Monday, October 6, 2008

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!!!

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