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Analysis: How the bye week came at the perfect time for Gophers football

Minnesota aims to get healthier after losing three out of four games before the bye week.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
The Minnesota Gophers faced off against the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The Gophers ended up losing with a score of 10-52.

Minnesota Gophers football dropped three of their last four games heading into the bye week and now sit at 3-3. The roster has seen notable players absent from key games and will lean on the two-week break for time.

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck, during the post-game press conference, said the team has to learn from the first six games and improve in the last six.

“We’ve got to learn from those six games, draw a line in the sand, and play way better in the second half,” Fleck said. “But part of that is we got to get healthy … We’ve got to develop better.”

The Gophers looked lost against Michigan and were dominated in every facet of the game, leading to the 52-10 loss on national television.

Fleck said Michigan was the best football team he has faced in his 11 years of coaching. The depth head coach Jim Harbaugh brought into the program through years of recruiting at Michigan has paid off with a trip to the playoffs last season and a 7-0 record this season.

Minnesota sits at .500 heading into their bye week and will travel to Iowa to play against their bitter rivals for Floyd of Rosedale on Oct. 21.

The defense needs to improve

Currently, the Gophers defense sits at 70th in the country in total defense. A season ago, Minnesota ranked fourth, allowing less than 300 yards per game (ypg) and just 13.8 points per game (ppg).

In 2023, Minnesota’s defense is allowing 373.2 ypg and opponents are scoring 26.67 ppg, nearly double last season. Overall, the defense regressed after losing key pieces in Mariano Sori-Marin, Jordan Howden, Terell Smith and Cody Lindenberg, who has been injured.

The defensive line has struggled to get to the quarterback the last three weeks. After starting with nine sacks in three games to open the season, Minnesota only has two in the last three games.

During the post-game press conference, redshirt junior Jalen Logan-Redding said the team has the responsibility of making sure a loss like Michigan does not happen again.

“My takeaway [from the Michigan game] is that we, as players, coaching staff and culture, we have to be able to say this is where it is,” Logan-Redding said. “We got to respond to the facts. Obviously they’re a good team and obviously we didn’t execute.”

Reinforcements on the horizon

The Gophers have missed key players throughout the team during the first half of the season.

Two notable injuries to occur were freshman running back Darius Taylor and Lindenberg, who are both difference makers when healthy. Last season, Lindenberg ranked second on the team in tackles behind Sori-Marin.

Taylor broke out against Eastern Michigan and won three straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards. Taylor racked up 532 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns during the first half of the season.

Newly eligible defensive back Craig McDonald accumulated some in-game action and will make more of an impact after the bye week.

Receiver Christian Autman-Bell, who is without a catch this season, will wait two more weeks to get back to full strength as he looks to make an impact in his final season at Minnesota.

Next week’s challenge in Iowa City

The offense’s inability to execute against Michigan’s defense will prove to be a problem when they face Iowa on Saturday.

Minnesota has not won in Iowa City this century, their last win coming in 1999 in a 25-21 victory. Dual-threat quarterback Billy Cockerham led the Gophers to victory with 175 passing yards and a touchdown to go along with his 59 rushing yards.

Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, during the post-game press conference, said the offense is ready to face the challenge in Iowa and must play better as a team.

“We got Iowa coming up, we’re really excited to go in and watch the film,” Kaliakmanis said. “We got to play better as a unit on offense, defense too. We all know we can be better.”

Luckily for Minnesota, the Hawkeyes have been the worst offense in the country in terms of total offense. The Gophers will look to get their season back on track and avoid losing four out of five games.

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