Two weeks ago I started writing a piece that was going to by titled "Why everybody should just calm down about the Gophers." I ultimately scrapped the piece because I decided that I would rather just enjoy all of the positive attention that the Gophers were getting. I wasn't used to it. I was enjoying it. I wanted to bask in it. Stop judging me. I don't need to impress you people.
You don't buy it? You don't think I was cautious about this team? That's fine. While I wasn't willing to ring the alarm because I was enjoying the ride, my votes in our weekly power poll communicated my skepticism. Let's look at the Power Polls over the first four weeks and how I actually voted (which can be verified by the rest of the brain trust here at OTE).
Week 1: The Gophers beat UNLV on the road in triple OT.
OTE Consensus: 9th
Week 2: Minnesota beats FCS New Hampshire at home 44-7.
OTE Consensus: 8th
Week 3: Western Michigan comes to Minneapolis. Gophers win 28-23.
OTE Consensus: 7th
Week 4: Minnesota plays stifling defense, doesn't allow a TD from Syracuse until there are :46 left in the game, en route to a 17-10 victory.
OTE Consensus: 6th
The point is that at no time during the first four weeks of the season did I rank the Gophers higher, or even as high, as the consensus of the rest of my colleagues.
My guess is that at least a part of the difference in the rankings was that, perhaps, my colleagues weren't actually watching the Gophers play, or at least they weren't watching as closely as I was.
Despite my show of confidence last week, and despite the fact that I CLEARLY won that back-&-forth with Mike, there were a couple of areas heading into the game with Iowa that had me pretty nervous.
First was that Minnesota's offense, despite averaging almost 30 points/game heading into Iowa, still hadn't convinced me that they could score. This is an offense that scored only 13 points in regulation against UNLV, racked up 44 on an FCS team, put up a respectable 28 against a MAC team, and could only manage 17 points at home against a Syracuse team that gave up 42 points to both Northwestern and USC in their own building.
The Gopher defense almost single-handedly won the Syracuse game, they did a good job slowing down a high flying Western Michigan offense, crushed a slower and smaller FCS team, and held UNLV to just 13 points in regulation. The Gopher defense gets most of the credit for the 4-0 start.
But the Gohper defense was not without its faults, which leads me to the second reason I was nervous about the Gophers heading into Iowa.
While the Gopher pass rush, and therefore pass defense, had been more than solid through 4 games, the Gopher run defense was... suspect. Specifically, runs up the middle (or #RUTM) killed the Gophers through the non-con schedule. I wrote about it at The Daily Gopher after the UNLV game, and tweeted about it during the Western Michigan game.
#RUTM was a problem from the first game of the season and it never got fixed. It didn't have to. The Gophers were good enough on offense against inferior competition that those teams were playing from behind, thus passing a lot, and getting gashed up the middle wasn't of much concern. But when teams did try to RUTM, and these weren't power running teams, they were getting 5-6 yards with ease. Not good times.
These areas were masked during a successful 4-0 non-conference slate, but were exposed mightily by the hated Hawkeyes, who wrote the playbook on how to beat the Gopher defense, and thus, beat the Gophers. Masked during the non-con and exposed by Iowa, these are also the issues that are going to make it difficult for the Gophers to get to 7 wins this season, which I had set as the high water mark in terms of wins for this team.
I do still believe that this Gopher team will represent the B1G in a bowl game in December, because I believe that this team will find a way to win 2 more games on their schedule. But this team is too young, too undisciplined, and too susceptible to the run to do much more than that.