Final Score: TCU 23, Minnesota 17
Recap: There are no moral victories in college football. There is only what might have been.
The Gophers covered the spread and then some in front of a record crowd at TCF Bank Stadium Thursday night, but mistakes on offense prevented the team from upsetting the No. 2 team in the country.
A strip sack of starting quarterback Mitch Leidner led to TCU’s first touchdown and ended up putting the Horned Frogs up 10-0. In the second quarter, with the Gophers sniffing the goal line for the first time all game running back Rodrick Williams fumbled the ball on the one yard line.
Down 10-3 in the half the Gophers were able to claw back into the game thanks to a defense that held an offense which averaged 46.5 points last season in check. The Gophers made it a six point game with a minute and 32 seconds left to go after Leidner threw a touchdown pass to receiver K.J. Maye, but an onside kick attempt and desperation drive with 27 seconds remaining both failed.
It was over when: Leidner completed a pass to Williams for seven yards and the clock ran out. Despite many moments in the fourth quarter when it felt like nail met coffin, the Gophers were never truly out of it until the final whistle.
Key play(s): The Gophers two turnovers of the game likely cost them the upset.
The strip sack of Leidner, with backup left tackle Ben Lauer playing through an injury but being beat badly on the play, led directly to a TCU touchdown. Williams’ fumble on the goal line thwarted Minnesota’s best drive of the night to that point, and ended a prime opportunity to score the team’s first touchdown. Different results on either play could have led to a large point swing, which looms large in such a close game.
1. Jerry Kill wasn't lying about the defense
Head coach Jerry Kill said multiple times this offseason this year's defense was the best he's had at Minnesota, and his players backed up his words on the field.
The defense held TCU to its lowest scoring output since November 9, 2013. Despite the Horned Frog offense returning 10 starters they were held to less than half of their average number of points from last season, 46.5.
True freshman linebacker Julian Huff made a couple of splash plays and redshirt sophomore linebacker Cody Poock looked sharp starting at middle linebacker after suffering a knee injury a season ago. Senior cornerback Eric Murray stood out as well, with a forced fumble and an interception.
2. Offense missed Campion
Minnesota starting left tackle Josh Campion was surprisingly not dressed when warm-ups began, and sat the game out due to a concussion. Lauer, who had minor knee surgery during fall camp, tried to play in Campion’s stead but struggled and was shut down after a few drives.
After Lauer was removed the Gophers moved starting right tackle Jonah Pirsig over to the left side and began to move the ball better, but the team is now thin on the blind side and could use Campion back as soon as possible.
3. Rodney Smith could end up a feature back
Redshirt freshman Rodney Smith impressed in his collegiate debut, rushing for 88 yards on 16 carries. The Jonesboro, Georgia native showed burst through the hole and scored the Gophers first touchdown of the season in the third quarter.
Williams started the game for the Gophers, gaining 32 yards on nine carries to go with his fumble at the goal line. Williams also had a few drops in the passing game, which could lead to more snaps for Smith in the future.
4. Passing game still inconsistent
The Gophers threw fairly often and on earlier downs against TCU compared to their games last season, but their passing game still has plenty of room for improvement.
Leidner finished the night with 19 completions in 35 attempts for 197 yards and a touchdown, but he could have easily piled up some more yards with a few better placed throws and fewer drops. The Gophers showed a commitment to balancing their offense more against TCU, but there are still kinks that need to be worked out at every position on offense.
5. The Gophers can compete with anybody
Aided by the record number of fans in TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota may have just given TCU one of its closest match-ups of the season. The Gophers showed again, just like they did last year against Ohio State, they will not be dominated no matter the caliber of opponent.
The loss was a missed opportunity for the Gophers, with mistakes costing them a chance to throw themselves into the national scene. But by keeping the game close, Minnesota still made the statement that it’ll be a team that opponents won’t look forward to facing every week.
Quote of the game: “He said ‘we’re never going to play each other again.’ I said ‘that’s right.’” – Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill on what TCU head coach, and friend, Gary Patterson said to him after the game
Up next: The Gophers will attempt to rebound in their next non-conference game at Colorado State. Minnesota will play the Rams at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, September 12.