Gophers come up short on 2015 goals

Injuries and a hard schedule were two reasons Minnesota had a down season.

Defensive back Jalen Myrick jogs at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 31, 2015, where the Gophers took on the University of Michigan.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Defensive back Jalen Myrick jogs at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 31, 2015, where the Gophers took on the University of Michigan.

by Mike Hendrickson

Minnesota players set high expectations for themselves at the beginning of the year, coming off of back-to-back eight-win seasons.
 
The team also set out to end its losing streak to Wisconsin and make the Big Ten Championship game after coming up a game short in 2014, but neither happened.
 
Instead, Minnesota was left with a 5-7 record and made a bowl game because not enough teams qualified to fill all the slots.
 
The team fell short of last year’s success for many reasons, but here are three that stand out.
 
Injuries
 
The Gophers dealt with numerous injuries in the 2015 season that hurt its depth chart. Minnesota had 24 players listed on its two-deep roster to start the year miss at least one game, including 14 starters.
 
Injuries hit the receiving group –– the wide receivers and tight ends –– the hardest. Eight players listed at the two positions missed a combined 41 games throughout the season. 
 
Tight end Lincoln Plsek missed the entire season with an injury and fellow tight end Duke Anyanwu did not play any games after a knee injury that occurred before the season. 
 
The offensive line’s two-deep from the beginning of the year missed 29 combined games, and the group wasn’t consistent week to week.
 
The secondary’s two-deep also had 32 missed games. Senior safety 
 
Damarius Travis missed nearly the entire season and is seeking a medical redshirt. Safety Ace Rogers was out nine games and cornerback Jalen Myrick missed the last three games with a rib injury.
 
“Injuries and all that are part of the game, and [we] can’t use it as an excuse,” head coach Tracy Claeys said after the team’s game against Wisconsin. “But it is a year in which we’ve had a lot of kids miss multiple games and not just a game here or there.”
 
Strength of schedule
 
Minnesota also fell short of what it accomplished last year due to facing a much tougher schedule.
 
The Gophers’ opponents this year had a combined .632 winning percentage in the regular season, compared to .563 the year before.
 
Minnesota went 0-3 during a stretch this season against No. 15 Michigan, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 8 Iowa. The Gophers hadn’t faced three top-15 opponents in a row since 2002, and they were the only team to do so in the 2015 regular season besides Baylor.
 
Inconsistency on offense and defense
 
The offense had a hard start to the season, 
 
averaging 19.3 points a game in its first four games, last in the Big Ten and 120th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
 
The Gophers still went 3-1 in those games, as their defense allowed only 18.5 points a game.
 
The units were different by the end of the season, as the Gophers offense averaged 25.5 points per game in their last four contests. The defense fell off, though, allowing 30.5. 
 
In its first four games, the defense was 31st in the FBS in points allowed, but it finished the year 59th.
 
The Gophers were never able to get both sides of the ball to play well together, and as a result, the team struggled compared to last year.