It was another close one for Minnesota as the Gophers beat Fresno State 38-35 in a double-overtime thriller. (You can read my article about their Week One victory here). However, they nearly beat themselves. Fumbling five times, losing three of them, and committing seven penalties (many of them ill-timed) is not generally a good way to win games. In my notes from the game, I wrote, “Fixed last week’s mistakes- found new ones”. That said, they did manage to leave California with the win, meaning the team did some things right as well.
What Went Right
The opening drive was excellent- 11 plays, 75 yards, Rashod Bateman touchdown. Tanner Morgan had an up-and-down game. He threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns with no picks and also ran for a score. However, he also fumbled three times. Fortunately, Minnesota managed to recover the ball on two of them. I was pleased to see tight end Jake Paulson targeted in the passing game; he caught two, for 19 yards. The offense, overall, was decent aside from the fumbling issues.
The defense did a much better job setting the edge this week. Fresno State’s leading rusher, Ronnie Rivers, was held to 76 yards. In fact, due to some negative plays by quarterback Jorge Reyna, the team rushing total was just 57 yards. Reyna was sacked four times. Kiondre Thomas had a big interception just before halftime- and of course, in OT, Antoine Winfield Jr. did this.
What Went Wrong
In a word, discipline. Seven penalties doesn’t sound terrible, but consider this: two of them were fifteen-yarders (one ended up being half the distance to the goal), and both came in Fresno State third-and-long situations. Both gave the Bulldogs first downs, and both resulted in touchdowns. One was in overtime. That cannot happen. A year ago, Minnesota was among the least-penalized teams in FBS despite being the youngest team in FBS. I don’t know what happened in that department, but they need to go back to that level of discipline right away.
The turnovers are the other big issue. Losing three fumbles is bad, but when you consider that there were two more fumbles that the Gophers recovered, that becomes a big problem.
The pass defense for the Gophers wasn’t great. Reyna was 24 of 35 for 288 yards and three scores to go along with the two interceptions. On the one hand, no opponent is going to be throwing the ball like that in Minneapolis in November. On the other hand, it’s the second week of September and there’s still some time to go until the weather turns.
The Bottom Line
The Gophers beat Fresno State. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t a sure thing until the final whistle, but it was a win. Next on the slate is Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt Conference. This will be a good game to get back to basics and eliminate this week’s miscues.