Gopher football is back! Minnesota eked out a less-than-pretty victory over South Dakota State in their opener Thursday night. The problems were mostly minor, but there were several of them. While next week’s opponent isn’t a Power Five school, they’re expected to be highly competitive in the Mountain West Conference. Here’s what Minnesota needs to fix this week before facing Fresno State:
A lot of the problems on offense stemmed from the fact that SDSU just has a very good defense. After the first quarter, the Gophers’ run game only got going in fits and starts. Minnesota did not have a 100-yard rusher; Rodney Smith led the team with 92. SDSU stacked the box on most plays, clearly concerned about the duo of Smith and Mohamed Ibrahim. Similarly, the Gophers had similar problems in the passing game, where Tyler Johnson was well-covered all night. (On the bright side, Rashod Bateman caught five passes for 132 yards and a spectacular touchdown).
Consistency was the biggest problem for the offense. The run game couldn’t get solidly established and the receivers couldn’t get open with regularity. Tanner Morgan completed 13 of just 18 pass attempts.
First, setting the edge was a problem for the defense all night. SDSU running backs got to the periphery for major yardage repeatedly. They averaged 5.1 yards per rush, compared to 3.1 for Minnesota. The front four struggled to get to quarterback J’Bore Gibbs. But again, the biggest problem was consistency. A couple of nice plays for minimal or no gain were followed up by big first downs for the Jackrabbits.
There were some defensive highlights, as the Gophers did a nice job capitalizing on some big SDSU miscues. Chris Williamson picked off an ill-advised Gibbs pass attempt and scored. In like manner, Winston DeLattiboudere pounced on a fumble, which led to the winning touchdown. And on SDSU’s last-gasp fourth-down attempt, Esezi Otomewo and Tai’yon Devers got through for the Gophers’ first and only sack.
In addition, the miscues carried over to this unit. Freshman kicker Michael Lantz missed a PAT. The return game was almost nonexistent, while the Jackrabbits managed a couple of long ones.
The Fresno State game is not going to be pretty if the team continues to run this hot and cold from one play to the next. However, having linebacker Kamal Martin back should help shore up the defense. (Martin missed the opener- “coach’s decision”). Let’s hope some of the issues were rust-related and will dissipate with the opener out of the way.
Happy autumn, everybody- Gopher football is back!