Minnesota has show a lot of promise under head coach Jerry Kill, improving their record from 2011 to 2012, then again in 2013. The Gophers have enjoyed two straight eight win seasons and hope to improve on that mark and make their first appearance in the Big Ten championship game.
The Gophers were hoping to prove themselves as a national contender last night in their opener against second-ranked TCU, but turnovers in crucial situations kept them from pulling off the upset.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner played well for the Gophers, but a first quarter fumble set the Horned Frogs up a Trevone Boykin touchdown pass that gave them an early 10-0 lead. A perfectly executed flea flicker set Minnesota up for an opportunity to cut into the lead, but a fumble by Rodrick Williams Jr. as he was diving into the end zone put an end to a promising drive. TCU jumped out to a 23-10 lead and it looked like they would run away with the game like they did against the Gophers in last year’s 30-7 win.
Jerry Kill’s squad didn’t go away quietly, pulling the game to within 23-17 with a Leidner touchdown toss to K.J. Maye, but poor clock management at the conclusion ended the Gopher’s chances at the upset. Mitch Leidner, as he as chased out of the pocket, flipped the ball to Williams and he was immediately taken down in bounds with just 12 seconds left on a running clock. The Gophers couldn’t get another snap off, which was an appropriate ending to a mistake-filled game.
Minnesota is a talented and well-coached football team that can make a legitimate splash in the Big Ten west. Mistakes are expected in the first game of the season, especially against a national championship contender, but they’ll need to be addressed by Kill this week. Losing a game against the Frogs in week one certainly won’t derail the Gopher’s season by itself. Minnesota plays in a favorable division in the conference, and the uncertainty surrounding Wisconsin and Nebraska with new coaching staffs could give the Gophers an advantage.
Leidner is an experienced quarterback who has a few talented players around on offense. He won’t light up the stat column in the box score, but should limit his mistakes and keep his team in every game. The defense is a strong group led by corner Eric Murray who tallied an interception last night and is expected to have a fantastic season.
The fact that Minnesota was able to hang around with TCU despite the mistakes is encouraging and makes me believe that this team has what it takes to take the next step in the west. If they can cut down on the turnovers once the enter conference play, they’ll be a tough opponent every week.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.