Gophers report card: Minnesota collapses after strong first half

The University of Minnesota football team lost its second trophy game in as many weeks, falling 42-13 to No. 19 Michigan. The Wolverines maintain possession of the Little Brown Jug after routing the Gophers at the Big House in Ann Arbor. While Minnesota hung close for a half to trail by just a touchdown at halftime, Michigan was too much for the Gophers in the second half as it ran away with the game. Here’s a look at the grades for Minnesota in its Week 5 loss.

Running offense: B-minus

After the running game hit a wall last week against Iowa, the Gophers’ offensive line seemed to find a groove Saturday in the loss to Michigan. It was mostly thanks to the legs of quarterback Mitch Leidner, who rushed for a team-high 66 yards on 18 carries. Leidner had two rushes of 10 or more yards on Minnesota’s first scoring drive, including a game-high 18-yard carry. But the freshman quarterback did fumble the ball on one of his first quarter rushing attempts and Michigan recovered.

The Gophers rushed for 136 total yards, and none of Minnesota’s three running backs emerged as the go-to back. Rodrick Williams had 33 yards on eight carries, while David Cobb gained 22 yards on seven carries. Donnell Kirkwood still hasn’t looked the same since an early-season ankle injury and was only able to pick up six yards on five rushes. Still, the 136 total rushing yards were a vast improvement from the 30 yards Minnesota gained on the ground in last week’s loss to Iowa.

Passing offense: C-plus

Leidner made just his second career start and his first start in Big Ten play. The results were mixed for Leidner, who finished 14-for-21 for 145 yards and a touchdown. He was also intercepted late in the game on a pick that was returned for a Michigan touchdown.

Leidner was on the same page with freshman tight end Maxx Williams, who snagged a team-best five catches for 54 yards and scored the Gophers’ only touchdown of the day on a 7-yard pass from Leidner late in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7.

True freshman wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky had two catches Saturday after entering the game with just one career catch. In all, Leidner was able to spread the ball around to seven different receivers, six of which had at least one catch of 10 yards or more.

Running defense: B-plus

Minnesota’s running defense took a step forward Saturday after the Gophers were pushed around by Iowa’s offensive line one week earlier. While Michigan’s running game was a middle-of-the-road unit compared to other Big Ten teams, Minnesota held the Wolverines to just 113 rushing yards, with Fitzgerald Toussaint gaining a game-high 78 yards.

The Gophers didn’t let quarterback Devin Gardner do much damage with his feet — just 17 yards on seven carries, his lowest total all season. Gardner’s previous low this year was 52 yards in Michigan’s season opener. Michigan did score four of its touchdowns on the ground, but they all came on runs of 12 yards or fewer.

Passing defense: C-minus

For the first time all year, Gardner did not throw an interception after throwing a total of eight in his first four games. Minnesota’s defensive line rarely made Gardner uncomfortable.

When Gardner did throw an errant pass — his accuracy was suspect on Saturday — the Gophers couldn’t capitalize. Gardner wound up 13-for-17 for 235 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He only hit four receivers all day, too, with Devin Funchess doing most of the damage (seven catches, 151 yards and a touchdown). The Gophers’ secondary simply couldn’t stop Funchess, who had a few big catches on third downs. Cameron Botticelli had Minnesota’s lone sack of Gardner.

Special teams: B-plus

Kicker Chris Hawthorne was a perfect 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 44-yarder in the third quarter that cut the Michigan lead to 21-10. Punter Peter Mortell was able to pin the Wolverines on their own 2-yard line on a perfectly executed punt that was downed by the Gophers, but Mortell averaged just 38.3 net yards per punt (Michigan averaged 51.7 yards per punt). Marcus Jones ripped off a 45-yard kickoff return, but Minnesota was flagged for holding on the play to negate some of the yardage.

Overall: C

For two quarters, the Gophers hung with 19th-ranked Michigan and appeared to be a much different team than the one that was beat in all phases of the game one week earlier by Iowa.

Then the Wolverines scored four second-half touchdowns while Minnesota managed just two field goals after the half and the rout was on. The Gophers enter their bye week 4-2 overall and 0-2 to start the Big Ten season. The schedule only gets tougher from here meaning there is still plenty of work to be done if Minnesota hopes to earn a spot in a bowl game with another six-win season.

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