Ironically, their opening-week loss to TCU was probably their most promising performance of the season. It’s been their only loss, but the teams they’ve played since have a combined 6-6 record, and they only beat each of those teams by three points.
Mitch Leidner has been good, but certainly not flashy for the Gophers this year, which is what we expected from him. He’ll throw more touchdowns than interceptions, but won’t lead the conference in passing yardage. He’s a game manager rather than a playmaker and while that formula will keep you in a lot of games, Minnesota won’t be able to keep up in many high-scoring affairs.
Rodney Smith is a promising freshman for the Gophers, but much like Leidner, he’s yet to break out this season and step up as a playmaker. Smith is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but has ran for 100 yards just once. He’s a well-rounded player who will also catch passes out of the backfield.
Leidner has shown that he doesn’t really have a favorite target, but likes to spread the ball around and involve his entire receiving unit. Drew Wolitarsky, K.J. Maye, Eric Carter and Smith each have at least 10 receptions through four games.
Minnesota is middle-of-the-pack in both scoring defense and total defense, and while they’ve been good enough to win games in the non-conference portion of the schedule, they’ll need to play much better starting this week with such a pedestrian offense.
All this said, all the credit in the world for this team turning the corner and becoming a contender the past couple of years goes to head coach Jerry Kill. He’s a very good Xs and Os coach, and his team plays smart and composed football. Good coaching is often underrated, and while Kill doesn’t make Big Ten headlines like Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin, he puts his team in a position to win every game.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.