While I sat around a house full of Michigan fans Saturday night, (my first mistake) watching the Wolverines trample the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium, deja vu came over me. I had experienced this helpless Minnesota sports fan feeling in recent memory, I thought to myself, but when?
One of my favorite teams opening a season with high, hopeful expectations, just to see them come crashing down in a matter of minutes. A turned-over defense that can’t stop opposing offenses and an offense that didn’t seem ready float an inexperienced defense? Hmmmm…
Ah yes…. now I remember.
Vikings vs Packers, week 1 of 2020. Back on September 13th, the Vikings fell to the Packers 43-34 and it was nearly identical to Saturday night’s 49-24 Gophers loss vs Michigan. That’s a scary thought nobody wants in their head. The 0-1 Gophers resembling the 1-5 Vikings, whose season is over for all intensive purposes? Yikes.
The Vikings and Gophers both found the end zone on their opening drives, scoring the first points of each contest. But by the time dust settled on each game, the Wolverines outgained the Gophers by 152 total yards and the Packers outgained the Vikings by 140.
Both Minnesota teams had five penalties, each gave up 40+ points at home, neither could stop the run and both had to play catch up after the first quarter. Michigan’s average yards per rush was 8.3 yards, while Green Bay managed 6.1 vs the Vikings. Both are terrible.
Both teams sucked in the same areas, too. Green Bay and Michigan each pinpointed the interior of Minnesota’s offensive lines and exploited their young secondaries. All in all, both major-market Minnesota teams played loser football to open their respective seasons.
Before I go any further, let’s cut the Gophers some slack. They were missing a bunch of key pieces, due to COVID-19 protocols. Those pieces included offensive linemen Daniel Faalele and Curtis Dunlap Jr, punter Mark Crawford, kicker Michael Lantz, defensive back Philip Howard and specialist Dragan Kesich.
THE GOOD NEWS
While this blog may seem negative, I have good news. I don’t expect the Minnesota college season to go off the rails like the Minnesota professional football season has. The Gophers are a good team that was dealt some tricky cards on Saturday night. The Vikings, on the other hand, are just bad.
The schedule ahead is favorable for the Gophers too, who will head to College Park where they will face Maryland (0-1) on Friday night. The Terrapins lost to Northwestern 43-3 in week 1. Minnesota hits the road again in week 3, this time bound for Champaign to face the Illini. In week 4, they’ll come back home to battle Iowa for Floyd’s Pig (another Friday night clash).
With a more intact and (hopefully) healthy roster, this is a team that will still vy for a Big Ten West title. PJ Fleck & Co. still has a legit chance to lift the souls of miserable Minnesota sports fans, with a win on Friday.
Heck, right now they’re the only chance we have left at some 2020 hope in this town. PJ Fleck usually has to force his way onto the Minnesota fall sports stage, normally competing against the Vikings and Wild for air and newspaper time.
That’s not the case anymore. We don’t have a choice right now, so PJ, make sure you take advantage.
Stephen Strom | Minnesota Sports Fan