There were lots of highlights for the Golden Gophers on Saturday, chief among them the 40-17 score. There were two lowlights as well, namely a Grant Ryerse kickoff that went out of bounds and pick-six thrown by Tanner Morgan. Fortunately, both happened early in the game and the team recovered nicely. Late in the second quarter, there was a bad snap resulting in a non-existent PAT. After that, it was smooth sailing in all phases of the game.
Highlights for the Golden Gophers
It doesn’t seem to be on youtube yet, but Rodney Smith took off on a 64-yard run in the second quarter to set up Minnesota’s first touchdown. Rashod Bateman‘s downfield blocking was a huge part of the play. In my notes, it says that Smith had 125 yards on ten carries at the 8:28 mark of the second quarter. He finished the game with 24 carries for 211 yards.
While we’re on the topic of the run game, it was great to see Shannon Brooks score his first touchdown since returning to action last week. Brooks suffered the second ACL tear of his career against Illinois a year ago. (Twincities.com does a nice job summarizing his injury history in this article).
As for the receiving game, I don’t even know what to say about Tyler Johnson anymore. While Illinois did a good job shutting down the passing game, the reliable senior caught his fifth touchdown in as many games. Also of note, redshirt freshman Brevyn Spann-Ford had his first career catch- and it happened to be for a touchdown. The 6’7″ tight end is a big target and could prove to be a useful weapon, especially in the red zone, down the stretch.
This was arguably the best game of the season for the Minnesota defense, which allowed just three points. (Both of the Illini touchdowns were scored by their defense).
The most noteworthy highlight was certainly Antoine Winfield Jr.‘s first-quarter interception. Winfield returned it thirteen yards to set up the Gophers’ first points of the day, a Michael Lantz field goal. Later in the game, freshman linebacker Braelen Oliver got his first career sack. Notre Dame grad transfer Micah Dew-Treadway combined with Winston DeLattiboudere for his first half-sack as a Gopher. Benjamin St-Juste and Coney Durr each had multiple pass breakups for the second week in a row. Overall, it was a stellar effort by the defense.
Special Teams Highlights
Other than the aforementioned errors, it was another good effort on special teams. For the second consecutive game, the team downed a Jacob Herbers punt inside the five; I couldn’t see the number clearly, but I think it was Phillip Howard who downed it again this week. Smith had a 22-yard kick return, but I have to say, I hate seeing him in the return game. He’s too valuable as a running back to take the injury risk, especially with Mohamed Ibrahim out.
Freshman kicker Michael Lantz was 2/2 on field goals and 4/4 on extra points. (The extra point that didn’t happen doesn’t count against him because he never actually tried to kick the ball.)
Overall, it was a fantastic team effort with plenty of highlights for the Golden Gophers. The team’s biggest test of the season to date is coming up next Saturday with a visit from Nebraska.