When teams see “Minnesota” on the schedule, it doesn't exactly seem like a daunting task. The Gophers haven't won more than seven games in a season since 2003 (the Laurence Maroney/Marion Barber days) and Jerry Kill is averaging just 4.5 wins per year as Minnesota's head coach.
But San Jose State had to travel more than 2,000 miles and a few time zones to TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for an 11 a.m. local-time kickoff. So this matchup wasn't going to be a walk in the park for the Spartans and their NFL prospect at quarterback, senior David Fales.
It was a solid showing for Fales, who made several impressive NFL throws and was the only reason the Spartans kept the game close through three quarters. He finished 22-for-35 (62.9 percent) for 434 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, but at the end of the day, he wasn't able to make enough clutch throws to keep up with the Minnesota offense.
In Fales' defense, his supporting cast was extremely inconsistent (with little production on the ground) and the Spartans' defense had no answer for the Gophers' run attack, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner. Making his first career start, the Gophers' quarterback finished with a school-record four rushing touchdowns.
After a slow start for the San Jose State offense, Fales delivered midway through the second quarter with a 76-yard touchdown pass down the sideline to senior wide receiver Chandler Jones. The throw floated a tad from the far hash, but Fales used outstanding touch to drop it in the bucket so Jones could catch it in stride and take it the distance. The Spartans quarterback also did a great job of using the sideline, putting perfect placement on the toss so only his guy was coming down with it.
After Minnesota scored on the following drive to push its lead to 20-10, the San Jose State offense got the ball back with three minutes in the first half. But Fales needed just two minutes to answer and drive down the field, finishing with 32-yard pass down the seam to Jones for the score. The touchdown throw lacked elite zip like most of his passes, but it was more of a rope than rainbow and was placed in a premium spot where his target could catch it with his hands in front of the defensive back.
But after a strong first half, Fales and the San Jose State offense sputtered in the second half.
Fales had a costly (and rare) poor decision early in the third quarter when he forced a pass into a tight window over the middle. The ball was deflected by the defensive back and intercepted by Minnesota linebacker Aaron Hill, giving the Gophers excellent field position at the Spartans' 12-yard line. Three plays later, Minnesota scored their fourth touchdown of the game, giving them a 26-17 advantage.
Fales finished the third quarter 1-for-6 for nine yards and one interception.
San Jose State started the fourth quarter with the ball, but the drive was stalled by a failed fourth down conversion. Meanwhile, the Gophers continued to advance the ball down the field with the running game, eventually pushing their lead to 43-17.
Fales, who (as usual) spent most of the game in shotgun formation, showed off his outstanding poise and efficiency in the pocket. He surveyed the field quickly and was able to find favorable matchups with his eyes and awareness -- traits that make him such an intriguing NFL prospect. However his average arm strength and athleticism showed on several occasions, which are the main reasons many are keeping him out of the early round discussion.
Based on tape and today's game, it's easy to see why so many like Fales with his intelligence and efficient passing attack. But his lack of elite physical tools are clear and it will most likely keep several NFL teams from putting him high on their draft board.