There were 54,000 people in TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday night and I would guess that many left saying, “That was a great football game.’’

And if that was accurate, then this was truly a case of you-had-to-be-there.

The Gophers’ most-ballyhooed season opener in decades was a disappointment in several areas from the distance of a TV room in Golden Valley.

Yes, the tackling and coverage of Minnesota’s secondary was often stellar. Freshman Julian Huff appeared to be the Gophers’ greatest defensive Julian since Hook. And TCU’s rebuilt defense also showed off some impressive newcomers.

Beyond that … well, I expected much more from both teams.

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin arrived as the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He left having missed two ridiculously open receivers for touchdowns that would have made the evening much easier than the 23-17 victory for the No. 2-rated Horned Frogs.

I don’t think it’s too early to say that rating is a mirage. Offensively, the Froggies might have set a world record for fewest yards gained after contact. You get a bump on one of these swift TCU lightweights and they crumple right there.

Coach Gary Patterson was so impressed with the physical might of his offense that, on fourth and 1 from the Gophers’ 38 with a chance to put away the game in the middle of the fourth quarter, he ordered a punt.

You have the Heisman Trophy favorite at quarterback, you need a yard to run down the clock to under 5 minutes with a 10-point lead, and you punt?

The Frogs might be fun to watch, but they need someone to run through a tackle and get a yard.

As for the Gophers, we all were suspicious Jerry Kill and the offensive coaches were blowing smoke when they talked about the big improvements that junior quarterback Mitch Leidner had made as a passer.

If you’re a season-ticket holder and had 10 bucks for every time you heard about all that Mitch gained by attending the Peyton and Eli Manning quarterback camp, you would have had enough to pay the premium charge for your seat.

Yet, when you’ve watched a guy for two years have many more poor passing games than adequate ones, there’s not really an expectation that he’s suddenly going to turn into a Manning – unless it’s Archie, at his current age of 66.

Mitch has that hitch, that hesitation, on the short and mid-range throws, and it might disappear on a fall Saturday or two, but he is what he is, and that’s unreliable as a passer.

I don’t start the game ready to moan about Mitch after the first robotic throw, as do many Gophers followers. I actually thought Thursday might be a night when Leidner would contribute to a power-running game that would help the Gophers hold the ball against TCU’s new, not-too-large defense.

He didn’t do that. He didn’t do much of anything, until a consolation touchdown in the final two minutes.

I thought Leidner actually went backwards as a passer in his first game as a redshirt junior. It was painful to watch, even from the distance of Golden Valley.

If this is what Leidner is going to offer, he won’t make it to midseason as the Gophers’ starter.

And if this is what Boykin has to offer, he won’t make it to one of the three spots on my Heisman ballot.

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