Friday, October 31, 2008

We're talking about Northwestern?

Remember good ol' Allen Iverson's "practice" rant? ("We talkin' about practice, man. What are we talkin' about? Practice? We talkin' about practice, man. We talkin' about practice.") I was just reminded of this rant by a co-worker yesterday, and just in case you missed it, Allen was talking about practice. Oooooohhh, I love that video! It's almost as good as Jim Mora's PLAYOFFS?!?!?!" rant.

Speaking of which...

Anyway, we're talking about Northwestern, and I do not mean to imply that this game is only as important as practice. On the contrary, this is an incredibly important game for the Gophers, and considering that the final three games of the season are all trophy games, where team record doesn't amount to a hill of beans, this N'Western game could almost (I said ALMOST) be called a must win.

We've gone over offenses and defenses, we've gone over records, we've gone over injuries, we've gone over expectations, we've gone over point spreads, bowl predictions and overboard... so what's the bottom line?

The line, as of today has the Gophers favored (-6.5). Although we both agree on a Gopher win, I believe the Gophers will easily cover the spread, while Jeffrick thinks they will not.

Gophers 27 - Northwestern 13
Gophers 24 - Northwestern 21

Either way we're predicting another Gopher win, and as always...


Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Big 10 Picks on Hallow's Eve

A few random thoughts as I yet again try to figure out the Big 10...

...Bravo to whoever came up with Halloween. You get free candy, get to dress up and act like an idiot and get away with it as long as you're "in character" and women use this night as an excuse to dress slutty (honestly, I am still amazed at how many classy, self-respecting, intelligent women have uddered the phrase "Oh I love Halloween! It's the one day of the year where I can dress slutty!"). Fan-freaking-tastic.

...If Northwestern football had fan blogs, I think these are some of the things they would talk about: What time study hall is at? What is your favorite shade of purple? When's an appropriate time to wear an ascot? Did you know our QB sounds French? Is there really ever an inappropriate time to wear an ascot?

...What's more annoying: all the political commercials, or the Toyota "Saved by Zero" commerical? You know the one, where it goes "Saavvvvveeeeeddd by Zzzeeeerrrrrooooo!!!!" Is it, or is it not on EVERY SINGLE MOTHER F&%*^ING COMMERCIAL BREAK ON EVERY CHANNEL? I was watching football on Sunday and it would come on during break of the Fox game so I'd flip to CBS only to hear "Saaaaaavvvvveeeeeddddd by Zzzzeeerrroooooo!!!" If I could afford a new car right now, I would purposely not buy a Toyota just because of those damn commericals. And just in case you don't have that song stuck in your head yet "Saved by Ze-ro! Saved by Ze-ro!"

Central Michigan @ Indiana (-3)
(Jer takes Indiana -3)
At first glance this looks like an upset special: Central Michigan (did you know they're called the Chippewas? I didn't. I could sing an old Tim McGraw song right now, but, well it's probably better if I don't) is 6-2 overall, and have won four in a row. Of course, those two losses are to the only two BCS conference opponents they've played- they got spanked by Georgia and lost to Purdue by just 5. Their point differential for the season is also -1. That's not good. With a healthy Kellen Lewis back under center, or at least splitting snaps, IU should get the win at home.
Indiana 31 C Michigan 17

Wisconsin (+4.5) @ Michigan State
(Jer Wisky +4.5)
Let's be honest: I haven't picked the Badgers right all year, so there's no reason to start now. Whatever I say here, just go ahead and do the opposite. Dustin Sherer looks to be the stabilizing guy the Badgers have needed at QB, and while the loss of TE Travis Beckum will be big, I like Wisky here. The Spartans are about due for their annual Fall Fall, and are primed for a letdown after an emotional win over Michigan.
Wisconsin 27 Michigan State 21

Michigan (+2) @ Purdue
(Jer Purdue -2)
Honestly, what's the difference between these two teams? Pretty much a coin flip at this point, and in that case, I'll take the points thank you. Not much else to say, other than thank gawd I don't have to watch this one.
Michigan 13 Purdue 9

Iowa (+3) @ Illinois
(Jer Illinois -3)
What a turnaround for the Hawkeyes. After I gleefully left them for dead a couple of weeks ago, they've knocked off Indiana and Wisconsin convincingly. QB Stanzi has been consistent, Shonn Greene just might be the best back in the conference (look at the numbers and tell me differently), and the defense has actually been good all season. Iowa has given up just 63 points in 4 Big 10 games (15.75 per game) and on the season have outscored opponents 238-92. Illinois is 3-3 in their last 6, so according to their season they're due for a win. Close, but not close enough.
Iowa 31 Illinois 24

Northwestern (+6.5) @ Minnesota
(Jer Minny -6.5)
Really, really, REALLY nervous for this one. If the Gophers were involved in a trap game this year, I would have assumed it would have been their opponent overlooking THEM, not the other way around. Not to say Minnesota is overlooking the Purple Smart Kids, but it seems like with injuries to Bacher and Sutton, as well as how bad the Wildcats looked against Indiana last week, there's almost a little TOO much working in the Gophs favor right now. I think (hell I HOPE!!) the Gophers roll over a weakened Wildcats team, but I have a feeling this one is going to be close. Gophers 24 Northwestern 21

(Last Week 3-3. Season 10-7)

Northwestern's Offense

Well, this post would have been quite a bit more in-depth and interesting a week ago, but C.J. Bacher and Tyrell Sutton are both injured. These injuries obviously benefit the Gophers, but it also creates a no-win situation for Gold Country. If we win this game, it will have a big but, as in, "they won, BUT N'Western didn't have Bacher or Sutton." And if we lose... yeah, I don't have to tell you what that would be like.

So do we break down N'Western's offensive stats that can generally be attributed to Bacher & Sutton? Sure, why not?

Rushing... NW is averaging a bit above 158 ypg on the ground, good for 8th in the Big Ten. Of those 158 ypg, Sutton and Bacher have been responsible for 127.5 ypg. Everybody knows that NW runs a spread offense and running the spread means your QB is going to be doing some running. Omar Conteh is a very good replacement for Sutton, and can probably hold his own.

There is still a chance that Bacher will play, but with a hamstring injury his running ability will be limited. If Bacher doesn't play I would expect Kafka to have to do some running, if for no other reason than inexperience in the offense, but I can't imagine him being very effective.

Throwing... Again, a lot of questions here. If Bacher plays, he'll likely be less mobile than normal, so not much of a threat to run, so how effective can/could he be as a more pocket-oriented passer? Probably pretty decent. Bacher has an excellent understanding of the spread offense, and he knows his team. If he plays, expect NW to throw all day long to move the ball.

If Kafka plays? Yeah, who knows. He's made 3 throws this year, completed 2 and accumulated 10 yards. Outside of that he played in 5 games for NW in 2006 with very limited success.

Can we stop them? The short answer is YES, we can absolutely stop N'Western. The big question is if Bacher will play and how effective he will be. My guess is that Bacher won't play, and if he is borderline, the way the Gophers have been getting to the QB in the last couple of weeks, Fitzgerald would be stupid to risk putting Bacher under center this week.

No matter who takes the snaps, look for NW to try to put the ball down field against a Gopher backfield that has been suseptible to the long ball this season.

Bottom line... The bottom line here is that we should absolutely be able to stop N'Western's offense. Even if Bacher and Sutton were healthy, I would feel good about our chances of being able to disrupt their gameplan.

Our defense should not be the question in this game, and I expect the Gophers to hold the Wildcats to under 20 points.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

New podcast up. Give it a listen. 60% of the time it works every time. Believe it. Congrats to the Phillies on winning the World Series, and go Gophers!

Talkin' 'bout Northwestern (Defense edition)...

Well Gopher fans, it's Tuesday afternoon in a world where your Gophers are 7-1. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.

But just like the Gophers themselves, we should probably start looking ahead to N'Western, or as Jeffrick affectionately call them "The Purple Smart Kids." Let's start with the defense.

Pass rush... As Youngblood pointed out today, "Northwestern is leading the Big Ten in sacks while the Gophers are tight for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed. Could be a bad combination, right?"

Northwestern is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks with 24 (3 sacks/game), and they have the most negative yards off of sacks in the conference with -178. Meanwhile the Gophers are 8th in the Big Ten in sacks given up with 12 (1.5/game).

Yesterday I suggested that our offensive line could become a liability at some point this season, and my guess is that the NW D-line is licking their chops coming into this game.

Points... N'Western is giving up 18.3 ppg for the season, but have given up 22.8 ppg against Big Ten competition. The Wildcats have played two teams that the Gophers have also played. NW gave up 26 points to the Purdue offense while the Gophers gave up just 6 points, and 21 points to Indiana's offense, who only scored 7 points on the Gophers.

How to attack... The NW defense is giving up just over 335 yards/game. The bulk of this has been in passing yards with the Cats giving up 220.6 yards/game, ranking them 9th in the conference. Meanwhile they are giving up 114.5 rushing yards/game, good for 4th in the conference.

This actually creates a decent match-up for us since our passing offense has been far more reliable than our running offense. However, the N'Western defense practices against the spread offense every single day, and N'Western runs an offense that is probably more similar to our offense than any other offense the Cats will face this year. This familiarity with the spread type of offense will give NW a frame of reference that other defenses have not had.

Bottom line... The bottom line here is that the N'Western defense is pretty decent. They are a middle-of-the-pack defense in the Big Ten, and except for Ohio State, they are the best defense that we have faced this year. Our offense, and our offensive line in particular, needs to figure some things out fast.

We need to be able to produce not only yards but points, and not just points, but touchdowns, or this could be a very long homecoming game.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rittenberg on Gophers Rose Bowl chances...

If you aren't already reading Adam Rittenberg's Big Ten Blog on ESPN, you really should be. The guy posts about 90 times a day and it's always really good and relevant stuff.

Here is what Rittenberg had to say today about the Gophers chances of making it to the Rose Bowl:
"My sense is that Minnesota would go to the Capital One or Outback bowl, even at 11-1. The problem is the schedule. Unless Iowa gets ranked by Nov. 22, Minnesota will have no victories against ranked opponents and only a handful against winning teams. The Gophers currently have only one victory against a winning team (Northern Illinois). Even though Illinois went to the Rose Bowl with three losses last year, the Illini had beaten the nation's No. 1 team (Ohio State). I could be wrong, but it seems like Minnesota would be penalized for its soft scheduling stemming from previous coaches and administrators. The good thing is that coach Tim Brewster has beefed up the non-league schedule in future seasons."
Unfortunately, Rittenberg is right on the money. Even if the Gophers win all of their remaining games, they'd need some help in the form of a few SEC and Big 12 schools losing.

In this case the Gophers are the victim of a few things in this case. Rittenberg points out "soft scheduling stemming from previous coaches and administrators." I'm not going to touch that one today. But the soft schedule for the Gophers doesn't just have to do with the non-conference schedule, it also has to do with how their Big Ten schedule fell this year, something that they do not have control over.

But the other thing that the Gophers are a victim of is perception. And while the Big Ten has earned a reputation the last couple of years based almost solely on how Ohio State has performed on the national stage, that perception is reality. And no matter what happens the rest of this season, that reality is going to keep the Gophers out of Pasadena this year.

As Gopher fans we have a lot to look forward to, and I believe that a Rose Bowl is certainly one of them. But, through no fault of their own, this isn't going to be the year.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm not trying to jinx this but...

This is not looking too far ahead. This is...well it's trying to figure out just where the road laid out before the Gophers leads. To Pasadena? Orlando? Tucson? I'll be honest: the Rose Bowl is a long shot, and I'm certainly not getting my hopes up. Sure we would LOVE to see the Gophs make their first Rose Bowl since 1962, but I'm not counting on it. I would LOVE just to see Minnesota in either the Capital One or Outback bowls. Just give us a New Year's Day Bowl. Please.

Anyway, we've got four weeks left in the Big 10 season to find out, and of course a few more weeks for everybody else to decide the bowl participants. Right now, the Gophers are essentially tied for third in the conference with Michigan State (the Gopher, Spartans, and Ohio State all have one Big 10 loss, but the Buckeyes hold tie-breakers over both). In order to try and figure out where the Gophers are going, let's first figure out what the teams ahead of them need to do.

While anything is possible in this crazy season, I think we can concede that Penn State will go on to win the Big 10, and we hope, play for the national championship, which would potentially free up a spot in the Rose Bowl for the second place Big 10 team. The Gophs don't play Penn State and would need the Nittany Lions to lose twice in order for to be ranked ahead of them. So Minnesota fans should be cheering for the Joe Pa's to win their last three games (@ Iowa and then they finish at home against Indiana and Michigan State), which right now looks VERY doable. Of course, they'd still need a loss from two or all three of the undefeated teams from the Big 12 and SEC to go to the National Title. We know that because #7 Texas Tech hosts #1 Texas on Saturday, we'll be down to two other BCS conference undefeateds by Sunday. How likely is it that the other two teams could remain unbeaten? Honestly? Not likely. Here's the remaining schedules for the Longhorns, Red Raiders and Crimson Tide...

#1 Texas
11/1 @ #7 Texas Tech
11/8 Baylor
11/15 @ Kansas
11/27 Texas A&M
12/6 Big 12 Title Game??

#2 Alabama
11/1 Arkansas State
11/8 @ #19 LSU
11/15 Mississippi State
11/29 Auburn
12/6 SEC Championship Game??

#7 Texas Tech
11/1 #1 Texas
11/8 #9 Oklahoma State
11/22 @ #4 Oklahoma
11/29 Baylor
12/6 Big 12 Championship Game??

Wow is that is a BREW-TAL finish for Texas Tech!! IF they somehow managed to run that gauntlet, they would deservedly finish ranked ahead of an undefeated Penn State team, but I'm going out on a limb to say the Red Raiders won't do it. Alabama certainly has a chance to run the table, but with a road visit to Death Valley at LSU, the Iron Bowl rivalry with Auburn and then a potential Big 12 championship game against either Florida or Georgia, it's not going to be easy. Texas probably has the "easiest" road of the three, but again, they're not a shoo in either.

For Gopher fans, I think the best case scenario would be a Texas Tech win over Texas, and then hope/expect a Texas Tech loss somewhere the rest of the way (If I were a betting man, or if it was legal, I wouldn't be betting on the Red Raiders AT Oklahoma. No way no how!). After that, whatever Alabama does won't effect Penn State much since there's noone else that would leapfrog Penn State if they win out (and honestly, if you can't have the Gophs in the national championship, how sweet would it be to have a Penn State/Alabama title game?).

Back in the Big 10, we know the Gophs don't play Penn State or Michigan State, but they might have the best November schedule of the remaining contenders not in Happy Valley. Ohio State closes @ Northwestern (11/8), @ Illinois (11/15) and Michigan at home (11/22), and while they'll be favored in all of them, all three could be tricky games. Michigan State has Wisconsin (11/1), Purdue (11/8), and @ Penn State (11/22). I'd chalk up wins for the Spartans in the first two and an almost certain loss to the Nittany Lions. Iowa (@ Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, @ Minnesota) and Northwestern (@ Minnesota, Ohio State, @ Michigan, Illinois) both have just two conference losses, but also would be lucky to win out from here.

IF, and I realize with all this program has been through in the past 40 or so years that is one GIGANTIC IF, the Gophers could somehow someway take care of business in their final four Big 10 games, they've got a good chance of playing in a New Year's Day Bowl for the first time since they beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl in 1962. If nothing else, it's been a LONG time since we've entered November being able to even say that.

Drink it in!!!

Another Gopher win... it always goes down smooth!!!

Don't you hate Mondays? They always seem to get away from me. But the great thing about THIS Monday has been the number of people at work who have said something to me about how the Gophers are doing! That's a nice change of pace from last year at this time when I was constantly having to defend my Gopher fanaticism.

So, here are some additional thoughts on the Gophers first win at Ross-Ade Stadium since 1990.

Avoiding the big letdown... As I noted in my preview of Purdue last week "the Gophers have had some tendency this season to follow up nice wins with underwhelming performances." I perhaps should have singled out the offense in that statement.
Unfortunately Saturday continued this trend. Although the Gophers came out and scored on their opening possession (thank you Brandon Green), the offense was lethargic and couldn't get much going. Outside of Green showing some huge potential, and Weber being able to run the ball (Were you like me? Did you stop breathing every time he ran?), the offense couldn't do too much all day...

Offensive Line... At any point prior to this season did the thought that our offense would be a question mark even enter your mind? Yeah, me neither. And yet, here we are 7-1, and if there is a concern, it's the offense.

But more clearly, the problem starts on the line. No surprise here, but you would have hoped they would have been able to gel by this point. No such luck. No running lanes, no time to pass, Weber was chased all day long (and ended the game with a bloody nose), Eskridge couldn't get anything going.

Because the defense has been so solid, the offense hasn't been required to put up huge points for a few weeks, but you have to wonder at what point the offensive line is going to become a liability. If Purdue or Indiana had been able to put up points against our defense, we would have been in a world of hurt because our O-line was not prepared to give us the protection required to keep up in a high scoring game.

The size and speed of the defensive lines that we have been facing have obviously increased dramatically from the non-conference schedule to the Big Ten schedule, making the o-line the team's biggest concern, without question.

Other offensive issues? Outside of the offensive line, another offensive issue on Saturday was our WR's having dropsies. What was that all about? Green gets a bit of a pass as he's a true freshman, but he dropped at least 2 passes. I believe even Decker had a drop or two, as well as Kuznia. Perhaps it was the colder weather, but it appeared to be an issue on Saturday.

Secondly, penalties. This pertains back to the offensive line a bit, but there were also two illegal formation penalties on Saturday. These mistakes need to go away.

Weber running... I was watching the game at Joe Senser's in Roseville on Saturday, and you could feel a collective gasp everytime Weber ran the ball and got hit. You have to love his toughness, but I don't think anybody wants to see him become one of our main running threats like last year. It was a nice wrinkle to have him run a couple of times, and it really worked well, but hopefully we don't have to throw him to the lions too often.

Lack of scoring... While the overall lack of offensive production is a concern, perhaps an even bigger concern was the offense's inability to turn turnovers into points. The defense gave the offense 4 extra possessions off of turnovers, and the offense only managed a field goal from those extra possessions. An oportunistic defense is fantastic, but the offense needs to find ways to capitalize. If this offense had managed any kind of score after any of the three other turnovers, this game would have felt very different in the 4th quarter.

Defense... Once again, what can you say about these guys? They got to Painter and knocked him out of the game, they gave up only 109 yards in the air, and only 117 on the ground. They had a small amount of trouble adjusting to Siller being under center instead of Painter, but overall they were all over the place.

The only issue I would point to on defense also seemed to be an issue on special teams, and that is tackling. The entire team seemed to take a small step backward on Saturday in this area. I saw a lot of arm tackles that were broken and gang tackles that weren't finished. Thankfully it didn't result in too many big plays, but it's another issue that needs to be dealt with quickly.

Turnovers... Another 4 turnover game for the defense, and a +3 overall for the game. This defense continues to be incredibly opportunistic, and offense is doing a great job of holding onto the ball as a compliment.

7-1 folks!!! Drink it in, indeed!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thank you defense!

I think I've said this before, but did you ever think we'd be talking about our defense being responsible for a win? And this isn't the first time this season.

This quote from Kent Youngblood sums up why the Gophers won yesterday at Purdue.
"After falling behind 7-0, Purdue returned the kickoff to the Minnesota 27, but the Gophers defense forced a field goal. Six other Purdue drives made it into Gophers territory, and four of those ended with turnovers."
And how cool is that?

I was commenting to my uncle on the phone after the game yesterday that, much like the Indiana & Illinois games, despite being nervous about how the Gophers were playing, especially the offense and considering all of the penalties, I never had that sinking feeling that I used to have during big Gopher games that they were going to give the game away. And I really think that has to do with the defense.

What a different feeling it is to have a defense that can actually stop somebody and take the ball away and really make a difference in the game. 4 turnovers, 6 total points and no touchdowns.

7-1!!! Feels good doesn't it?


(I'll have a more in-depth game breakdown later today or tomorrow morning.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Big 10 Picks

It's a week of interesting lines in the Big 10. We've made a big deal of the travshamamockery that is Purdue being favored by a point over the ranked 6-1 Golden Gophers. But that's not the only one...

Illinois (-2) at Wisconsin

The thinking here is that a) the one thing Wisconsin does well is run b) Illinois isn't very good at stopping it (72 nationally) and c) there's just no freaking way Wisconsin loses at home at Camp Randall to fall to 0-5 in the Big 10. No way. Well you know what? Yes way. For one thing this seems to be everybody's "Upset Special!" Well is it really an upset if everybody's picking it? Of course not. For another thing, all the "the Badgers are playing for pride!!" talk can't mask the fact this Wisconsin team just isn't very good this season. Illinois is a better team, The Juice gets loose, and the defense slows down The Wisconsin Winnebego enough to lead Illinois to a close win.

Northwestern (-8) at Indiana
I said earlier in the week that we won't learn anything more this week about whether Northwestern is a legit team or not. I suppose a beating on the road, even in Bloomington, would do something, but I'm still reserving judgment on this team until the schedule toughens up in November.

Michigan State (-4) at Michigan
Things that fall in late October: the temperature, leaves, and Michigan State out of the Big 10 race. After getting embarrassed by Ohio State last week it'd be easy to say it's just another season and the Spartans will fall on their faces at the Big House. Well not this year. Michigan's players talked SO much smack last year after knocking off their state rivals, you have to believe Michigan State has had this game circled on the calendar for the last 12 months. The Spartans still look to me very much like a Green and White version of Wisconsin, but you can put the Annual Michigan State Fall Fall on hold for at least a week.

Penn State (-2) at Ohio State
I'd like to thank the rest of the country for turning what should have been the Big 10 Game of the Year into the "Whoever Wins Still Sucks" Bowl. Awesome. Thanks for that. Everyone outside of Big 10 Country wants you to believe that no matter who wins this game, it's proof that the Big 10, and their BCS representative, is no good. If Penn State wins, it's proof Ohio State truly IS the Worst Team in the History of Mankind (or WTHM for short. Oh, and I know "Mankind" is politically incorrect, but it sounds better. So deal with it), and the Nittany Lions are undeserving national title contenders because nobody in the conference is any good. If Ohio State wins, well then the Joe Pa's and the Big 10 must be REALLY bad if the WTHM is the best the conference has to offer.

Well don't you believe them. Win or lose, Ohio State is still a really good football team, and one of the 10 best in the nation (to all those in the SEC and Big 12 whining about the Buckeyes: instead of scheduling a bunch of cream puffs in your non-conference, maybe try playing some real team. In fact, take a trip out to USC and play before 90,000+ on a Saturday night in the Coliseum on national TV. Let me know how that goes for you). Their defense is impressive and the offense is...well it is what it is. It's a lot of Beanie Wells left, Beanie Wells right, and Beanie Wells up the middle. Terrelle Pryor really has no idea what he's doing, and yet he hasn't lost a start yet. Still, this is a good football team, and they're extremely tough to beat at the Horseshoe.

However, Penn State IS a legit National Title contender, and they're going to march into Columbus Saturday night and win a close game. Daryll Clark is playing like an All-American as is tailback Evan Royster, and Clark has weapons galore at receiver. Defensively they're not the most glamorous unit they've had in Happy Valley, but it should be enough to slow Wells and Pryor. Who cares what the rest of the country thinks- this WILL be the Big 10 game of the year!

Minnesota (+1) at Purdue
I think you get it by now: the Gophers will win in West Lafayette for the first time in eons. Mark it down. Go Gophers!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some national predictions

From Adam Rittenberg, ESPN's Big Ten Blogger:
Minnesota 31, Purdue 27: This could go one of two ways. Purdue completely falls apart after four straight losses, quarterback Curtis Painter loses more of the locker room and the defense caves after a poor performance last week. But my sense is the Boilermakers will fight hard in coach Joe Tiller's final Homecoming game. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster thinks he discovered the magical bye-week schedule, but the Gophers start slow before turning it on in the fourth quarter.

From ESPN's Bruce Feldmen:
Minnesota 21, Purdue 17: Lots of streaks on the line here: The Gophers haven't won at Purdue in 18 seasons, Purdue hasn't lost six in a row in three years, and the Boilers have a 17-game losing skid against ranked teams. The Gophers' improved D, led by a handful of solid JC transfers, has the kind of athleticism to give Curtis Painter problems. Minnesota also has already displayed plenty of grit in wins at Bowling Green and Illinois. And Purdue is relying on too many inexperienced guys to contain some physical Gopher receivers.

Don Ruiz, The News Tribune:
NO. 25 MINNESOTA AT PURDUE: Gophers have lost seven straight at Purdue. Gophers, 31-28

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Podcast Up

The latest and greatest podcast is available for your listening enjoyment. Just one question though:


I don't care if the Gophs haven't won in West Lafayette since 1990, they're 6 AND FREAKING 1!!!!!! Purdue just got spanked by Northwestern! And they're favored?!?!?!

Well at least Coach Brewster won't have to worry about motivating the troops this week.

Assessing Purdue

Buck Bravo was the first on the Gopher football blogging scene to offer his prediction for our tilt with the Boilermakers on Saturday, and despite saying that we need to "Beware the Boilermaker Special," Buck, or Mr. Bravo, as it were, predicts a 35-24 Gopher win.

As you know, I've approached most of the games this season with what I like to call healthy skepticism. As you also probably know, I've been wrong... a lot... and I've been happy about that. Let's see what I can come up with this week.

Purdue Passing... The game against Purdue this Saturday is another of those games that makes me nervous. As Buck points out, the Purdue offense has the second highest passing yards/game in the Big10 so far this season with 258/game, while the Gophers defense has given up more passing yards/game than any other Big10 team, with 260/game.

It's been well documented that the players surrounding Curtis Painter have not been thrilled with his game recently. Painter has been pulled from Purdue's last three games in favor of back-up QB Joey Elliott. But Elliott separated his throwing shoulder in last week's loss to Purdue, and will not be available the rest of the season... that means its Painter's show.

Despite a poor season, Painter has had a good career at Purdue, and had a big game against the Gophers throwing for 338 yards and 3 TD's at the Metrodome last season.

Gopher defense... Joe Tiller's teams always had a knack for putting up big passing numbers against Gopher (I'm struggling not to single out Glen Mason's defenses here) defenses that were slow and, frankly, lacked Big Ten talent. Tiller knows how to put together a passing game plan that exploits a passing defense with weaknesses, and I would expect him to put together a plan full of slants and deep routes against the Gophers.

Below is how the Gophers stack up against the rest of the Big10 in some key defensive statistical categories. (I hope that I don't have to tell you that the Gophers ranked DEAD LAST in the conference in every one of these categories last year.)
Total yards/game: 9th (382.3)
Passing yards/game: Last (260.1)
Rushing yards/game: 6th (120.9)
Points/game: 5th (18.7)
Clearly the most important stat of all is that the Gophers have won 6 games, and the defense has been a huge part of that, based mostly on the points/game stat. While the Gophers are giving up a lot of yards through the air, they are doing an honorable job of stopping the run and keeping opponents from scoring.

The reason that the passing yards/game number is so high this season is because of games like Illinois (462 yards), Northern Illinois (326), Bowling Green (261), and to some extent, Indiana (244), although I don't think anyone would call the Gophers pass defense poor that day, they were subject to two very long passes and that was about it.

What about our offense vs. Purdue's D... The Gophers rank 3rd in the Big Ten in Pts/game with 29.9, while only ranking 8th in the conference in yards/game at 361.1. They are 4th in passing yards/game and 10th in rushing yards/game.

Here's where Purdue ranks in the Big Ten:
Points/game: 9th (27 ppg)
Yards/game: last (407.4 yards/game)
Rushing yards/game: last (185.1 rushing yards/game)
Passing yards/game: 8th (222.3 passing yards/game)
Translation: Purdue's defense ain't that good. The Gophers should be able to move the ball through the air, which the haven't had much trouble with, and Eskridge's emergence as a running threat should continue against the Boilermakers.

Let down game? Although Coach Brewster thinks that he has the formula for maximizing the bye week, the Gophers have had some tendency this season to follow up nice wins with underwhelming performances. (Win over BG, struggle against Montana State. Win over FAU, come out flat against OSU.) After losing to a touch OSU team in Columbus, the Gophers looked really flat against Indiana, but won, and then came out blazing two weeks ago at Illinois.

It looks like Coach Brewster has done a good job of keeping his squad confident, but grounded. And people who spend a lot of time around the program think it's legit. Big 10 teams have had a tendency for coming out flat after their bye week this season, but the Gophers really needed this week off to get healthy and get rested after surprising everyone in the first 7 games.

I would expect the Gophers to come out a bit rusty, but luckily they are playing a Purdue team with plenty of question marks to help them shake off the rust.

Prediction... It's looking like weather could play a factor in Saturday's game as rain is predicted, so this could slow down the scoring for both offenses. As of now, it's looking like Purdue is favored by 1 pt.... CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? A 2-5 team favored by a point over a 6-1 nationally ranked squad.

Should I maybe predict a loss? The Gophs seem to do well when I do that... but...

Jeremy's prediction: Minnesota 24 - Purdue 16
Jeff's prediction: Minnesota 24 - Purdue 20

Go Gophers, Ski-U-Mah!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Yeah I did not know what I was talking about when it came to the Big 10 this past weekend...

What I said: Wisconsin's a good team and Iowa is not
What happened: Iowa 38 Wisconsin 16
So I let my "I hate Iowa!" bias skew my logic here (and for the commenter who said the two point conversion penalty in the Scony/Michigan game was correct: you sir, are also correct! I was trying to post that Saturday morning in under an hour due to time constrains. As my picks for the weekend showed: I'm an idiot). Iowa didn't look great to start the season, and I would have loved nothing more than to see the Hawkeyes stink and be able to laugh at them. Loudly. Well after taking Wisconsin out behind the woodshed Saturday it looks like Iowa is still very much a legit team this year, and that Last Game at the Metrodome November 22 could be VERY interesting. Against the Badgers Iowa rode junior tailback Shonn Green as he ran for 217 yards on just 25 carries (it was also his 8th straight game with at least 109 yards rushing), got another solid performance from sophomore QB Ricky Stanzi, and held the Badgers under 160 yards rushing (yes Scony piled up 251 passing yards. But they only completed 50% of their passes and got picked 3 times. If the Badgers are throwing on you 41 times, it means you're winning).

As for Wisconsin, they've lost 4 in a row and cannot find anyone to play quarterback. Defensively they're starting to get exposed as they play better offensive teams. In their first two Big 10 losses to Ohio State and Michigan, the Badgers lost close low scoring games. Of course the Buckeyes and Wolverines had the two worst offenses in the conference heading into the weekend. But the last two weeks, they couldn't stop the pass against Penn State (giving up 271 passing) and then against Iowa got steamrolled by Green and the Hawkeyes. With two more good offenses coming up (Illinois and Michigan State), and then your Golden Gophers on the 15th, it's possible the Badgers won't be bowling for the first time since 1997.

What I Said: I do not believe in Northwestern and Purdue has been a victim of a tough early season schedule
What Happened: Northwestern 48 Purdue 26

After the Wildcats trouncing of the Boilermakers Saturday, I do believe one thing: Purdue sucks! Sure the Boilermakers outgained Northwestern 466 to 451, but after leading 6-0 in the first quarter, Purdue trailed 24-12 at half and 34-12 after 3 before piling up some meaningless late game stats. I am also ready to say with confidence that quarterback Curtis Painter is officially overrated after getting picked 3 times. Purdue is NOT a victim of a tough schedule, and are simply one of the two worst teams in the Big 10. Glad we cleared that up. Northwestern? The Iowa win certainly looks better with each week, but I still want to see more. We'll learn nothing next week (they host Indiana), but November will give us the indicator I'm looking for as the Wildcats close at Minnesota, home to Ohio State, at Michigan, and home to Illinois. Split those four games, and I'll admit I was wrong and Northwestern's legit.

What I Said: Michigan will keep things MUCH closer than the 25 point spread
What Happened: Penn State 46 Michigan 17

Well I was right for the first half- or maybe until 3 minutes into the second quarter. Michigan scored a TD three minutes into the second quarter, giving them a 17-7 lead, and there was panic in the Sea of White (seriously is there a cooler environment than Penn State with the Sea of White and the navy "S" in the student section?) that the Michigan jinx wasn't going away. Then Penn State settled down and reality set in as the Nittany Lions would put up 39 unanswered points to win in the route many (not me!) predicted. The Wolverines ran the ball effectively (202 yards on 4.4 per carry) but were once again held under 100 yards passing, while fter the slow start Penn State still posted their usual offensive fireworks (231 rushing, 251 passing). Penn State is every bit deserving of their #3 BCS ranking, and the Wolverines, no matter how much history and tradition are on their side, are not going to be any good this year without a quarterback to run Rich Rodriguez's system (just throwing this out there: why run this offense when you don't have the QB to do it? Rodriguez set PASSING records with an offense at Tulane- remember Shaun King?- before his time at West Virginia. Why not ease the transition with a more traditional offense until you have somebody that can run the spread? Maybe it's me)

From the "Sun Shines on a Dog's A**" Department

What I Said: Illinois bounces back in a big way
What Happened: Illinois 55 Indiana 13

What I Said: Things could get ugly at Spartan Stadium
What Happened: Ohio State 45 Michigan State 7
Despite yet another underwhelming offensive performance (just 332 total yards) the Buckeyes led 28-0 at the half and cruised to victoy as they held the nation's leading rusher Javon Ringer to just 67 yards on 16 carries.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The answers are:
Wow, yes...
I can't believe it, but yes...
Sweet glorious life is good, YES!!!

The questions:
Is that Minnesota ranked 25th in the AP Top 25?
Is that Minnesota ranked 25th in the USA Today Poll?
Is that Minnesota ranked 25th in the ESPNU Fan Poll?
Are my eyes deceiving me or is that the Gophers at #24 in the first BCS Standings?

Let's just take a moment to think back to where we were at this point last year.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pickin the Big 10

As Tweeter from Varsity Blues would say "Gooood Moonin' Boys." I'm back with the Big 10 picks for the week just before kickoff (4-2 last week vs the spread):

Wisconsin (+4) at Iowa
Wait so let me get this straight: Wisconsin's lost to the two best teams in the conference, as well as an upset by Michigan on a controversial 2-point conversion call. Iowa lost to two middle of the road teams in Michigan State and the Purple Smart Kids, and put the wood to Indiana, so that means they're favored by 4 at home? Call me crazy but when the better team is getting the points, I'm going to take it. The Sconies pick up their first conference win here.

Purdue (+4) at Northwestern
This one is tricky. I do not buy Northwestern as a legit team. The wins for the Purple Smart Kids have come against Syracuse, Duke, Southern Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa. Their one loss was against Michigan State, the only decent team they've played, by 17. As for the Boilermakers, sure Purdue's defense is never good, but they've got a senior quarterback in Curtis Painter who's supposed to be an NFL prospect so you would think their offense is good right? Nope! They're 3rd worst in yards per game (you know who's worse? Ohio State and Michigan. Seriously), and 2nd worst in points per game. Having said that, Purdue's had a MUCH tougher slate so far. Their only wins are over Central Michigan and 1-AA Northern Colorado, but their losses include Oregon in OT (who were ranked until their quarterbacks started dropping faster than the stock market. I think the Ducks are literally on their 5th string QB right now), Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State. You're telling me Northwestern wouldn't have 4 losses against those same teams right now? I'm pretty sure they would. So I'm taking Purdue and the points in the "upset".

Indiana at Illinois (-16)
Illinois bounces back in a BIG way.

Ohio State (-3.5) at Michigan State
Is Michigan State the third best team in this conference? I'm not so sure. Javon Ringer, the nation's leading rusher, is obviously legit, but he's averaging something like 467 carries a game, so it's a only a matter of time before he breaks down, and if he's running that much it's because they do not have a reliable passing game. No reason to think Ohio State's D can't slow down Ringer and force Michigan State to throw, which means it could get ugly at Spartan Stadium.

Michigan (+25) at Penn State
This just smells like a trap game. You've no doubt heard by now (you SHOULD have heard it in our podcast!) that Penn State has lost nine straight times to Michigan, and that with the Joe Pa's looking so strong right now and the "Maybe Lloyd Carr Wasn't So Bad"s coming off a shocking loss to Toledo, that 25 point line seems like it couldn't be big enough? It just looks too obvious to me. I don't have stats or logic to back this up, but I'm going with the ol' gut here: Michigan won't win outright, but they'll more than cover the spread. Enjoy the games everybody.

Friday, October 17, 2008


In watching highlights and replays of the Gophers win over Illinois last Saturday, it occurred to me how much instant replay was necessary in that game.

As a Gopher fan, you have to be pretty happy that replay is in place, considering that Eric Decker's opening drive touchdown was originally called out of bounds, but over-turned by replay, and both the 3rd & 4th down stops on the goal-line were originally called Juice Williams TD's, but then overturned because replay showed he was down on both.

I haven't heard much chatter about this, and I haven't looked into any Illinois message boards, but I have to imagine that the Illini fans are not thrilled with having instant replay in the games based on those plays.

You can argue that Minnesota was moving the ball well on that opening drive, so they may very well have scored even if Decker's play hadn't been called a TD, but how would the game have been different if one Juice's TD's hadn't been overturned on either of those goal line stops?

We can speculate... but I'm glad we don't know the answer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bye Week Podcast

The newest podcast is up and ready for your approval, just click on the podcast player to your right.

After the 6-1 start Jeffrick and I were a little loosey-goosey this week (thank you Miller High Life) talking victory over Illiniois, bowl game outlook, Big10 standings, and giving several shout-outs to The Daily Gopher.

Give it a listen, we hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoy creating it.

Also, speaking of you enjoying it, we'd really love your feedback. Even if it's just to say "yes, I've been listening," that would be great. Like I said, we really are having a good time putting it together, so we're going to keep pushing them out, but we'd love to know if people are actually giving it a listen, and what you think. And if you have ideas, let us know. Maybe you'd like for us to interview you for a future podcast...? That would be interesting. Anyway, let us know.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Weber had surgery?

Thanks to The Daily Gopher for pointing this out today. Count me as one of the people who completely missed this little tidbit of information, from the Strib.
Gophers coach Tim Brewster confirmed after the game that Weber, who has taken every snap at quarterback this season save for a two-point conversion at Ohio State, had the surgery last Sunday. It came one day after the Gophers' 16-7 victory over Indiana.
First of all, wow! Weber played a really nice game for just coming off of surgery.

Second of all, wow! The advances in medicine are such that a player can have surgery on a knee and play just six days later.

I understand why we didn't hear about this last week, as that would have made Weber's knee a target for the Illini defense, but I am surprised that we aren't hearing more about this now. In retrospect, that was an incredibly gutsy performance from Weber against the Illini.

It also makes more sense now why Dunbar was pushing so hard to establish the run game. I just hope that the results of that push cause him to continue to push the running game week after week to create more balance.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


(But don't tell my wife that.)

Congratulations to Tim Brewster and the Gophers on a very big win!!! To go into Illinois for their homecoming game, a game in which you were a 12 point underdog, and come away with a win, is just huge. To hold the Illinois offense to two touchdowns and just 20 points is big!!!

Now, we may have given up 550 total yards, and we may have given up 462 yards through the air, but the Illinois offense knows how to score, and score big, and we held them off for the most part.

Some thoughts that I wrote down while watching the game and some reactions to the stats...

DEFENSE!!! These guys seem to be playing with some kind of chip on its collective shoulder, and I love it!!! After Hightower put the late hit on Juice Williams and then Van De Steeg got into it later with Benn, I was wondering if Ted Roof had told his squad that the Illinois offense had gone out the previous night and made-out with all of their girlfriends.

The goal line stops on 3rd & 4th down were huge! We got some help from replay, thankfully because clearly Juice was down on both plays. I really love the way our defense speeds to the ball and is just flying around trying to make plays, they never give up!

The Illini were averaging 210 yards/game on the ground this season, but they were only able to put together 88 on the Gophers.

SIMONI! What can you say about Simoni Lawrence? Two tackles for a loss, including a sack, a fumble recovered and returned for a TD, and 9 tackles on the day. That's big time!

WVDS! And what can you say about Willie VanDeSteeg? 3 sacks, 5 total tackles and he forced the fumble that Lawrence took into the end-zone. WVDS was a beast all day long and he was constantly in Juice Williams face.

Deep passes... As good as the defense was today, should we be worried about how susceptible they might be to the deep pass? This seems to be where some teams have been able to hurt us so far this year. If I recall correctly, Coach Brewster considers any pass play over 18 yards to be considered an "explosive play." The Illini had 8 of them today, and 2 of those were touchdowns.

Trickery... I loved the fake punt, and the execution was flawless. I really like Brewster's willingness to try to go for the jugular sometimes. It was too bad the Gophers couldn't capitalize with a score on that drive.

The running game... Things really picked up today and it's clear that DeLeon Eskridge is starting to run with a lot more confidence. Also, great to see him get an opportunity to turn on the after-burners and show his speed on the 46 yard TD run!

I was really glad to see Dunbar work hard to establish the run throughout the game, even though the passing game had been so good on the opening drive. We HAVE to keep doing this in order to keep defenses off balance.

What was up with the missed extra-point by Monroe?

Illinois' no-huddle... When Illinois ran the no-huddle they really hurt us today. They had their most offensive success in the first half when they went no-huddle, and the TD throw to Jenkins in the second half was absolutely because of the no-huddle. Jenkins was never even covered on that play, and because of the no-huddle, the defense was confused and the coverage was lost. Juice did a nice job of taking advantage of it.

Weber... I thought Adam Weber played a very nice, controlled game where he absolutely looked like a leader. He really played within himself, didn't force passes, and threw the ball to the open man. Weber hit 7 different receivers, and it was good to see Jack Simmons get a bit more involved in the offense

Surprise! Another big game for Decker! 9 catches, 86 yards, and a fantastic athletic play to get the Gophers into the end-zone on their opening drive (not to mention a great throw by Weber).

Learning how to win... This is definitely a team that has learned how to win. I can't even fathom that fact that just a year ago this team needed three overtimes to beat Miami of Ohio for their only win of 2007, and here we are with 6 wins, bowl eligible after only 7 games, and today we beat a very talented Illinois team in their stadium on their homecoming!

Illinois made a lot of mistakes today, and you have to give credit to this young Gopher team that took advantage of those mistakes all day long.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Minnesota vs Michigan: October 2003

Big Ten Network showed a replay of the 2003 Minnesota vs Michigan game, in which Michigan scored 31 points in the 4th quarter to steel the game from the Gophers.

The Gophers were 6-0 going into the game, on their way to a 10-3 season, and sitting in the Metrodome, I remember having the most sinking, helpless feeling just sitting there watching it slip through our fingers. I hated that game.

So why would I sit and relive this experience? I have no idea. But here are some thoughts while watching the replay.

*The Gophers were ranked #13 in the nation coming into this game, Michigan was ranked #19.

*Mike Golic is the color commentator on this game... weird.

*I did not remember this, but that 2003 team had Barber, Maroney AND Thomas Tepah. Not to mention the fact that Asad Abdul-Kaliq could run the ball pretty well himself. That Gopher team didn't do much passing... they didn't have to. How did we not win a Big10 championship that year again?

*The Gophers just got called for a delay-of-game penalty and Glen Mason looked like he had no idea what happened. I remember that look well, and I don't miss that look.

*The Gophers opening drive in this game was absolutely classic for those days. 12 plays, 80 yards, capped off by a 20 yard touchdown run that was vintage Barber: over someone, through someone, and then around someone.

*I had forgotten how crappy the old Metrodome turf looked. Not that the new stuff is much better.

*The Gophs second touchdown was a Maroney run form 9 yards out... remember those days? Two backs that you could count on and an almost dominant offensive line. Ahhhh, memories. 2003 was a fun year.

*Halftime: Gophers 14, Michigan 0.

*One of the more enjoyable things about watching this is watching Marion Barber in a Gopher jersey again. Half way through the 3rd quarter he's got 156 yards rushing on 13 carries, and 1 TD.
I love guys who work hard for every yard, who enjoy running somebody over but who are also athletic enough to run around you, and in that category Barber is one of the best. I like watching him with the Cowboys... but it's so much more fun remembering him in that Gopher jersey.

*Speaking of guys I miss, Laurence Maroney just scored another touchdown on about a 40 yard run. He made everything look so easy, even as a freshman. He was patient enough to find the hole and when he got through it... GONE!!!

*Here we go folks, 4th quarter coming up... Gophers up 28-7. Pretty interesting to remember how good it felt after 3 quarters to be beating Michigan and thinking we were on our way to getting the Little Brown Jug back. Clearly one trait Mason's teams did NOT have was the ability to get someone down, and then bury them. I distinctly remember being uneasy at this point in the game because they were Michigan, and we... well, you know how it goes.

Meltdown coming.

*Another thing I remember very clearly is how non-existent our pass rush was in those days. There was very little blitzing from those teams, and up 28-7 at the beginning of the 4th quarter the Gophers started to go extra conservative. 3 man rushes, no blitzes. I recall my buddy Porta and I screaming for a blitz or another pass rusher or anything.

*This is why we were uneasy... Navarre to Chris Perry, screen pass, TD. 28-14 Gophers.

*The Gophs ran for over 400 yards in this game... against Michigan... and lost... staggering.

*Abdul-Kaliq just made one of his classic bad decisions. Under pressure, in the grasp of a defender, tried to throw a pass out to the flat... interception returned for a TD. Abdul-Kaliq was a pretty good quarterback, he could make a lot of things happen and was a real play-maker, but he had a tendency to make some poor decisions at inopportune times. He should have taken the sack on that play or thrown it away. 28-21 Gophers.

*Thomas Tepah was a nice option in this offense on short-yardage situations. This is something I think the current version of the Gophers offense lacks.

*4th & 1 from the Michigan 48 yard line, and Asad Abdul-Kaliq made a great decision. An option to the right, Abdul-Kaliq picked a hole through the middle and he is GONE!!! 52 yards up the middle!!! I remember things were starting to feel a little bit better at this point and I was dreaming of the Jug. 35-21 Gophers.

*Navarre to Braylon Edwards (he was pretty good wasn't he?) for about a 55 yard TD pass. I was getting pretty uncomfortable at this point. 35-28 Gophers.

*I want to die.

*Greg Hudson's defense was porous. Chris Perry up the middle untouched from from the 10 yard line. 35-35... tie ballgame folks.

*This sucks. Why am I watching this?

*Golic just said "The Minnesota sideline, I would say, looks stunned." Yeah, no crap Golic. You should have seen how we looked in the stands.

*4 touchdowns in under 10 minutes of football... I was there when it happened, and I just watched it happen again, and I still can't believe it.

*Glen Mason looks completely perplexed.

*I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

*At this point the Gophers and the coaching staff clearly gave up. On our next drive after Michigan scored we ran up the middle on first down for 2 yards, ran an option on 2nd down for 4 yards, and threw... THREW!!! on 3rd & 4 even though we had run for over 400 yards already that day. A terrible pass from Kaliq. 4 & out.

*This is hard to watch. Why am I watching this without beer?

*2:20 left in the game, the Gophers do a nice job of stopping Michigan on 1st & 2nd down. It's 3rd & 9... and here comes the Gophers calling card... giving up a first down on 3rd & long... another screen pass to Chris Perry for the first.

*Did I mention that this is hard to watch? Shoot me.

*Classic Gopher luck: 2nd down for Michigan, handoff to Chris Perry, he gets through the line then FUMBLE!!! Michigan recovers. Crap! Then Michigan does the smart thing and takes a knee on the next play, then they kick the field goal, a 33 yarder right down the middle, for their first lead of the game, with :47 to play.

*This is excruciating... why did I decide to DVR this? I'm an idiot.

*Blah, blah, blah, the Gophers try to move the ball, they throw a hail mary, it's picked off, blah, blah, blah.

*This was a horrible idea. I wish I hadn't done this. If you see the Big Ten's Greatest Games on the Big Ten Network and the game is this game... DO NOT watch it, DO NOT record it... just don't. Please, I'm begging you. Don't put yourself through what I just put myself through. Seriously, I'm an idiot. Please learn from my idiocy.

Friday Free-for-All

Gophers vs Fightin' Illini tomorrow at 11am, but you wouldn't know it from looking around at Illini blogs or those old-fashioned newspapers. I forget that while the University of Illinois is the largest school in the state, it's not the most popular in the city of Chicago. Looking through the sports sections at the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times looking for perhaps a preview, or even a mention, of the Gopher/Illini tilt I am reminded that 1) Chicago is a basketball city (plenty of links about the Bulls game, and even Illinois basketball which just started practicing) 2) the only college football team they really care about is in Indiana- yep, Chicago has Purdue fever!! Just kidding, it's a Notre Dame town. The Illini? Not so much apparently. But even reading the Illini blogs like The Quad or Paint the Town Orange it's hard to tell there's a football game in Champaign this weekend.

* On the other hand, YOUR local dailies have plenty to say about the Gophers game. The Strib has a feature on Juice Williams, a story about how happy Lee Campbell is to be playing middle linebacker again, and Pat Reusse actually had something nice to say about the Gophers defense. No really, he does.

* Both the Strib and Pioneer Press have stories on Eric Decker, the NCAA leader in receiving yards, being promoted for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given annually to the nation's best receiver. Sounds like Decker is pretty interested in this. Also, one key to the game tomorrow Jer and I somehow neglected to mention is the presence of Illinois junior cornerback Vontae Davis. Don't know who he is? You will after Saturday. NFL draft guru Mel Kiper has him ranked as the top junior corner in the country, and he could very well be a first round pick if he declares for the draft. Let's just say he's going to pose a big test for Decker.

* The Pioneer Press also has a good story about former JUCO teammates Traye Simmons and Illini tailback Daniel Dufrene.

* Picking the Big 10 Games (this was if gambling is legal. Of course it isn't so, um, it's just for fun)
Iowa at Indiana (+5.5)
Whatever you're doing Saturday, be glad you don't have to watch this one. Am I underrating Iowa? Probably, but when the two worst teams in the Big 10 get together, I'll take the home team AND the points.

Toledo (+16.5) at Michigan
Michigan's offense is bad: Toldeo's is worse, yet I have trouble taking the Wolverines while giving almost 17 points.

Purdue at Ohio State (-19)
19 is a big number, but Ohio State is gaining steam with Pryor and a healthy Beanie Wells while Purdue is going nowhere fast.

Michigan State (-1.5) at Northwestern
Is Northwestern overrated? I think so, and we'll see why Saturday. Javon Ringer could go for 200+.

Penn State (-6) at Bucky Badger
The Badgers are involved in the Game of the Week for the second straight week, and for the second straight week I'm picking against them. Giving a touchdown to Penn State, even at Camp Randall, seems like a reasonable number for the Spread HD and Daryll Clark to cover.

Minnesota (+13) at Illinois
Juice, Benn, Vontae Davis, "Andy" Dufrene and company are a tall task for your Golden Gophers to overcome, and while I don't see a big Ski-U-Mah upset, I do think they keep it interesting.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New Podcast Up

Yo. Podcast is available to your right recapping the IU win, and previewing Illinois this weekend. Good, clean fun. Grab a beer (we did) and take a listen. More written content to come, since, you know, this IS a blog and all.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Big 10 Rated 2nd Strongest Conference?

Believe it. Or at least according to mathmetician (or should we call him a "math-magician!" Get it? Sorry, couldn't resist) Jeff Sagarin, who's mathmatical formulas for ranking college football teams and conferences is one of the many parts of the fun and "wonderful" BCS formula (and by "wonderful" I mean "ridiculous, confusing, and crappy"). In his latest conference rankings, Sagarin has the Big 10 rated second, behind only the SEC. Surprised the Big 12 is third? Me too.

(During my lunch break yesterday I was reading a week old Sports Illustrated that was left in the lunch room, and was all set to rail against Sagarin, because at that time, the Big 10 was fourth- BEHIND THE FREAKING ACC!!!!! I picked on the ACC early in the season, and rightfully so because it was terrible. While it's improved in the last few weeks, let's not get carried away- it's still average at best, because it's filled with teams that are average at best- and also Virginia, who is horrible.)

I could make you scroll through that article and make you look at all the numbers, or, either because I'm a nice guy or because I'm Canadian (come to think of it the two are kind of mutually exclusive), I'll just give you Sagarin's own personal "mathy" rankings for each school in both conferences (for the record, and for reasons known only to the math-magician, USC is still ranked #1 despite losing to Oregon State. That's a round about way of saying you should probbaly take these rankings with a gigantic grain of salt):

BIG 10 (number is Sagarin's national rank)
4 Penn State
12 Ohio State
26 Michigan State
28 Northwestern
29 Wisconsin
30 Illinois
47 Iowa (really? seriously? Did Sagarin go to Iowa? Is he from there? As Stewie Griffin would say "What the deuce?!?!)
63 Michigan
66 Purdue
83 Indiana

BIG 12
2 Oklahoma
5 Texas
6 Missouri
10 Texas Tech
21 Oklahoma State
41 Nebraska
44 Kansas
50 Colorado
65 Kansas State
68 Baylor
84 Iowa State
100 Texas A&M (bang up job so far by Mike Sherman for the Aggies)

Ok, so if you were to play the "would you rather have" game with these schools (and yes, I'm biased towards the Big 10 schools, but you knew that already. Still it doesn't mean I'm wrong), I'd obviously rather have Oklahoma than anybody in the Big 10, but as Sagarin ranks them, I'd take Penn State over Texas and Missouri (the Nittany Lions are a more balanced squad than either). Not only that, but because I'm still bullish on the Buckeyes, I think Ohio State is better than both Missuruh and Texas too (if you disagree, tell me this: those two schools have played whom exactly? Texas has played nobody, and while Missuruh DID open with Illinois, I also believe Ohio State would beat them. We'll find out November 15th) I also cannot, will not, and do not believe Texas Tech is the 10th best team in this, or any other country. I believe so little in the Red Raiders, that I would rather have Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin AND Illinois than Texas Tech. After the Goph's squeaker against Indiana last week, I'm not ready to say I'd take them over TT, but the U and Oklahoma State would be a toss-up for me too.

So while I might disagree with some of Sagarin's rankings, when you look at the conferences side by side (or since you can't do fancy little charts and graphs on blogger blogs, we see them on after the other), I would whole heartedly agree that the Big 10 IS a stronger conference than the Big 12, which is something I didn't think I'd be saying at all this year. Then again I didn't think I'd be saying "I wonder what bowl the Gophers will go to this year" either, so there you go.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Gopher Football Blog: Podcast Edition

Due to technical difficulties we were a little late in getting the first podcast uploaded. We recorded on Wednesday night last week, but couldn't get things posted to the site in time for the Indiana game. The podcast player now appears on the right side of the page, and if you want to have a listen to what we thought about the Indiana game BEFORE it happened, give it a listen.

You can expect a new podcast each week by, schedules willing, Friday mornings.

As with the blog as a whole, we'd love your feedback on this. Topics you'd like to see/hear us cover, what you like, what you hate, etc.

Thoughts on Indiana

Here we go again: a win is a win, right?

Well, it seemed certain, going into this game against Indiana, that we were going to be able answer some questions about the Gopher Football team... but somehow I, at least, came away with more questions.

But first, some answers...

The Defense... During the first half of the game on Saturday I said to Jeff at least three times: "What if the defense is our best unit?" Look, we all know that Indiana isn't exactly USC when it comes to offense, but to hold Kellen Lewis to just 167 yards passing and 18 net yards on the ground is exactly how you beat the Hoosiers. Except for one big play, the 77 yard touchdown pass from Chappell to Marcus Thigpen, the defense played exceptionally well. If you take that play, and the last play of the game, a garbage time completion, the Hoosiers had under 170 yards of total offense, and only 49 yards rushing.

Decker... I've said this before, and it's not news to anybody, but Eric Decker is legit. The guy can do it all (and he does). 13 catches, 190 yards. Wow. Decker touched the ball 5 plays out of 16 on the opening drive of the game for the Gophers.

So, back to those questions...

Our only ray of hope last year, suddenly our offense looks lost, and I'm beginning to think that it has almost everything to do with our offensive line. Since before the first game of the season we have known that the line was young and inexperienced, and unfortunately that group has also experienced injuries. We were only able to rush for 95 yards (not including the -36 yards for Weber's sacks), and Weber was under pressure all day long. The young line is making it difficult for the offense to execute.

Rushing game... The offensive line is certainly an issue here. We just can't run the ball, and without question we should have been able to against Indiana. The running game is going to have to have to get better. Our passing game is moving the ball a lot of different ways, but the passing game is going to be a lot more efficient when our running game is a threat.

Scoring... The opening drive was concerning, a nine minute 16 play drive that stalled out and ended with a missed field goal. But it didn't get much better after that, the Gophers had trouble scoring all day. The Gophers dominated time of possession 20:33 to 9:27 in the first half. But the score at halftime? 7-7. At the beginning of the year I said that time of possession would be huge in order to keep the defense off of the field. But the defense has been doing a pretty good job of getting itself off of the field, so now the offense needs to figure out how to do more than 1 touchdown and 3 field goals with all of that time they have the ball.

Weber to Decker... Our single most dynamic player, and our single most dynamic combination. This is obviously an answer... but it's also (am I starting to sound like a broken record?) becoming a question.

I said it before, but Decker touched the ball 5 times on the opening drive. Of Weber's 22 completions, 13 (59%) of them were to Decker. That's 9 receptions for the rest of the Gopher receivers... COMBINED. No other Gopher receiver had more than 2 receptions... two of those with 2 receptions were running backs (Eskridge & Thomas), and the other one is listed as a cornerback (Stoudermire). You'll notice that none of those was Jack Simmons.

Weber/Dunbar... I'm officially convinced that Mike Dunbar is asking Weber to think too much. Watch what happens when Adam Weber is forced out of the pocket by a defensive rush. His two biggest plays of the day, a 40 yarder to Nick Tow-Arnett and a 52 yarder to Decker, were both made possible because Weber was flushed out of the pocket. Suddenly, when he's on the run and fighting for his life, his instincts take over, his legs make him dangerous so the defense has to take him seriously as a run threat, and he finds the open receiver.

Adam Weber is an incredibly talented and athletic quarterback who was our leading rusher last year. I'm not saying that we want Weber running the ball like he did last year, but turning him exclusively into a pocket passer isn't the answer either. We can't take Weber's legs out of the equation. In the pocket Weber has tunnel vision that leads to Decker, outside of the pocket he reacts to what he sees in front of him and checks down his receivers. He is a completely different quarterback on the run.

5-1!!! Sometimes when I read through what I write I think that it comes across that I'm not satisfied with 5-1. Let me be clear, the fact that this team is 5-1 is absolutely beyond me. I can't believe it and I love it! The improvement that this team has made in learning how to win and finish off opponents after last season is incredible. Even though the offense had trouble putting up scores, at no point during Saturday's game did I feel like the Gophers were going to lose. I don't remember ever feeling that way about a Gopher football game. It was pointed out to me after the game, and rightfully so, that these are the kinds of games that the Gophers used to lose.

But it's been pointed out plenty of times that those 5 wins have all come against less than stellar competition. I'm SO happy to have the wins, especially after last year. But if you watch closely you can see that this team can be so much more. If our offense had played up-to-par with where our defense played, can you imagine what the final score might have been?

Way to go Gophers! 5-1! Only one game away from going bowling... WHAT A HUGE IMPROVEMENT!!!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Well That Didn't Take Long

After an 1-11 season last year, I know I should be happy to have 5 wins in the first 6 games. I know I should be pumped that Coach Brewster got his first Big 10 win, and the Gophs defense looked awesome. A win is a win is a win as they say (I think they say it. Somebody says it. I just said it), but boy they don't come much uglier than the Gophs 16-7 win over IU today. I know I SHOULD be excited and optimistic about things, but, well let's just say I'm thinking a lot more about an offense that had a lot of trouble moving the football against Indiana instead of the defense or how close the Gophs are to going bowling (Detroit Rock City here we come baby!!!!) Yikes.

This is just who I am. I'll let Jer break down the game and give you the Expert Opinion, since that's his thing and all, but a couple of negative thoughts of my own while sitting in Section 230 row 18 seat 3 (at least until we moved up a row, and then across the field to much better seats in his uncle's section in 207 in the second half)...

* As far as I can tell, the Gophers have about 5 plays in their playbook:
1) Short pass to Eric Decker
2) Screen pass to Eric Decker (not to be confused with the short pass)
3) Run with Eric Decker
4) Run up the middle with Eskridge for 3 yards (hey it's the Leroy Hoard running game! You need a yard? I'll get you 3. You need 5 yards? I'll give you 3! Well actually 2.63 to be exact.)
5) An incomplete pass on the rare occassion Weber threw to somebody NOT named Eric Decker.

* If you had a staring contest with Adam Weber, and you somehow made the mistake of telling him your name was Eric Decker, you would NOT win that staring contest (really Adam, it's ok to look off your intended target once in awhile. Or look to other options. Really, it is).

* I want to know who told Weber that his scholarship will get taken away if he doesn't look to Decker on every single pass play.

* Even when you take out Weber's 8 carries for -36 yards (why does the NCAA insist on counting sacks towards a quarterback's rushing totals instead of team passing yards like the NFL?) the offense still only rushed for 95 yards on 36 carries. That's 2.6 per carry. Against INDIANA!!! The O-Line, which was always a strength under Mason, is still obviously learning how to run block out of the spread. They need to figure it out here quickly with 5 good teams and Iowa left.

* 3 gigantic plays that went the Gophers way that really turned the tide. If the Hoosiers make any one of these three plays, things could have been much different:
1) Hoosier CB Richard Council flat out dropping a Pick Six (I know, the phrase "Pick Six" has become more overused than "walkoff homer") in the 3rd quarter that would have made it 14-13 IU.
2) The very next series one of IU's DE's dropped another interception on a screen pass that could have very easily gone for 6
3) Kellen Lewis fumbling after converting a huge 3rd down run in the third quarter

So despite all of this and my negativity, the Gophers defense was fierce all afternoon (their only bad play was the blown coverage on Thigpen's TD. That was it), the offense still rolled up 274 yards passing (on what seemed like 479 short passes and screens), and hey don't look now, but the Gophs are 5-1!

Also, apologies about the podcast. We had some techincal issues, and by the time we got them figured out, it was too late to post it. A new and improved podcast starting next week.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Don't you love it when you've been away for a couple of days and come home to check your email only to find out that you've been "owned"? Geez I hate that.

I've been put in my place by a law student... I can live with that. And to be perfectly honest, Graham from The Rivalry, Esq. was absolutely right. His response to the post was right on the money. I wasn't very objective, I didn't back up my opinion, or really even share my opinion. I could go into the excuses (it was late, I was a few beers deep, I'm a homer...), but you get the idea. As you have likely come to expect from me, it was an emotional response (I'm trying to cut down on that. In my defense, this response wasn't necessarily the homer in me talking. I don't actually think Weber is the best QB in the Big10, but more on that later.)

Graham said that his rankings were arbitrary, that he doesn't trust just stats. My argument, then, would be that he should have mentioned that in the post on the QB rankings. If those things had been mentioned, I probably wouldn't have responded at all. If we are going on gut, then everybody is going to have a different opinion. In pointing out the stats that I did in the previous post, I was reaching for something tangible to show that, although I don't believe that Weber is the best QB in the conference, my opinion is that he certainly isn't the 6th best either.

So then, the suggestion was made "If you believe Weber’s stats make him so damn good, give him a rating."

Will do. Here then are my Big10 QB rankings. This will be, to the best of my homer-ish abilities, a combination of gut feeling and a response to stats.

1. Daryll Clark, Penn State- A very good passer and always a threat to run. Has played unbelievably well against some tough competition and has the PSU offense looking unstoppable. Most importantly, Penn State is absolutey ROLLING over their opponents, and Clark is their leader.

2. Juice Williams, Illinois - Juice has a tendency to make a few bad decisions (6 INT's), but he has also faced some tough defenses so far and makes a lot of big plays to compensate for those picks. On the other side of the INT coin is that he's thrown 9 TD's already this year, and has rushed for 2 more.

3. Chris Painter, Purdue - This might have something to do with the fact that Painter gives the Gophers trouble, but he is a consistent performer, and, in my opinion, the best pocket passer in the Big10 (when Todd Boeckman isn't playing) even though he doesn't always perform well in big games. However, he threw for 359 yards and 2 TD's on the national stage last week @ Notre Dame.

4. Adam Weber, Minnesota - Tends to force the ball to Decker and doesn't do well when defenses get in his face, but is starting to prove himself as a leader, and consistently puts up good numbers.

5. C.J. Bacher, Northwestern - A decent pocket passer who is sometimes eratic, inconsistent and prone to lots of INT's, but Bacher has learned how to win, and was a huge reason NW was able to come back and beat Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.

6. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State - Although he hasn't played much yet, it's clear that Pryor is the real deal, and could easily top this list by the end of this season or next. He's an accurate passer who finds the open man, but he really gives you fits with his legs. Perhaps the most telling stat of how good he is, and how good he can be... Todd Boeckman was 13-3 as a starter, and he was replaced by Pryor.

7. Kellen Lewis, Indiana - Another Big10 QB who can make it happen with his legs if he can't find anything open with his arm. He's got 3 TD's rushing, but passing he's got as many picks as he does TD's. He's mistake prone, and he doesn't have any weapons to work with.

8-11. (in no particular order) Ricky Stanzi, Iowa; Brian Hoyer, Michigan State; Allen Evridge, Wisconsin; Steve Threet, Michigan - How can you really rank these guys? They are the same 4 guys right now aren't they?
Four guys who have thrown no more than 4 TD's each, who all have exactly 1 more TD than INT, who don't have a lot of confidence from their coaches (except maybe that Threet is starting to gain the RichRod's trust), and who mostly exist to hand the ball off.

There you have it, my rankings. I will now accept my beatings.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is this a joke?

The Rivalry, Esq. is a blog that focuses on the Big10. Today they decided to rank the Big10 quarterbacks...

They ranked Adam Weber 6th in the Big10.

Here's the list:
1. Daryll Clark - Penn State
2. Terrelle Pryor - OSU
3. Juice Williams - Illinois
4. C.J. Bacher - N'Western
5. Chris Painter - Purdue
6. Adam Weber - Gophers
7. Ricky Stanzi - Iowa
8. Brian Hoyer - Michigan State
9. Allen Evridge - Wisconsin
10. Kellen Lewis - Indiana
11. Steve Threet - Michigan
Now look, I know I have spent a good amount of words talking about what Adam Weber can do better. And I also realize that I'm a total homer. I'm not going to deny that. I get it, I admit it, I'm okay with it.

But honestly? Adam Weber the 6th best quarterback in the Big10 right now? Really? Seriously? This has to be a joke, right?

First of all, no idea what criteria they have used to compile this list, but clearly it wasn't actual stats. I mean, using actual stats to put together a list like this would be silly wouldn't it? I mean, just unnecessary altogether. Why waste time on something like statistics.

But just for fun, just for, oh, I don't know, poops and giggles, let's take a look. Here is a list of some Big10 QB stats, followed by Adam Weber's rank in the Big10 in that statistic.
Passing yards - 1st
Completion % - 1st
Passing Efficiency Rating - 2nd
Total Completions - 1st
Passing Yards/attempt - 3rd
TD passes - 3rd
Do those look like the statistical rankings of the 6th rated QB in the conference?

BTN Commercial

While Jeff and I were working on the podcast tonight (the first ever Gopher Football Blog: Podcast Edition should be up for your listening pleasure within the next 24 hours) I was poking around the Big Ten Network website.

I haven't seen this on the actual Big Ten Network yet, but I found it on the website and I thought it was hilarious... enjoy.

The newest, latest, most recent must-win game of the season

I really don't like the phrase "must-win." I get what it is supposed to mean, but it's a phrase that is way overused.

It's a term that people are going to be tempted to use about the Gophers game against Indiana this weekend... myself included.

Isn't it funny how we have gone into every game this season with a little bit of trepidation (again... myself included). It seems like every week we are saying "this is the week that we really learn about what this football team can be." But looking back, and looking forward, this really is THAT week. It really is the week where we figure out what this team is made of.

The Gophs are currently favored by 6.5 points, and after losing a game where they weren't necessarily very competitive the entire game against a very talented Buckeyes team, responding with a solid performance and a win over the Hoosiers is a must.

There, I said it.

Must-win reason #1: It's well known that I wasn't a big fan of Coach Mason in his last few years in Dinkytown, but one thing you have to give Coach Mason credit for is that his teams almost always won the games they were supposed to win. They won in the non-conference, and they beat the lower-end teams in the Big10. Getting back to that point in his second season as Gophers head coach, after a 1-11 season last year, would be a big step for Coach Brewster and the Gophers.

And those "supposed to win"type of games in the Big10 are plentiful for the Gophers this season... starting on Saturday with the Hoosiers.

Must-win reason #2: Winning this game would mean that the Gophers only had to find one more win in their final 6 games in order to become bowl eligible, and as I've mentioned in the past, any bowl game would be huge for this young team because it would give them an extra month of practice.

Must-win reason #3: This young Gopher team has tasted a little bit of victory in the non-conference schedule, but it's Big10 time baby! These guys have figured out how to beat down lesser competition, and now they need to figure out how to beat competition that is in their same ballpark. OSU was over our heads. But the Hoosiers are right in our wheelhouse. This will be a good litmus test to see if the Gophers are really as improved as we think.

Must-win reason #4: Can this Gopher team respond to a loss with an inspired effort? It really has felt like the Gophers have, so far this season, been fired up for every other game. They played well enough to win against NIU, but that was about it. Then they came out against Bowling Green and looked like a completely different football team. The week following, they came out slowly against Montana State, and allowed the Bobcats to compete, but still managed to win an uninspired game. In the final non-conference game of the season the Gophers looked like they had really figured it out, and crushed FAU. And then last week, a slow start, several mistakes, and outplayed in every facet of the game.

Can the Gophers again respond to a poor showing with an inspired performance?


You know what chaps my hide?

In the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning my DVR was set to record a replay of the Minnesota/Ohio State tilt. I was excited about this. For the first time in a year and a half DVR is back in my home... a very welcome re-addition.

So I woke up early this morning, and my goal was going to be to sit down with my laptop and watch the first half of last Saturday's game against the Buckeyes and see if I could put a finger on just what it was that the Gophers did that supposedly kept the Gophers in the game. Then I was maybe going to watch the second half of the 4th quarter, so that I could see what the Gophers were doing that allowed them to score 2 TD's on the OSU defense.


Big10 women's soccer.

I will not be breaking down that women's soccer game.

Lucky you.