Minnesota Beats Georgia Southern, But…
Minnesota beats Georgia Southern, but once again the game went down to the wire. For the third time this season, fans are wondering whether to be impressed with the clutch late-game play of the Gophers, or horrified that it was even necessary. How concerned should fans be?
A week ago, my headline was “Minnesota Beats Fresno State Despite Penalties, Turnovers“. They did improve in both of those areas- so what happened?
One big problem was the run game, or lack thereof. The main cause? A simple lack of healthy backs. Mohamed Ibrahim got hurt in practice this week and didn’t play. Rodney Smith suffered an injury during the game and didn’t return. Heralded freshman Cam Wiley finally saw some action, carrying 11 times before he too was injured. As a whole, the Gophers managed just 93 yards on the ground.
Level of concern: Low, given that the team is heading into the bye week. If they played next weekend, I’d be much more worried.
Through the air, the offense was clicking. Tyler Johnson had his first big game of the season with 10 catches for 140 yards and three scores. His longest of the day was a beautiful catch-and-run that went for 73 yards. Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell combined for just five catches, but they averaged 17.3 and 23.5 yards respectively. Demetrius Douglas may have caught just three balls, but one of them was a huge play on a fourth-quarter fourth down to keep the drive alive.
Tanner Morgan completed 19 of 31 attempts for 298 yards, three touchdowns, and one pick. This unit stepped up nicely with the ground game, well, grounded.
Level of concern: Low to moderate. No defense can adequately cover Johnson, Bateman, and Autman-Bell. My biggest concern is that Morgan has been sacked 11 times in three games. If he gets injured, especially before Zack Annexstad is healthy, the team could be in big trouble.
Looking at the score, it’s easy to say the defense must not have played well. In reality, they weren’t that bad. The Eagles’ first score came one play after Tanner Morgan tossed an interception that was returned 33 yards to the Minnesota 21-yard line. Another came a few plays after the Gophers turned the ball over on downs at their own 34. In the fourth quarter, Georgia Southern blocked a field goal attempt and returned it for a score; on the next Minnesota possession, Tanner Morgan fumbled and the Eagles returned that for a touchdown as well.
Among the positive plays on defense were a third-quarter sack by Boye Mafe and a fourth-quarter forced fumble by Carter Coughlin that Thomas Barber recovered.
Level of concern: Fairly low. Ask me again after they play Purdue.
Just when I had started to relax about the whole “freshman kicker” thing, the team has a field goal blocked. Of course. Fortunately, special teams haven’t come into the equation in a big way- yet.
Level of Concern: Moderate. Overall special teams have been… okay. Punting is okay, return game is okay. Do I trust this unit in a late-season conference game where special teams could be the difference? Not so far.
It seems strange to write an article headlined “Minnesota Beats Georgia Southern” and then go on to evaluate how concerned Gopher fans should be. I’m impressed with the heart the team has shown in these late wins (as is Coach Fleck), and the clutch plays they’ve made on both sides of the ball. But I have a healthy level of worry about how they’ve gotten into such situations in the first place.