more worried about playing at game that would kick at 9pm in Minneapolis if it were being played at home.
Head coach P.J. Fleck has talked this week about making sure players are staying up later as the week goes on to adjust their bodies. That’s especially important as practices are taking place first thing in the morning this season.
Either way, both of these programs are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now and that may be the biggest hurdle to get over when prepping for Week 2.