"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.
|Minnesota Offense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||361.33||77|
|Points Per Game||23.17||89|
|Yards Per Play||5.26||78|
|Yards Per Pass||7.18||54|
|Yards Per Rush||3.63||92|
|Playcall Distribution||1.18 Rush:Pass|
We're going to see plenty of change here. Offense (along with "everything") is one of the areas of football that Tim Brewster was pretty bad at coaching, and it's reflected in the numbers for the Gophers. Brewster seemingly changed his scheme every year, with run-heavy and pass-heavy schemes, pro and spread sets, and a general GERG-like vibe of "can't make up our mind on what to do."
New Gopher coach Jerry Kill believes in his heart that running the ball is important to the people of Minnesota (seriously), so expect a slant toward the run, even more than we started to see last year, when the spread-to-pass basically died for the Gophers (less sacks, they still called 1.09 rushes for every pass).
Tim Brewster's coaching reign lived and died a horrible, fiery death by the arm of Adam Weber even when the Gophers started to balance their offense a little more. With Minnesota's all-time leading passer out the door, it's probably the MarQueis Gray show in Minneapolis. Gopher fans are hailing him as Denard Robinson except impervious to inury, even though Gray spent much of last year playing wide receiver. Behind him, there are only redshirt freshmen Tom Parish and Moses Alipate, so the depth is scary thin.
|Minnesota QBs 2010|
|Minnesota QBs Rushing 2010|
Grade: 1/5. MarQueis Gray hasn't proven anything as a quarterback, aside from decent running ability (he was 6/15 passing in 2009). With no proven backups, it's going to be tough to run the ball with the signal-caller much, and his arm hasn't done anything yet to put fear into defenses. That said, he was a highly-rated recruit, so maybe the right coaching can flip the switch for him.
The Gophers had issues with banged-up runners over the past couple of years, and last season was no different, as Donnell Kirkwood went down after four games.
I think 5th-year Duane Bennett will get the starting nod over DeLeon Eskridge, as he was more effective despite fewer carries, and should be fully healthy after a couple years recovering from knee surgery. [Ed-M: some updates since Tim put this in the hopper: Eskridge has left the team, but Kirkwood received a medical hardship and basically gets to restart a promising career as a Stephen Hopkins-like (5'10, 215 lbs.) downhill ball. Bennett meanwhile seems to have won the slot receiver sweepstakes, so...Kirkwood]. Phil Steele is really high on redshirt frosh Lamonte Edwards. With a shift to more run-heavy schemes, the Gophers are short a fullback, as Jon Hoese is out the door.
|Minnesota RBs 2010|
|Jon Hoese (FB)||19||53||2.79||3|
|Minnesota RBs Receiving 2009|
|Jon Hoese (FB)||12||97||8.08||0|
Grade: 3/5. It's hard to pin the lack of production on the running backs themselves, because Minnesota's offensive line hasn't done them any favors in the recent past. If everyone can stay healthy, look for improvement here.
Senior Da'Jon McKnight would be the Gophers' unquestioned number one this fall... if he wasn't coming off spring knee surgery. With the Gophers' #2 receiver from last year now plying his trade at quarterback, and just about everybody else graduating, it's McKnight-or-bust until some young guns emerge. Junior Brandon Green redshirted last season, and is expected to start as well. Everything else is up for grabs. At tight end, Eric Lair is a solid returning starter.
|Minnesota Receivers 2010|
|Eric Lair (TE)||39||526||13.49||2|
|Troy Stoudermire (CB)||6||114||19.00||1|
|Tiree Eure (TE)||3||47||15.67||1|
|Minnesota WRs Rushing 2009|
|Eric Lair (TE)||1||9||9.00||0|
Grade: 1/5. The above was Minnesota's wideout production under the following circumstances: 1) The most prolific QB in school history was tossing them the ball 2) The top two targets were not coming off knee injuries 3) The head coach was not a Gopher-looking man who feels in his heart that he needs to run the ball. With all three of those factors dropping off and the second-best receiver now playing quarterback (poorly, if history is any indication), this should be a scary year for the Gophers' receiving corps. McKnight is a Phil Steele 3rd-Team All-Big Ten projection.
The Gophers lose two guys on the offensive line who started every single game last season in right tackle Jeff Wills and center DJ Burris, along with another guy who started in 10 contests, right guard Matt Carufel. For good measure, Dom Alford, who started most of 2009 but only a couple games in 2010, also departs the Twin Cities. That means a big shakeup for an offensive line that already wasn't very good. Redshirt sophomore Ed Olson should start at left tackle after holding down that position most of last year, and fifth-year Chris Bunders will return at left guard. From there, it's all newbies with Ryan Wynn at center (he was a starter at tackle back in 2008), Ryan Orton at right guard, and redshirt freshman Jimmy Gjere starting at right tackle.
Grade: 2/5. Minnesota's line was actually pretty good at keeping Adam Weber upright last year, allowing only 17 sacks the entire season. However, part of that is due to scheme (quick passing, an insistence on pounding the rock down several scores against USC) more than anything. Considering the Gophers were downright terrible at rushing the ball, this was a bad unit last year. With several losses along the front, they shouldn't improve their performance, though I expect Jerry Kill's coaching staff will do a better job coaching them up.
|Minnesota Defense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||392.17||76|
|Points Per Game||33.00||98|
|Yards Per Play||6.57||115|
|Pass Yards Per Game||200.75||33|
|Yards Per Pass||8.60||113|
|Sacks Per Game||0.67||120|
|Rush Yards Per Game||191.42||98|
|Yards Per Rush||5.27||114|
Oh. Oh my. I'll say it: this defense was the worst in the Big Ten last year--and possibly by a wide margin. As horrific as the GERG-era Michigan defenses were, this was something special even without as many injuries all over the lineup. If they had faced the same number of plays as Michigan's defense, they would have given up well over 6300 yards (Minnesota fans are thanking their lucky stars for a positive turnover margin... now).
The Gophers couldn't stop the run, giving up nearly a yard more than Michigan on each carry(!), and couldn't stop the pass, although teams rarely needed to throw the ball to beat the Gophers. Michigan probably could have scored 100 on these guys had the two teams met last year.
Jerry Kill, then, is in charge of leading a massive defensive renaissance, not unlike Michigan's own Brady Hoke. There is probably less overall talent on Minnesota's roster, but much more experience among the Gopher players.
The good news for Minnesota is that they return nearly every contributor save defensive end Jewhan Edwards. The bad news is that their defensive line was terrible last year, generating the worst pass rush in the country, and one of the worst yards-per-rush numbers. Redshirt sophomore Matt Garin will step in to replace Edwards, with redshirt junior D.L. (Major Major) Wilhite -- a promising freshman in '09 who regressed last season -- returning as the other bookend. The tackles are both returning starters in seniors Brandon Kirksey and Anthony Jacobs. The experienced depth is very light, so look for the Gophers to get a few more players into the rotation than they did last year.
|Minnesota Defensive Line 2010|
Grade: 1/5. This unit was so unbelievably bad last year. Like, Eastern Michigan bad. The only hope is for addition by subtraction (of the previous coaching staff). The best pass-rusher is out the door on the worst pass-rushing defense in America, and it's going to take a miracle for anything better than mere incompetence here. There's some hope in that the starters all have experience and Wilhite's sophomore slump may have been a schematic issue, but these guys as a group were just plain bad last year. Plugging in a bit of new blood should help Jerry Kill and Co. build toward the future, at the very least.
All three of last year's starters return, with Honorable Mention All-Conference selection Gary Tinsley - pictured at right - the headliner at SLB. Redshirt juniors Mike Rallis (middle) and Keanon Cooper (weakside) are also returning starters, with starting experience sprinkled in among the backups as well. Spencer Reeves and Ryan Grant also got some serious time with the ones last season. The X-factor is Florida transfer Brendan Beal, who has the ability to play any of the starting positions.
|Minnesota Linebackers 2010|
Grade: 3/5. This unit was nowhere near as bad as the defensive line last year - though they're obviously not blameless for the terrible run defense and pass rush. With everybody back (including Phil Steele 3rd-Team All-Conference projection Tinsley), and the addition of a former 4-star talent in Beal, this unit should be able to improve. If the defensive line isn't as inept as last year, I dare say the linebackers have a chance to be pretty good.
Though the Gophers lose their two starting safeties from last year, it's not as bad as it seems, as 2009 starter Kim Royston missed the 2010 season with injury, and should return to the free safety position in 2011. Troy Stoudermire switched to CB during last season, and should solidify the position this year. The other two starters are question marks, but James Manuel is a good bet at strong safety, and Michael Carter was a better ballhawk than kyle Henderson last year, though he didn't make as many tackles.
|Minnesota Defensive Backs 2010|
|Troy Stoudermire (CB)||37||2||1|
|James Manuel (SS)||29||0||1|
|Michael Carter (CB)||24||1||2|
Grade: 2/5. If the pass defense wasn't quite so horrible last year, I might upgrade this to 3/5, but in fact it was. The loss of two safeties is never a good thing, but Royston would have started last season anyway, so he should be a better-than-adequate replacement at one of the safety spots.
Dan Orseske had a rocky freshman campaign as a punter, but he's back in 2011 to try to improve his performance. The kicking situation should be quite sketchy, with Eric Ellestad - no shining star himself - out the door. NC State transfer Chris Hawthorne is Phil Steele's prediction to be the starter.
|Minnesota Kicking 2010|
|Minnesota Punting 2010|
Grade: 2/5. The punting was awful last year (Minnesota was last in the Big Ten), and though there should be some improvement, there's a long way to go to mere competence. The Gophers' kicking was the worst in the Big Ten this side of Michigan, so unless Hawthorne is an unexpected shot in the arm, this unit should remain a big liability.