Neal: Gophers win the war in the trenches to grind down Colorado

·3 min read

BOULDER, COLO. — The one constant at Folsom Field on Saturday was that the Golden Gopher Grinders turned the Buffaloes into mincemeat in the trenches.

Trey Potts ran at will behind his powerful Gopher linemen. The defense finally remembered what a sack is and relentlessly pursued Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis.

Colorado's best ground gainer Saturday: Ralphie VI, the live buffalo who romped more than 100 yards around the field each time during her standard pregame and halftime appearances.

She eventually ended up back in her cage — which was a prelude to what happened to Colorado's ball carriers.

Minnesota's 30-0 victory was a validation of the belief the Gophers had in both their offensive and defensive lines — that they have the perfect combination of talent and nastiness to keep them relevant in the Big Ten West.

The impact they made resulted in a statistical lopsidedness that's hard to achieve on the road against a Power 5 opponent who was favored to win. Colorado had just seven yards of total offense at halftime and 28 yards through three quarters. It was dominant, destructive and a dandy of performance. Minnesota shut out a Power Five opponent on the road for the first time since blanking Illinois 21-0 in 1977.

"We knew they were going to have to find a way to win in the trenches," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "Our team was focused all week, They had a great businesslike approach in practice. We wanted to practice like pros and play like kids, and today they did that.

"We needed to dominate up there. And they found a way to do it."

You had to rub your eyes and make sure you weren't seeing double during the Buffaloes' second drive when Lewis dropped back on third down and ended up under Gophers lineman Boye Mafe. That is called a sack, the first of season for the Gophers. They liked it so much, they sacked Lewis three more times before halftime. Most of the time, the Gophers got home with their front four.

"Once the first play breaks down, 12 [Lewis] gets out of the pocket, that's the way a lot of things are created for them," Fleck said. "We knew if we could keep those running lanes small, not rush past the passer, keep him condensed, we could force him into some ill-advised throws and also rally around him and get him to the ground."

The Gophers sold their entire allotment of 3,000 tickets for the game, but there were a few thousand more resourceful fans who filled the stands behind the visitors sideline and were heard frequently as the game progressed.

The ground game traveled well, as Gophers running backs gained 277 yards on 53 carries, including 121 by Trey Potts on 26 carries. Mar'Keise "Bucky"Irving averaged 5.9 yards carry, many coming in the second half. Guard Blaise Andries and the rest of the group was on point most of the day.

The only problem was that the Buffaloes were hanging around, down just 13-0 in the third quarter, in range of taking advantage of a Minnesota collapse. But there was no such thing on Saturday as the Gophers extended their lead late in the quarter. Justus Harris fell on a Colorado fumble on the Buffaloes 47 and the Gophers drove to the 4, with a pass interference penalty on Colorado helping the cause.

On fourth-and-1, the Gophers eschewed the field goal — Matthew Trickett had missed two attempts at that point — and handed the ball to Potts with everyone in the house expecting such a play. Potts still barreled into the end zone. With the extra point, the Gophers had their putaway score to take a 20-0 lead.

Linemen are the engine that powers an offense and defense. On Saturday, the machine worked perfectly as Minnesota outgained Colorado 441 yards to 63.

Somehow, Colorado fought fifth-ranked Texas A&M to the end before losing 10-7 last week. On Saturday, the Buffaloes made a matchup with the Gophers seem like a step up in class.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting