Uff da. That all-purpose Norwegian phrase — usually used as an expression of exhaustion or astonishment — seems to appropriately sum up what was witnessed at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.
Minnesota’s 10-7 victory over Kent State was too close for comfort for the host Gophers, especially in a nonconference game against a middling MAC squad.
This contest was also, inarguably, quite ugly.
But it was a win, and it wasn’t completely devoid of positives for the 2-1 Gophers. Really. We swear.
— First, the day’s main positive for Minnesota, which was without seven total players due to injury. The Gophers’ defense put Kent State’s offense in an absolute vice grip, all day. Through three quarters, the visiting Golden Flashes had just 96 total yards of offense and four first downs. Kent State ended with just 142 total net yards. This game was ugly, but Minnesota’s defense looked stellar.
— Mitch Leidner probably shouldn’t feel too comfortable about his job security these days. Leidner looked shaky throughout Saturday’s game, often throwing inaccurate passes and often looking completely incapable of throwing a spiral. He finished with an okay stat-line, however, completing 17 of 27 passes for 184 yards and one screen-pass touchdown. But he didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement from head coach Jerry Kill after the game.
— Rodney Smith appears to be Minnesota’s bell-cow running back. Smith, a 5-foot-11, roughly 200-pound redshirt freshman, did just enough to help the Gophers move the chains, registering 73 rushing yards on 30 carries. He also added four receptions for 24 yards. Smith looks just shifty enough to be intriguing.
— The Gophers need to play with a bit more discipline. Minnesota committed eight penalties for 85 yards on Saturday. If they were playing, say, Northwestern instead of Kent State, that stat might have proven costly.
— On a day where Leidner simply didn’t look comfortable, it’s interesting that sophomore backup Chris Streveler never took a snap under center. The athletic Streveler saw limited action in the Gophers’ first two games in 2015 and rushed for 235 total yards in five games played last season. Gophers fans also are clamoring for freshman Demry Croft.
–The Gophers showed grit on defense. Playing with little margin for error all day, Minnesota was especially big on money downs for most of the day, as Kent State started just 1 for 11 on third-down conversion attempts before converting a pair of late attempts in that situation.
— Kent State (1-2) has a heck of a cornerback in Demetrius Monday. On a day where defense ruled, the Golden Flashes’ 5-10, 197-pound standout produced his own personal highlight package, with two first-half interceptions and an 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
— Minnesota didn’t bully Kent State like other Big Ten teams have in recent years. In its six prior games against Big Ten foes, Kent State had been outscored by a combined 268-6. That includes a 52-3 beating Kent State endured against Illinois earlier this season.
WHAT IT MEANT
The Gophers still have much to improve on offensively, but, at 2-1, they’re still right where most pundits expected them to be at this juncture in the season. Thus, in the grand scheme of things, Saturday’s great escape did no real harm. But Leidner must offer the Gophers more of a downfield passing game in the future if Minnesota hopes to contend in the Big Ten’s West Division this season.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Minnesota seemed to lack playmakers for much of the day Saturday, but sophomore linebacker Cody Poock led a stout defense. Poock, a 6-2, 230-pounder, was credited with 10 tackles, including one tackle for loss.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
In a game that featured 17 total punts, Minnesota’s Peter Mortell was key. The Gophers’ senior punter averaged 41.9 yards on seven punts, and had five kicks downed inside the 20. On a day where field position was everything, Mortell proved to be a valuable asset for Minnesota.
Kent State played extremely conservative offense all day, rarely testing Minnesota. But, when the Golden Flashes did have to turn to the airways, Gophers like Alex Keith made them pay. Such was the case on third-and-3 with 2:22 remaining, when Keith, a senior defensive end, batted down a pass attempt by Kent State QB Colin Reardon. On the next play, senior Eric Murray provided stiffling coverage, snuffing out a fourth-down pass on a short crossing route.
63. The total passing yards for Kent State, on a day where Reardon looked completely overmatched by the Big Ten defense he faced.
THEY SAID IT
— "Evidently we didn’t do a good enough job coaching, and I’ll take responsibility for that. I’m the head coach. We’ve got to look at the film and just keep working." — Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill
— "I just thought, ‘I’ve got to score. I’ve got to do something with it. I can’t look at (the fumble) and just fall.’" — Kent State cornerback Demetrius Monday via the Associated Press.
— "We just grind out each game even if the offense is stalling. . . . It wasn’t a pretty game, but it’s a game we like." — Minnesota defensive end Alex Keith via the AP.
Minnesota takes on Ohio at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday, in its annual Homecoming contest. That will likely be the Gophers’ last breather for a while, as a road game against Big Ten rival Northwestern follows on Oct. 3.