The victory did not come without adversity with three defensive linemen suffering injuries, including two starters. Jerry Kill said during his weekly press conference Tuesday that junior starting defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is probably done for the season with an injury. Redshirt senior Harold Legania is moving back to defensive tackle after shifting to the offensive line prior to the season. The extent of the other two injuries, defensive end Alex Keith and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms, were not divulged, but did not sound as serious as Ekpe’s.
Here is a closer look at the win and deeper look at the boxscore.
The game was over when…Mitch Leidner plowed his way into the end zone to give the Gophers a four touchdown lead one minute and four seconds into the fourth quarter. The Panthers never came close again. It took the Gophers just nine plays to score again.
The game turned when…Alex Keith and Antonio Johnson recorded turnovers on back-to-back drives in the third quarter for the Gophers. The Gophers led by 21 points and the Panthers were moving the ball on both drives. Keith took away a scoring chance by running down wide receiver Stephen Bravo-Brown from behind on the four-yard line and forced a fumble. After the Gophers punted, the Panthers were moving the ball at midfield, but quarterback Jalen Whitlow missed his receiver and Johnson caught the pass for the interception.
The reason for optimism is…that the offense can run the ball as well as anyone and Berkley Edwards provides a new element that was missing from last season. Edwards is the fastest running back and biggest home run threat in the backfield.
Also, the defense can take the ball away. Turnovers can be the difference in a lot of games.
The reason to worry is…the passing game still stinks. Leidner was better than most say he was, but he still needs to be better. He finished the game completing 52.9 percent of his passes, but was five of eight after getting the ball to Maxx Williams for the first time midway through the second quarter.
The unsung hero was…Ryan Santoso. The kicker had seven kickoffs and just two were returned. Both returns came in the fourth quarter and totaled 40 yards. After every kickoff, the Panthers offense started at the same spot - the 25-yard line.
What to watch for this week is…improvement in the passing game. Leidner has to get better. Head coach Jerry Kill has referenced Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook several times since Thursday’s win. Cook did go from obscurity to Big Ten champion last season. Can Leidner do the same this season?