Gophers report card: Strong rushing balances weak passing

While running back David Cobb was good enough to carry the offense against Middle Tennessee, Minnesota's lack of a passing threat is a real concern -- especially as the Gophers prepare to take on TCU next Saturday.

Jesse Johnson/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota football team is 2-0 after a 35-24 win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Despite the perfect record, though, there were some blemishes in Minnesota’s game. Among the glaring weakness was the passing game, which was balanced out by a strong effort from the rushing game. Here’s a look at the Gophers’ grades from Week 2.

Running offense: A

This was an easy A for the Gophers in this category, as senior running back David Cobb became the school’s first 200-yard rusher since 2005. The big back gained a career-high 220 yards on 29 carries — an impressive average of 7.6 yards per carry. Minnesota didn’t need to spread the ball around much to the other backs given the rhythm that Cobb was in. He had several big runs throughout the game, including back-to-back rushes of 27 and 24 yards to set up his 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Cobb also scored from 48 yards out as he scampered to the end zone untouched. With Minnesota’s passing game grounded Saturday, the Gophers needed a big day from Cobb. He delivered with the best performance of his career.

Passing offense: D-minus

There’s no easy way to put it: Minnesota’s passing attack is struggling. Starting quarterback Mitch Leidner was just 5-for-11 for 67 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Though he did hit tight end Maxx Williams for a 27-yard touchdown pass, he missed several wide open receivers and had no touch on his deep passes. Donovahn Jones was the only player with multiple receptions, as he caught three passes for 35 yards. Isaac Fruechte also had one catch for just five yards. On top of his struggles in the passing game, Leidner also suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the game early in the fourth quarter. It remains to be seen how serious the injury is, but backup Chris Streveler might need to be ready to go against TCU next Saturday.

Running defense: B-minus

Middle Tennessee threw the ball 38 times against the Gophers, but the Blue Raiders also managed to run 43 times for a total of 190 yards. That included 84 yards by Reggie Whatley, who scored twice on the ground and broke a 44-yarder. Jordan Parker also picked up chunks of yardage, including a 39-yard run. Minnesota’s running defense was better in the first half, as MTSU gained more than 115 of its 190 rushing yards in the second half. Overall, though, Middle Tennessee’s average of 4.4 yards per carry weren’t enough to put too much pressure on the Gophers’ front seven.

Gophers 35, Blue Raiders 24

Passing defense: A-minus

Though the Gophers allowed Middle Tennessee quarterback Austin Grammer to throw for 255 yards on 22-of-38 passing, they also intercepted him three times in the game. One of those went for a touchdown as Jalen Myrick recorded a pick-six when he ran his interception 31 yards untouched into the end zone. Linebacker Damien Wilson intercepted a pass that was tipped by defensive lineman Theiren Cockran, and cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun also had a pick.

Special teams: B-minus

Kicker Ryan Santoso continues to show off his strong leg, as all six of his kickoffs went for touchbacks, never allowing Middle Tennessee the chance to return a kick. His only field goal attempt of the day, though, went wide right. Meanwhile, Minnesota had an issue in the punting game when punter Peter Mortell kicked the ball into the backside of one of his teammates. It gave the Blue Raiders the ball at the Gophers’ 12-yard line, and Middle Tennessee scored one play later. Minnesota had just one punt return — for only nine yards — and Marcus Jones returned three kicks for a total of 59 yards. The Gophers’ special teams weren’t spectacular by any means, but it certainly wasn’t detrimental.

Photos of the Week: 8/31/13-9/6/14

Overall: B-minus

As good as Cobb was on Saturday to carry the offense, Minnesota’s lack of a passing threat is a real concern — especially as the Gophers prepare to take on TCU next Saturday. And the defense was stout for much of the day against Middle Tennessee, but the Blue Raiders outscored the Gophers 24-7 in the second half, which isn’t exactly an encouraging stat for a defense that figured to be the stronger of the two units for Minnesota. Saturday’s game showed that the Gophers have several things to clean up before heading to Fort Worth.

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