Minnesota was enjoying a 48-21 lead after three quarters when head coach Tracy Claeys lit into his defenders on the sideline. Though his team was still far ahead, Indiana State had outscored the Golden Gophers 14-10 in the third period.
Claeys was not happy with the effort.
“I was upset,” he said in his post-game press conference. “I wasn’t thinking about the conference or later on. I just didn’t think we were playing with as much energy on defense as we need to play with. That’s unacceptable. So, every now and then, they need a reminder.
“It’s not about being up three scores. It’s about it being too great a game. A lot of great players have stepped on that field and played and it’s disrespectful to anybody that’s played the game before to go out there and not play the hardest as you can. So, they just needed a little reminder to pick it up a little bit.”
The Gophers listened, closing out a 58-28 win in moving to 2-0 on the season. They rolled up 593 yards of offense but the defense allowed 356 and 20 first downs. Indiana State converted 7 of 15 third-down attempts and 2 of 3 on fourth down.
“On third down, we just didn’t play very well,” Claeys said. “When you have to play that many snaps you can’t do that all year long. So we are going to have to play better on defense on third down.”
This week’s bye is providing Claeys with a chance to stay on point. Minnesota plays host to Colorado State next week in its nonconference finale.
The Gophers’ defense was missing starting cornerback KiAnte Hardin on Saturday. He and teammates Ray Buford, safety Dior Johnson and defensive end Tamarion Johnson were suspended for the game. It was reported Sunday that the players were involved in a police investigation.
Claeys did not put a timetable on their return.
“They’re suspended because they busted team rules. So, we’ll deal with it day by day,” he said.
While the defense has allowed 51 points in the two games, the offense has posted 88. The Gophers averaged just 22.5 a contest in ’15.
“I think it’s pretty big for us offensively because we had a bad taste in our mouth after last week,” Quarterback Mitch Leidner said of a 30-23 win against Oregon State in Week 1. “You know we just felt like we could have done some things better, and to come out this week and practice and prepare extremely hard, I thought was huge and it really carried over into the game.”
Leidner has gotten off to a strong start this season. The senior has ran up a 146.2 quarterback rating, completing 33 of 56 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He’s also rushed 16 times for 85 yards and two scores.
Eleven different Gophers have caught a pass with the ball being spread out to nine guys Saturday. Senior Drew Wolitarsky leads the way with 12 receptions for 178 yards and two scores.
Wolitarsky has patiently waited his turn to become a main option in the offense.
“I’m no doubt ready. I’ve been working this whole offseason to be this guy. I can’t say it was easy but here I am and I’m ready,” he said in Saturday’s post-game press conference.
Running back was expected to be a strength of this year’s team. That projection took a hit when Shannon Brooks (709 yards, 7 touchdowns as freshman in ’15) hurt himself in August camp. He’s missed the first two games of the season with a right foot injury.
Rodney Smith (670 yards, 2 touchdowns as a freshman in ’15) has rushed for 199 yards and three scores on 42 carries so far. Kobe McCrary, a transfer from Butler Community College, has seized his opportunity with 180 yards and two TDs on 19 carries. He ripped off a 50-yard scoring run Saturday.
“It’s kind of what he’s shown in practice. Now that he has a game under his belt, he’ll have a lot bigger role here as we move forward. It’s a good problem to have what we’re going to have, what we’ll have at tailback,” Claeys said.
The coach was able to convince McCrary, a Florida native, that his backfield wasn’t too crowded even with Brooks and Smith coming back.
“He wanted to play in the Big Ten and he’s a competitive kid, great kid, loves to compete,” Claeys said. “He’s not afraid of competition. It still comes down to when you get a bunch of competition at certain positions, that’s when you get a lot better. He’s created that competition so I expect our tailbacks will get a lot better here as we move on.”
Leidner compared McCrary to the school’s seventh all-time leading rusher.
“He reminds me so much of David Cobb. I’ve said that before. Just watching him run, everything he does is so similar to Cobb. To see him finally get a number of reps and be able to show what he can do, he’s an explosive player and a really smooth runner and can make guys miss,” the quarterback said.
Cobb led the Gophers in rushing in ’13-14, piling up 2,831 yards in those two seasons.
Minnesota was a pick to surprise people in the Big Ten West Division this season. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit selected the Gophers to win it.
So far, so good. Minnesota is getting it done with just 13 seniors, the third-smallest group in major college football. It’s not the quantity but the quality that counts, Claeys says.
“I think our seniors overall have done a good job. All summer long they took kids and went and done things and hung out together. They haven’t done that before. You always say that to have a great season, your seniors have to play well, so that’s a good thing,” the coach said.