Minnesota: We Suck, But Look At This JUCO
THE MOST ENTERTAINING SUBPLOT of the 2007 season was "will Notre Dame's offense finish as the most pathetic of the millenium?" Despite finishing a whopping 27 yards behind last year's second most impotent offense, Florida International, the answer was no. Rutgers' 2002 abomination still stands.
At first blush this seems to have little to do with Minnesota, but the Gophers were the defensive equivalent of Jimmy Clausen and the Yakety Sax Crew last year, finishing 119th -- dead last -- in total defense, well behind such luminaries as Rice, UTEP, SMU, and San Diego State. (Keep this in mind if Notre Dame RETURNS TO GLORY with an opening week offensive explosion of 14 or so points.) Think about that. Minnesota was the defensive equivalent of this:
Tim Brewster's got a lot of work to do.
Last year I predicted a brief, miserable sqeak of a head coaching career for the excitable but woefully unproven Brewster, who'd never been anything but a tight ends coach. Though this prediction is off to a stirring start, I was wrong about one thing: Brewster's recruiting. Suckered in by the lure of a stadium named after a bank or free Wild tickets or something, recruits flocked to Brewster's banner. Minnesota ended up with the #17 class according to Rivals The capture of Indiana dual-threat quarterback and Army All American Marqueis Gray was the most notable coup; there was also a healthy sprinkling of four-stars elsewhere, including a highly touted instate linebacker who, unfortunately, just had open-heart surgery. His career is in doubt.
Is it going to help this year? Eh... probably not so much. It's overrated because of its size (29 players) and JUCO-heavy. The best player in it is stuck behind a pretty decent returning starter, and there's only a few kids who will be around by the time Minnesota is rebuilt into an annoying midlevel Big Ten team.
This was a relative bright spot, I guess, but only in the sense that it wasn't a nuclear waste site. Minnesota implemented a Tulane version of the spread 'n' shred that was moderately successful. Freshman quarterback Adam Weber ran for around 600 yards -- he was the Gophers' leading rusher -- and threw plenty, racking up 449 attempts. For the first time since Jim Wacker was crushing the spirits of Gopher fans, Minnesota threw more than it ran. By the end of the year their numbers floated into the 40s in most statistical categories.
As per usual, however, Minnesota's lame-o nonconference schedule (two MAC teams, FAU, and I-AA NDSU) distorts things. In conference the Gophers were 7th, missing two defenses (Penn State and Michigan State) that were about average when taken together. Since the Gophers' horrible defense had them in a hole so often, large sections of season were spent against second stringers or soft prevent outfits trying to run the clock down.
Weber returns and should improve significantly, as freshman quarterbacks are wont to do. He'll be pushed by the aforementioned Gray, but chances are he retains his job.
The skill positions are relatively bare without Glen Mason's remarkable ability to unearth productive NFL running backs from nowhere in particular. Eric Decker is one of the Big Ten's most underrated wide receivers, but there's not much talent backing him up. Leetle sophomore Duane Bennett returns as the nominal starter at tailback; Michigan fans may remember him as the least impressive running back to crack 100 yards against Michigan's disappointing run defense. He's prickly about being pigeonholed, rejecting the terms "power back" and "spread back," and preferring "coachable." Which sounds like faint praise indeed, especially when you're the one saying it. Last year he averaged a pedestrian 4.1 YPC. He's small, not particularly fast, and was recruited for Glen Mason's system. Meh.
The last vestiges of Glen Mason's surprisingly prolific offensive linemen are exiting stage right, as Steve Shidell and Tony Brinkhaus graduate. Their replacements are thin on experience, especially since so many of them are getting bounced around, and talent, though one of them is the spectacularly named Nedward Tavale. Minnesota line coach Phil Meyer:
"It's a little makeshift, a little tough," Meyer said. "But there's not much you can do about it."
Awful, awful, awful. Awful. Also: awful. Worst in total defense, 114th in rushing, 116th in pass efficiency, 109th in scoring. Gave up fewer than 30 points twice, once against Iowa and once against a I-AA NDSU team that put up incredible numbers: 394 yards rushing and nearly 600 total yards. No North Dakota State drive was shorter than 31 yards. The Horror was bad. This was worse
The gravitational pull of average should see Minnesota float back towards the middle, but rebuilding this thing is going to be a multi-year project. Five starters return on the front seven, but only Steve Davis and Willie Van De Steeg can be seen as anything other than liabilities; a flood of JUCO prospects reinforce. Cedric McKinley, originally a Troy Trojan of Troy (We're From Troy!), was specifically called out by Brewster in his ten-minute monologue at Big Ten Media Days as a promising player.
That's the theme most places on the defense: "we suck, but look at this JUCO!" This will probably work for a player or three; most of the others will flame out uselessly, and Minnesota's defense will flail about. Pressure should get better with Van De Steeg entering his senior year healthy, and the defensive tackles should resemble Mario Cart speed pads less with a year of experience and time in the weight room. The secondary is going to be awful, as it has always been and always will be, peace be upon it.
Considerable improvement here still equals something like 90th nationally; this is a reasonable expectation.
THE TURNOVER THING
Minnesota is the platonic ideal in this category. In 2006 the country's best turnover margin obscured how far the talent level had slipped in the closing act of the Glen Mason regime. Minnesota racked up an astounding 32 takeaways and lost only three fumbles. In 2007, takeaways more than halved, Weber threw a bunch of interceptions (as freshmen quarterbacks are wont to do) and the fumbles skyrocketed to ten. Minnesota fell to 114th and watched their season implode. Turnovers are a harsh mistress indeed.
AN EMBARRASSING PREDICTION, NO DOUBT
Minnesota is going to be bad. Their best hope is that Weber improves dramatically and they unearth a whole bevy of Big Ten quality fill-ins from the JUCO parade, and even that will only get them to 6-6 because of the reliably nummy nonconference schedule.
This is team that gave up nearly 400 rushing yards to a I-AA school... and let that team's quarterback complete 80% of his passes! (And, miraculously, only gave up 27 points doing so.) They can't be nearly as bad as they were last year, except they can. 1-11.
It's not a stretch to predict improvement from a 1-11 team with the country's worst defense and a freshman quarterback. This is what I am doing, but Minnesota was so resoundingly terrible last year that there is a long way to go before that improvement shows up in the record. Big Ten fans may remember a similar situation in Ron Zook's first two years at Illinois: 2005 was an irredeemable debacle, so bad that even though the team returned something like 20 starters the improvement they turned in was only enough to turn the Illini from a traveling bye week into a team you kind of sort of had to be careful around until the second half. Illinois went from two wins to... two wins.
Minnesota wasn't quite as dire as that 2005 Illinois team and should see some of the tight games it lost last year swing its way. The problem is the number of tight games: there were six decided by a touchdown or less, of which Minnesota won one, and six blowouts, of which Minnesota was always on the wrong end. The Gophers were nowhere close to anyone in the Big Ten save Northwestern and Iowa, and the Iowa game ended on an unrecovered onside kick. Iron law of MGoBlog: if you didn't recover the onside kick the game wasn't that close.
The Gophers will probably swing an extra nonconference victory or two and may pick off an unwary, bad Big Ten foe, but bowl eligibility, or anything close to it, is not in the offing.
|8/30||Northern Illinois||Probable Win|
|9/13||Montana State||Probable win|
|9/27||@ Ohio State||Auto-loss|
|10/25||@ Purdue||Probable loss|
|Absent:||Penn State, Michigan State|
Eh. Looks like 4-8.
Damn, i thought we had evolved beyond this, you know better.
I must now report you to the WLA, i feel like it is my duty.
bad ninja. bad!
I think Brewster better hold off on making any guarantees to get to the Rose Bowl
My only concern...is that if Minnesota plays Adam Webber against NIU and they lose...but then they win against BGSU using the backup QB...everyone will be wondering why didnt Tim Brewster use backu pQB in the first game...and he will be exposed as lying about being able to adapt his TEs to the spread n shread...because Gophers need pride and Webber will have a mental breakdown if the fan base is upset about him......
I agree, and in a few days 10000 people will be here saying what you're saying only to a greater degree......ok......
that was awesome
"Iron law of MGoBlog: if you didn't recover the onside kick the game wasn't that close."
Do you mean that, because that means that the 06 OSU game wasn't that close.
I suppose that that argument could be made... but I don't think it would be a good argument.
By the way, my heart sank when I saw that Illinois was an "Auto-loss" and we were just a "Probable loss".
Home vs. Away. Besides, until you see the offense in action you really can't consider anybody an auto-win.
I agree that we can't pencil Minnesota in as an Auto-win. I just meant that I'm sad that we're so uncertain about ourselves that we're more sure that Illinois can beat Minnesota than us. That's why my heart sank, because I agree with the assessment.
And besides, I personally don't like calling away games (which therefore includes every bowl game that we ever go to/want to go to) as Auto-wins.
P.S. I posted essentially this same comment earlier but forgot to sign in first so if it shows up twice I'm sorry.
I marked The Horror a functional DNP last year, so leery.
Michigan did not functionally play on September 1st last year. I don't know what the fuck that was, but it wasn't Michigan football. So in a way, Brian, your "Functional DNP" was horribly prescient.
Not that they disagree, but more of a "you suck relatively worse than us" type of criticism.
really? really. i mean, really. really? minnesota.... really. no really. really? throwing it back in our face? here's me throwing it right back:
you're freaking minnesota. you will never see the jug again. why? b/c you're minnesota.
I was actually compelled to post there.