Just a week after failing to retain the Floyd of Rosedale against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the University of Minnesota football program suffered its second-straight loss in a rivalry game, falling 33-10 to the Michigan Wolverines.
The loss dropped first-year Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck’s record in Big Ten rivalry games to 0-2. An even more glaring issue has been the step back the Gophers have taken both offensively and defensively.
Is Croft the answer?
After taking over as the starter, the Gophers’ passing game has taken a step back with sophomore quarterback Demry Croft. Aside from a sparkling comeback attempt that fell just short against Michigan State, it has been nothing short of a roller coaster. In the last three games, Croft has failed to complete over 50 percent of his passes, completing 19-of-55 attempted passes. Even more pressing is that the sophomore quarterback has surpassed more than 100 yards passing in just one day, a 9-of-29 for 139-yard performance against Iowa last week.
There were signs that Croft could possibly be the jolt that the offense needed; being able to open up the offense with the ability to provide the threat of being a runner or at least be able to open up the passing game enough to soften the box. However, neither of which has happened to the true vision of Gophers fans.
Run stuffing woes
Through the first three games of the season, it look as if the Gophers could potentially have one of the best front sevens against the run in the country. Once the team came out of the bye week to host Maryland in their conference opener, it was like the unit fell out of a tree. Since then, it has been sporadic at best.
After limiting Iowa’s shifty back in Akrum Wadley to just 70 yards, the Gophers defense went into a sloppy Big House and got a life lesson in the negative effects of not playing fundamentally sound defense against a power set. Whether it was outside zone or power, Minnesota simply didn’t adjust their run fits properly.
The result was a career day by Michigan running back Karan Higdon, who rushed for 200 yards and two scores on 16 carries. It was also a stellar performance by Chris Evans, adding 191 yards and a pair of scores on 13 carries. Evans’ two scores went from 60 and 67 yards out. When the Michigan offensive line wasn’t able to cleanly climb to the second level, missed tackles allowed for minimal gains to explode into big gains.
Both backs averaged more than 10 yards a carry in the win. Evans averaged 14.7 ypc while Higdon was nearly 13 (12.5) yards per rush. Aside from big days from Evans and Higdon, the Gophers defense was able to record three sacks and limited the Wolverines passing attack to 56 yards.
Injuries starting to mount
A game note that is worthy of Gophers fans attention is worthy of attention was the absence of senior linebacker Jonathan Celestin from the second half. Celestin, who has been wearing an elbow brace, was held out of the second half. It was also reported that offensive lineman Jared Weyler re-injured his left leg and left the field on crutches.
As if the running game was struggling with the constant changing of personnel along the offensive line, the Gophers were without a pair of backs Saturday. Shannon Brooks, the team’s second-leading rusher, was out against the Wolverines, marking the third game this season he has missed. Kobe McCrary, who had 153 yards on the ground against the Illini on Oct. 20 left the game with a neck injury.
With the Nebraska Cornhuskers – losers in three of the last four contests – rolling into TCF Bank Stadium Saturday, the Gophers will have to find a way to get the passing game opened up to alleviate some of the pressure in the box and regain their defensive dominance that was present the first three games of the season.
The Gophers will host the Cornhuskers Saturday with kickoff slated for 11:00 a.m.
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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