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Scoggins: Outback Bowl another measuring stick for U, Fleck

It wasn’t official until Sunday, but in reality, the Gophers had zero chance of earning a bid to the Rose Bowl after losing to Wisconsin in the regular-season finale to tumble to No. 18 in the rankings.

The consolation prize after that disappointment should be appealing to the Gophers and their fans: A spot on the Outback Bowl against Auburn.

There are many positives in this reward for a 10-2 season. It’s a New Year’s Day game in Tampa, Florida, against a quality SEC opponent with national recognition.

This serves as another measuring stick opportunity for P.J. Fleck’s program.

This felt like the obvious destination for the Gophers. Ohio State was assured a spot in the College Football Playoff after going undefeated, regardless of the outcome in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Wisconsin felt like a lock for the Rose Bowl after putting up a fight against the Buckeyes on Saturday, at least for a half.

The fact that Utah got routed in the Pac-12 title game opened the door for Penn State to earn a bid to the Cotton Bowl.

The Citrus Bowl took a Michigan-Alabama matchup, sending the Gophers to the Outback Bowl for the first time.

Auburn went 9-3 with wins over Oregon in the opener and Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Their losses came at Florida, at LSU and home against Georgia by a total of 21 points.

Scoggins postgame: Vikings defense shines in a ho-hum win over Lions

The Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions by a score of 20-7 on Sunday. It felt like more like 200-7. The excitement meter hovered on “meh.”

 

 

The Lions’ Matthew Stafford-less offense was overmatched and didn’t score until a garbage time touchdown in the close minutes.

The Lions represented the ultimate get-well opponent for the Vikings maligned defense. Detroit managed only 231 total yards, about half that total coming once the game was out of reach.

Blough was sacked five times, threw two interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 60.9.

The Vikings offense did just enough in a rather mundane performance all the way around. Kirk Cousins made a few nice throws and his wide receivers had a few nice catches, but highlights were few and far between.

Nobody will ever accuse this game of being a thriller. There weren’t many pivotal decisions, but here are a few moments worth highlighting.

Scenario 1: The Vikings defense set the tone on the opening series with two batted passes at the line and a sack by Danielle Hunter on third down.

Decision: The Lions had third-and-10 on their first series with a rookie quarterback in a loud environment that gives the Vikings pass rush an extra boost. So what was the Lions’ plan? They asked tight end Jesse James to block Hunter on the edge on-on-one.

Reaction: Huh? Coaching matters folks.

Scenario 2: Mike Zimmer used a cornerback rotation from the opening series.

Decision: Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes started as usual, but Mike Hughes replace Rhodes on the second series, then Waynes sat out the third series. Zimmer shuffled his corners consistently.

Reaction: This is a good plan in response to Rhodes’ struggles. Take some reps off him and Waynes to keep them fresher or get more favorable matchups. Hughes had a third down pass breakup on his first series.

Scenario 3: Vikings bungle red-zone chance in second quarter.

Decision: The Vikings faced a fourth-and-1 at the Detroit 4. Zimmer elected to go for it. The Vikings broke the huddle quickly and tried to go fast tempo. But they snapped the ball before every player was set, resulting in a false start. That forced them to settle for a 27-yard field goal.

Reaction: It was an obvious decision to go for it. I also liked the idea of going quick. They just executed it poorly by going too fast.

Scenario 4: End-of-half game management by the teams could not have been any more different. The Lions were a mess. The Vikings pounced.

Decision: The Lions moved the ball to the Vikings 15, where they had third-and-2. At minimum, they should’ve had a field goal to cut lead to 10-3. But Blough displayed zero situational awareness in holding onto the ball so long that Hunter sacked him for a loss of 12 yards. That moved them back to a 45-yard field goal attempt, which Matt Prater missed.

The Vikings got possession then at the 35 with 1:04 left before halftime and two timeouts. They went aggressive, using a 44-yard strike from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs down the sideline to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Dalvin Cook with 46 seconds left.

Reaction: The difference between 10-3 and 17-0 in score meant the game was essentially over at halftime.

Scenario 5: Cousins avoids regrettable mistake in third quarter.

Decision: The Vikings were in complete control leading 17-0 when Cousins nearly made a bad mistake. On third down, he was under pressure and tried to escape the pocket. But he attempted a pass as he was being tackled. The ball hit safety Tavon Wilson in the stomach and ricocheted to center Garrett Bradbury, who made the catch.

Reaction: Cousins just needs to take the sack there instead of trying a risky throw that could have turned into a pick-six.