Gophers look to improve execution against Maryland

After struggling in its first game of the season against Michigan, the Gophers are looking to execute better on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field.

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Nur B. Adam

Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan prepares to launch a pass at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 24. Minnesota fell to Michigan 49-24 in their first showing of the season.

Brendan O'Brien

Coming off a loss in its highly anticipated matchup against Michigan, Minnesota looks to rebound against Maryland on Friday.

For the Gophers to be more successful and come out with the victory, the team is in need of improvement — big or small — in all three phases of the game. One of the weaknesses exposed last Saturday night was the inexperience of the defense. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi acknowledged that players on all three levels of the defense need to play with more effort and less hesitancy in play recognition to make quick improvements in this shortened season.

“Game one, some of the guys were under the lights for the first time,” Rossi said. “I think there was some hesitation on their part in diagnosing of plays and reaction. … After getting through it, seeing it, watching the film and getting a really good week of practice, I think what you’ll find is guys reacting a little bit quicker and cutting it loose a little bit more.”

While the Gophers had their hands full defensively last week, their opponent this week does not present as many threats on paper as Michigan. In its week one matchup, Maryland fell flat in a 43-3 loss to Northwestern. The Terrapins failed to get into any sort of rhythm on the offensive side of the ball, totaling just 207 yards and turning the ball over four times. Despite this lack of offensive firepower, the Gophers are still treating Maryland like any other opponent.

“They’ve got a lot of athletes on the field,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. “They don’t have a lot of returning starters, but they brought in a lot of transfers from all over the place that are really, really talented.”

One of those playmakers is a familiar name for college football fans across the country. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — brother of former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa — recently transferred to Maryland and got the starting nod for the Terrapins. He had several struggles in his first start, throwing for only 94 yards and three interceptions. But Rossi and the defensive unit are expecting Tagovailoa to take a major leap this week now that he has some more game experience.

In terms of Minnesota’s offense, the Gophers should expect to have plenty of opportunities running the ball given what Maryland showed last Saturday. Much like the Gophers’ defense against Michigan, the Terrapins struggled to stop Northwestern’s rushing attack throughout the game, allowing 325 yards on the ground. After rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, Gopher running back Mohamed Ibrahim could see even more success against Maryland.

All in all, the buzzword for Minnesota in this shortened week has been execution. Maryland might not appear to be a dangerous opponent to the general public, but players and coaches inside the facility know the team will have to execute plays better than they did a week ago if the team wants to have similar success against Maryland as Northwestern saw.

“Executing at our standard is the reason we’ve had success in the past,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “[The Michigan game] doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about now, it’s about today and today was a good opportunity to take the right next step in our execution and paying attention to the little details.”