Jerry Kill’s fears came true Thursday night as the Gophers lost to No. 2 TCU 23-17 before a sellout crowd at TCF Bank Stadium.
All last week Kill said he was concerned that TCU would completely outplay the Gophers’ lines both offensively and defensively, and that came to pass with the Gophers being held to 341 total yards while the Horned Frogs had 449 total yards.
Kill’s squad wasn’t at full strength and that has to be taken into account, with Josh Campion, a fifth-year senior and maybe the team’s best offensive lineman, sitting out because of concussion symptoms. Then Ben Lauer had to be removed at left tackle when he was ineffective playing on a banged-up knee.
Still the Gophers simply didn’t have any kind of pass rush all night as the strong Horned Frogs offensive line completely dominated.
It didn’t help that the Gophers turned the ball over twice at key moments in the first half. Quarterback Mitch Leidner was sacked by Terrell Lathan, who was beating the Gophers’ patchwork offensive line all night, and fumbled the ball away, giving TCU possession at the Gophers 15-yard line. TCU would score two plays later to go up 10-0.
The score would stay that way into the second quarter, when the Gophers embarked on a five-play, 59-yard drive that was their best of the night up to that point, but a fumble by Rodrick Williams that was recovered in the end zone by TCU.
There also were three defensive pass interference calls on Gophers star defensive back Eric Murray.
No matter how you look at it, TCU won all of the statistical battles. It had 25 first downs to the Gophers’ 18, its time of possession was 34:50 compared to 25:10 for the Gophers, and it had 50 penalty yards compared to 60 for Minnesota.
Still, if you want to look at some positives, you have to give the Gophers some credit for their defensive performance against maybe the best quarterback in the country, Trevone Boykin, who threw for only 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It’s important to remember TCU was a team that averaged 46.5 points and 533 yards per game last season and returned most of its offensive starters. The Gophers held the Horned Frogs well under those averages.
And if the Gophers defense can hold the No. 2 team in the country, and maybe the best offensive team in the country, to 23 points, then they can play with anybody.
There’s no doubt the Gophers missed David Cobb. His rushing ability was completely absent with Williams being held to 32 yards and only freshman Rodney Smith having any success, with 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. And nobody from a receiving standpoint came close to what tight end Maxx Williams gave the team as a receiving option for Leidner last year.
Overall, the Gophers might have learned a lot from this game and what they’ll have to do to compete against some great competition this season. We’ll find out how good TCU is as the season goes on.
The Gophers will prepare to go to Fort Collins and play Colorado State next week and they’ll have time to correct their errors. But one thing is certain: If they’re going to win as many games as they did last year, they have to take better care of the football.
Tough Vikings cuts
With the Vikings preseason coming to a close Thursday night with a 24-17 loss to Tennessee and the regular season just over a week away, roster cuts will be the most difficult of General Manager Rick Spielman’s tenure with the team.
One reason the roster has become so talented and so deep — and thus so hard to trim down — is because of the Vikings’ excellent drafting the past three years. They have 25 players among the final 75 roster candidates who have two years or less of NFL experience.
That’s a testament to Spielman and also a supreme effort by the organization to get younger following the 2010 season, which featured 41-year-old Brett Favre at quarterback.
In the past three drafts, Spielman has added up-and-coming talents such as Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, Gerald Hodges, Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon and Antone Exum. And it seems like the most recent class, which featured 10 draft picks, is going to be represented by at least six players making the roster in Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, T.J. Clemmings, MyCole Pruitt and Stefon Diggs, and that number could grow.
The Vikings’ average age of 26.2 years old ranked 28th in the NFL last season. There’s a chance this year’s squad could be even younger when the final cuts are made.
• Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat played a big part in the Twins getting the Target Field site, and he’s trying hard to do the same for a new soccer stadium on the downtown Minneapolis farmers market site. If the stadium and MLS franchise end up in St. Paul, it’s only because the Minneapolis bid failed.
• Former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is continuing his attempt to return to the majors after suffering a concussion earlier this year. He went 6-for-13 in a rehab assignment with Class AA New Britain and might be back with the Rockies soon. But Colorado manager Walt Weiss said the team won’t take any chances on his recovery. “It’s tough to talk about the long-term future with Justin, with where we’re at right now,” Weiss said.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com