The Minnesota Golden Gophers claimed an impressive win on the road, beating the Oregon State Beavers 48-14, giving new head coach P.J. Fleck a 2-0 record in Minnesota. Not only did the offense find a rhythm, but quarterback Conor Rhoda came out with a strong showing that should cement him as the starter from here on out.
What They Did
The passing game was not exceptional, nor did it take over the game. Rhoda passed the ball eight times with seven completions, finishing with 158 passing yards to only four receivers. While it was not dazzling, what he did do was hit wide receiver Tyler Johnson on deep passes for 67, 22, 19 and 16 yards to help him finish with 127 yards and a touchdown. The play action continually gave the Beavers fits and the passing attack was enough to free up the heart of the offense, the running game, en route to a 255 rushing yard performance.
The offense was able to find a better balance, with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks rushing for 92 and 91 yards, respectively. Brooks also reached the end zone three times for the second time in his career as the backfield was able to run in five touchdowns. While the offense looked much improved, the defense looked as in control of the game as in last week against the Buffalo Bulls.
On the defensive side, the Gophers forced three fumbles and scored 17 points on the takeaways. The Gophers defense was also persistent on the front seven, getting to quarterback Jake Luton for three sacks and disrupted the running game, holding them to 80 yards on the ground.
In the secondary, Antoine Winfield Jr. and company held the explosive Beavers passing game to 145 yards, which was by far the least Oregon State has put up through the opening three games. Not only did players like Kiondre Thomas and Jacob Huff play well, but had it not been for a Demry Croft fumble, the defense likely holds the Beavers to just seven points.
Gophers Going Forward
Rhoda should be the starter, having already gotten a vast majority of the snaps against the Beavers. However, Croft’s 64-yard dash to the end zone shows he still has explosion to offer the offense. Croft will probably still be involved in a wildcat, change-of-pace format moving forward. The key for this team will be continually feeding Smith and Brooks in the running game while sprinkling in enough Johnson in the passing game to keep teams from loading the box.
On defense, this unit is already proving to be reliable. The secondary, led by Winfield, is a group of ball hawks, while the linebackers sink their teeth into the running game and grind it to a halt. In this matchup, the Gophers running up the score really let the defense pin back their ears and play with abandon, which may be a trend moving forward.
This team is moving in the right direction, and while they are still a young unit, the team is fixing mistakes by building off what they are good at — running the ball and getting to controlling the line of scrimmage.