Gophers get poor grades in Michigan loss

MINNEAPOLIS — Saturday’s 35-13 loss to visiting Michigan dropped the University of Minnesota football team to 5-4 on the season and 1-4 in the Big Ten. Despite an early 7-0 lead, the Gophers failed to hold onto that momentum and were outscored 35-6 the rest of the way.

Here are Minnesota’s grades for Saturday’s loss at TCF Bank Stadium.

Running offense: C
Minnesota’s running backs were not really a factor Saturday as the Gophers gained 128 total yards on the ground. The leading rusher was Donnell Kirkwood, who carried the ball 16 times for 58 yards (3.6 yards per carry). He didn’t break a run longer than 12 yards. True freshman Rodrick Williams had nine carries for 42 yards, including an 11-yard gain that went for a first down. Quarterback Philip Nelson ran 12 times but his longest run of the day was just nine yards. Once the Gophers fell behind in the second half, the running game was even less of a factor.

Passing offense: C-
Freshman Nelson never looked to be on the same page as his receivers Saturday as the Gophers faced the top-ranked pass defense. Michigan entered Saturday’s game allowing just 145.2 passing yards per game, best in the nation. Nelson finished with 142 yards on 13-of-29 passing. While Nelson didn’t throw an interception against the Wolverines, he was sacked for the first time in his young career. Without top receiver A.J. Barker, who was out with an ankle injury, Minnesota didn’t have a go-to wideout to make plays. MarQueis Gray led all Gophers receivers with three catches for 27 yards, while Derrick Engel, Isaac Fruechte and K.J. Maye all had two catches. Several of Nelson’s incompletions were either forced into tight coverage or ended up nowhere near his intended target.

Running defense: B-
The Gophers caught a break as far as the running defense when Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was ruled out for the game. Robinson is the Wolverines’ leading rusher with 946 yards and has the ability to make defenders miss. While Michigan’s running game wasn’t as dynamic without Robinson, it was still effective enough to keep the Gophers’ defense honest. Fitzgerald Toussaint had a team-high 70 rushing yards, but 41 of those came on a fourth-quarter touchdown run up the middle. Thomas Rawls had 16 carries, tops on the team, but gained just 43 yards (2.7 yards per carry). Gardner had a 19-yard run to remind people of Robinson, but he finished with just 21 net rushing yards.

Passing defense: C-
Minnesota entered with one of the best pass defenses in the country, allowing just 159.9 yards per game. But the Gophers surrendered a season-high 234 yards to Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who played his first game at quarterback this season. Gardner had been playing wide receiver but transitioned back to quarterback to replace the injured Denard Robinson. Gardner completed several deep passes, including a 45-yarder that was the result of a breakdown in coverage after Gardner scrambled to buy time. Minnesota did pick off Gardner once — Cedric Thompson had the interception on Michigan’s second drive of the game. But the Wolverines’ passing game got into a rhythm late in the first half and continued it throughout the rest of the game.

Special teams: D+
The biggest reason for this grade doesn’t have as much to do with the lack of execution on special teams but a peculiar play call on fourth-and-16 from the Michigan 19-yard line. Trailing 14-7, the Gophers opted not to go for three points and instead tried for the touchdown via a trick play on special teams. It didn’t work, as the pass from backup punter Pete Mortell to Nelson went for just five yards. Minnesota never recovered from that point. Kicker Jordan Wettstein hit on two short field goals but badly missed a 55-yarder at the end of the half. K.J. Maye had a nice 45-yard kickoff return, but it was brought back after a penalty on the Gophers — one of nine Gophers penalties on the day.

Overall: C-
Minnesota missed several opportunities to take control of the game but couldn’t capitalize. The Gophers settled for field goals instead of touchdowns twice and didn’t take advantage of great field position early in the game. After the loss, Minnesota is now 5-4 and still in need of another win to become bowl eligible.

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