Along with a winning presence, the Minnesota Gopher football team now has a signature victory to hang as an ornament on the Jerry Kill tree of success.
The Gophers opened their 2014 Big Ten conference schedule with a 30-14 victory over the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Winning big games on the road is critical for a program looking to shake off the stigma of losing. The victory put the team in a tie for the lead in the West Division of the conference.
As the score of the game indicated, it was the success of the team’s defensive unit that paved the way to victory. De’Vondre Campbell intercepted Michigan quarterback Shane Morris for a 30-yard touchdown to seal the game midway through the 3rd quarter.
On balance, this is the same defensive unit that looked helpless against the dynamic athleticism of Texas Christian University (TCU) in the 30-7 loss on Sept. 13. TCU remains undefeated (and untested) with all blowout victories, and a No. 25 national ranking. Thus, that loss may not be too damaging to the season-long prospects of conference and national success.
The Gophers’ athletic catalyst has been senior running back David Cobb whose 32 carries for 183 yards powered the way in the victory over Michigan. Cobb also ranks third nationally with 722 yards rushing, including two games of over 200 yards.
Conversely, the Gopher quarterback position has been in question, with starter Mitch Leidner (Lakeville) showing a greater propensity to run the ball, than to throw accurate passes. Leidner’s leadership has been heralded by the coaching staff and teammates, but his overall performance will need to improve as the team’s schedule gets tougher.
Michigan is a program currently in decline, but the upcoming Gopher schedule provides a slate of competition on par with Michigan’s capabilities – that is to say the Gophers should win the next three games against Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois. After that, the Gopher schedule will be a gauntlet that will require Leidner to figure out how to balance his passing and throwing threats. It won’t be possible to simply run over the likes of Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
Though the (all important) quarterback position leaves heavy room for improvement, the overall demeanor of the Gopher team projects very confidently. The defense has swagger, and the running game is punishing. Signature victories can be pivot points for a team. The question is as to whether the team’s success pivots up, or down.
It’s strange to suggest that a road win versus Michigan could be a hollow harbinger of future Gopher success, but that just may be the case. What is certainly the case for the remainder of the season is that there are four great home games for fans and alumni to attend, in what could be a signature year for the Gophers.