Gophers report card: Running game key to Minnesota's success
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the second year in a row, Minnesota is off to a 4-0 start. The Gophers' fourth win of the year might have been their most impressive as they ran away with a 43-24 win over visiting San Jose State. Minnesota led early and, despite a close score at halftime, made second-half adjustments to respond to the Spartans' passing game. In the end, it resulted in what turned out to be a 19-point win for Jerry Kill and his staff. Here is how the Gophers fared on the postgame report card:
Running offense: A
Led by a career day from quarterback Mitch Leidner, the Gophers rushed for a season-high 353 yards in Saturday's win. Leidner ran the ball 24 times and gained 151 yards on the ground. He also found the end zone four times, becoming just the second quarterback in team history to rush for four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back David Cobb also had a strong performance, gaining 125 yards on 25 carries and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Minnesota's effective running game was key in the second half as it helped eat up the clock and keep San Jose State quarterback David Fales on the sideline.
Passing offense: C-minus
As good as the rushing attack was, the passing attack was virtually non-existent. Leidner completed just five passes for 71 yards and only attempted 12 passes all game. His longest completion was a 37-yarder to K.J. Maye, who was one of two receivers (along with Derrick Engel) to catch two passes. Leidner also hit Isaac Fruechte for a 22-yard pass, but that was about all there was through the air for the Gophers. Minnesota didn't need to do much with the aerial attack given the success of the ground game, but 71 passing yards still left something to be desired.
Running defense: A
San Jose State only rushed the ball 17 times -- compared to 67 rushes by the Gophers -- but even when the Spartans did run the ball, they were ineffective. Running back Jason Simpson had a team-high 29 yards on 11 carries, an average of just 2.6 yards per carry. Minnesota's linebackers, namely De'Vondre Campbell, Aaron Hill and Damien Wilson, were active all game and helped slow San Jose State's running attack. The Spartans also tried to run for a first down on 4th-and-2 from the Gophers' 16-yard line instead of putting the ball in Fales' hands. Minnesota stuffed the run and turned the ball over on downs.
Passing defense: C
Minnesota knew it would have its hands full with Fales, whom the Gophers believe could be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. For the first half of Saturday's game, Fales picked apart Minnesota's defense, putting throws right on the money to his receivers. He entered halftime with 294 passing yards and two touchdowns. But the Gophers adjusted at halftime, limiting Fales' effectiveness in the second half. An interception by Hill after a pass was deflected early in the second half really seemed to turn the tide of the game and get Fales off his rhythm. He never looked as comfortable after halftime, although he still made a few more impressive throws in the losing effort.
Special teams: C-minus
The Gophers' special teams have been solid all year, but Saturday's game was not that unit's best showing. Minnesota kicker Chris Hawthorne missed a 51-yard field goal as well as an extra point. He also had another extra point blocked during what was a forgettable day for the kicking unit. Minnesota's coverage on special teams, however, was solid. San Jose State had just one return yard on Peter Mortell's three punts, and the Spartans never got great field position on kickoff returns as they racked up 96 total yards on six kick returns.
This very well might have been Minnesota's most impressive win of the season so far as it beat a pretty good San Jose State team. The Gophers controlled the time of possession by a whopping 41:02-18:58 margin thanks in large part to the success of the ground game. The second-half adjustments made by the defense helped to bottle Fales after halftime as Minnesota ran away with the win to improve to 4-0. Now the real test begins next Saturday when the Gophers open up Big Ten play against Iowa.
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