Well, we were in first place for at least a few hours this afternoon. Once Illinois and Penn State finished off their afternoon victories they moved back ahead of us by a half game, but the victory this afternoon over the Golden Gophers counts exactly as much as any other Big Ten win. If we can beat a Penn State team that is awful on offense, but excellent on defense, we can even play Illinois on Homecoming for the division lead.
It was a welcome relief after last week. Against the Fighting Irish we got drilled by a bigger, stronger, and faster team. This week I don't feel like we showed a whole lot, but we still won handily. Our offense was as vanilla as possible with no downfield throws and only one misdirection play (the Akeem Shavers TD catch), but it was enough. Mostly, we waited around for the Gophers to screw up, and they were more than happy to oblige. Consider:
- A shanked punt set up our first score after Minnesota went three and out deep in their own territory.
- A fumble at the 11-yard line set up the second touchdown even though it took four plays to move it that far.
- Ricardo Allen tied a school record with his third career pick six, putting us up 24-0 at the end of the first quarter with Minnesota only having one first down. He is now tied with Rod Woodson and Mike Rose, and has five career interceptions. There is more than enough time for him to get the record by himself.
- By the time the second half rolled around and we were content to just pound the ball, we had worn their defense down simply because their offense couldn't stay on the field. The running backs found plenty of room and were gashing them on both second half scoring drives.
- We led 45-3 and had given up barely 100 yards of total offense late in the third quarter by the time we stopped caring. Minnesota's kickoff return for a score and late drive only served to make the score prettier.
On our end, we played a very clean game. Penalties were still an issue, but for the most part we got out of our own way and didn't make any mistakes of our own. We had a few fumbles that we recovered. Carson Wiggs missed a field goal, and that was really about it in terms of bad plays. The kickoff return was mostly us falling asleep (though our coverage is really good when Carson kicks it through the end zone). Basically, we did what we needed to do.
Positives from the Minnesota game:
Ricardo Allen - Rico Island is back a week after getting absolutely ravaged by Hurricane Floyd in a Katrina-like disaster. It takes a lot of confidence for a kid like Ricardo to come back after getting dominated the way he was. I think we now know two things. First, Ricardo is still an excellent corner and tackler. I like his chances to break Stu's interception record before all is said and done. Second, Micheal Floyd is really, really, REALLY damn good.
Ryan Russell - Speaking of records, Russell tied a school record with two fumble recoveries in one game. Both of them were botched handoffs. I'd like to credit Ryan Kerrigan for them. MarQuies Gray knew Kerrigan was in the building and was probably terrified by that fact, thus leading to the bad exchanges. Russell was there to fall on them and keep the pressure on them early.
Antavian Edison - I love seeing the ball in this kid's hands because more than anyone else on the team, he makes guys miss. It really is like someone is controlling him with a PS3 controller and they keep hitting the highlight stick.
O.J. Ross -O.J. protected the ball when he had it today. His touchdown was like a jailbreak screen and he would have scored from anywhere on the field. It's nice to have a 4-star guy actually work out, for once.
The Running game - Once again, we should have very little trouble winning when we rack up 200 yards or more on the ground. In fact, we should have little trouble getting that many since we don't throw upfield and we need to run the ball as much as we did today in order to keep opposing offenses off the field. Everyone got involved too. Akeem Hunt is going to be one hell of a back for us. Reggie Pegram runs with attitude and gives us a nice, bruising ballcarrier. Ralph Bolden seemed to struggle today, but Shavers seemed to do an excellent job of making cuts in the flow of the hole and blocking. Shavers, Pegram and Bolden even caught passes out of the backfield, something we forgot was legal in the first three games. Raheem Mostert got his first career touchdown and even Kurt Freytag got his first career carry.
I really like that we have such a variety of guys that can run the ball successfully, and that makes it even more stunning that we don't run it more. Why don't we have Brandon Cottom and Pegram out there flattening guys? Why is Edison getting handoffs when we have Hunt being so effective?
Spencer Dawson - He's the key to victory. We're 2-0 when he plays, winning those games by an average of 43.5 points per game. Clearly we need to get him more minutes.
Pass defense - For once we didn't get shredded. In fact, I think we only gave up one third down over the middle. We allowed only 113 yards through the air, and almost half of that came in the fourth quarter with a five touchdown lead. Either Minnesota's passing offense is that bad or we finally figured some things out. Linemen like Bruce Gaston were even getting their hands active and batting down passes.
The defense as a whole was solid, blowing up plays at the line and allowing nothing big. The totals look even better when you consider that most of their offensive output came in the fourth quarter as we nursed a big lead. We made them go to an injured Gray instead of Max Shortell. Da'Jon McKnight and Duane Bennett did nothing while the game was still a game. Will Lucas was particularly active too.
Caleb TerBush - Both quarterbacks played about equally and each threw a TD pass, but TerBush threw the ball 21 times to six for Robert Marve. TerBush still threw high to some open receivers, and that is something that gives me bad flashbacks of Brandon Hance. Still, each was serviceable and was not a detriment. Marve mostly handed off during his time. TerBush had a few designed runs (17 yards total), while Marve seemed to play within the system this week, almost to a fault. Perhaps he did that on purpose?
Sean Matti - I have to mention him because this is another game in which he would have played, especially against his home state team. Mrs. T-Mill and I were able to pick up our Matti shirts from University Spirit after the game. We would have gotten hem last week, but they were happily sold out. We're still thinking of you, 22.
Negatives from the Minnesota game:
We learned nothing - Minnesota is an awful football team. I say that because I am not sure we played all that well, but we won by four touchdowns. You can never truly complain about conference wins by four scores, as they are very rare, especially for us. Their offense did less than nothing for three quarters, thus making it that much easier for us. Defensively, they didn't give up big plays, but we still had little trouble doing whatever we wanted to do. As it turns out, we didn't want to do much. I would say every pass was within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Most runs were straight ahead. Vanilla, vanilla, vanilla! That's not going to work next week against Penn State and a good defense.
Then again, we did exactly what we needed to do in beating a bad football team. Considering we failed to do that against Rice I'll take it as improvement.
Bubble Screens - Can we please get rid of this? We don't have the speed, nor do our receivers block well enough for them to work. All it takes is for one pass to be slightly behind the quarterback, becoming a lateral, and the defense can get in there and blow it up. We never even tried to test them deep or even over the middle, really. Gabe Holmes was open on several plays. We should try beating teams how they beat us: crossing routes over the middle. It will work with Edison. What's the harm in sending Justin Siller or Gary Bush deep once or twice per game, either? By now, no one expects it, so it might work.
We have a critical game next week at Penn State. I say critical because we still have seven games to get three wins necessary for a bowl game and the Nittany Lions look like a team that can be beaten. They've scored 29 points in two games against defenses that aren't exactly strong. Penn State's offense is painful to watch, but their defense is still incredibly solid. Those 29 points have been enough to get two wins because they have held two respectable offenses to 13 points.
We have to be able to score next week. We have to mix things up, cause some misdirection, and get the lead on them because I am not confident they can play from behind. In four of their six games they've been easily held under 17 points. Only Indiana State (an FCS team) and Eastern Michigan (probably worse than Indiana State). That's about like our huge offensive numbers against Minnesota and SEMO.
As long as the defense can take advantage of an abysmal passing attack and key on Silas Redd as their only offensive option it will be up to the offense to simply score enough in order to win. Assuming Penn State's offense keeps producing at its current rate two touchdowns and a field goal might be enough. Considering we're playing against 100,000+ fans you can't ask for much more than a chance, and we have one.