Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Pod is Back!!

The official podcast of Wisconsin Week is up and ready for your listening pleasure. This week's pod includes two of Wisconsin's three major food groups, a recap of the win over Northwestern, a chat with Adam from Bucky's Fifth Quarter Wisconsin Badgers blog, our weekly trip around the Big Ten, and finally our preview of the big game. Beer, brats and cheese for everyone! Go Gophers! Beat Wisconsin!

Getting to know Wisconsin Fans

It's Wisconsin week here in Minnesota, as our neighbors to the east will be invading our fine state this weekend for two rivalry games- the important one on Saturday, and some other game on Monday night that apparently is a pretty big deal too. Hopefully Sconnie fans won't be outnumbering Minnesota fans at both venues as they sometimes have, especially Saturday at The Bank. Yet even if there won't be many tickets available for the games, you know it's not going to stop them from coming to the Land of 10,000 Lakes to complain about our beer, and the lack of brats and cheese.

As someone who is now married to a Wisconsinite, I thought that in the spirit of being neighborly I'd give you some background information on the people from Wisconsin so you can spot them easily and have something to talk about should you run into one- or thousands- this weekend.

Fun Facts About the State of Wisconsin:
Official Facts:

Founded: 1848

State Capital: Madison

State Song: On Wisconsin!

State Dance: Polka (I'm not even joking)

State Animal: Badger

State Domesticated Animal: Dairy Cow (again, not joking)

State Bird: Robin

State Drink: Milk (but only if you've run out of beer)

And Some Unofficial Facts:

State Colors: Green and Yellow, Red and White, or Blaze Orange. You choose.

Major Food Groups: Beer, Brats, and Cheese

State Instrument: Accordion

State Song: Roll Out the Barrell

State Dress Code: Cheesehead, Lederhosen, or both. Or this, this, or this.

State Formal Dress Code: TUCKED IN flannel shirt, blue jeans, and your cleanest Packer, Badger, or NASCAR hat

State Vehicle: Anything made by John Deere. Or this.

State Legal Drinking Age: There's a legal drinking age?

State Beer: All of them

Favorite Adult Beverage: Beer

Favorite Children's Beverage: Light beer (or milk if you're out of light beer)

Old Favorite Saying for Women: Marry me Brett!!

Old Favorite Saying for Men: Marry me Brett!!

New Favorite Saying: We Hate Brett!! (But he still looks so good in Wranglers! We need you. Hell, I need you. I'm a mess without you. I miss you so damn much. I miss being with you, I miss being near you. I miss your laugh. I miss your scent; I miss your musk. When this all gets sorted out, I think you and me should get an apartment together.)

Old Favorite Saying of my Wife: Marry me Brett!!

New Favorite Saying of my Wife: I hate Favre! He means nothing to me! We won our Superbowl IN SPITE OF HIM!! (Honest to God, those words have actually come out of her mouth)

State Bird: The middle finger if you bring up the names "Bret(t)", "Favre" or "Bielma" to a Wisconsinite.

Friday Night Activity: Fish fry

Saturday Activity: Consume three major food groups, watch the Badgers while consuming three major food groups, The Fifth Quarter, resume consumption of three major food groups.

Sunday Activity: Consume three major food groups, go to church, resume consumption of three major food groups, watch the Packers while consuming three major food groups, cry when you see highlights of Favre with another team, resume consuming three major food groups.

Favorite Winter Activity After Football Season: Whatever this guy is doing.

Favorite Name(s): Vince, Bart, Bucky, Barry, Prince, Aaron (a very new addition)

Least Favorite Name: Brett or Bret. Anyway you want to spell it.

Best Idea: Sausage Race

Worst Idea: Bernie Brewer NOT sliding into a mug of beer (Really? We're worried about what little Wisconsin children will think if they see Bernie the BEER BREWER sliding into a mug of beer after a home run?!? Isn't that what children in Wisconsin grow up dreaming about? We know their parents do!)

So there you have it. Hopefully this will help you get to know your fellow Wisconsinite. If I've missed any unofficial facts about Wisconsin, please add them in the comments section.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brewster Suspends Two

As you've probably heard by now, Gophers head coach Tim Brewster has suspended two defensive players for two games for violating unspecified team rules. Senior defensive end Cedrick McKinley and sophomore safety Tim Dandridge are both big losses in their own way. McKinly is going to be a big, big loss as he was starting to become the force off the edge we'd hope he'd become. The last two weeks we've seen the Gophs go more to a 3-4 look (four starting linebackers instead of three), and with the suspension of McKinley I'd expect that to continue. Getting linebacker Keanon Cooper on the field is going to be a better option than any of the backup linemen we'd see in McKinley's place if the D goes back to a 4-3. Regardless, we're going to have to get REALLY creative in finding ways to pressure Badgers QB Scott Tolzien, as I doubt any of our backup ends are going to be able to create pressure on their own.

Losing Danridge might not seem like much at first, as he recorded just one tackle in four games. But when you realize just how thin we are at safety, well, if either of the starters go down we're probably looking at a true fresman to replace them instead of the experienced Dandridge. Or could we see Colado moved back to safety and push freshman Michael Carter into the nickel back roll? Probably just wishful thinking on my part.

I applaud Coach Brew for disciplining his players, but it's going to make things even tougher on the defense for the next two weeks. Let's hope the replacements step up.

Big Ten at the "Third" Poll

Starting tomorrow (and maybe if we get really ambitious even today...ok no, we're probably not that ambitious. It's a Tuesday after all) we'll start talking about the Border Battle and how we're going to take Paul Bunyan's Axe back from those dirty drunken Sconnies. We'll also give you helpful tips on how to spot a Wisconsonite who's in town for the game(s apparently there's another game next weekend involving Minnesota and Wisconsin football teams? Something about a former Packer legend taking revenge on his old team. I didn't know people were that excited about Ryan Longwell playing his old team), and we'll even talk to a Sconnie on the podcast this week. We might have to run a translation for his drunken speech from all the Miller Light or the Champaign of Beers he'll be slamming before, during, and after the interview- oh wait, that's usually us. If you can understand us during our usual podcasts, you'll be fine.

ANYWAY, today, let's talk about the Big Ten. We're officially in week five which means we're unofficially a third of the way through the season already. Everyone but Illinois has played four games, and let's be honest, the way the Zooker's Crew has played, I don't think a fourth awful game would change our opinion of them much. And yes, it was yours truly who said before the season started that Illinois was going 11-1 and would tie for the conference title. I must have got my numbers turned around, because surely I meant 1-11 not 11-1, right? Right? Something like that.

Illinois wasn't the only team I was wrong about, but there were also a few I was right about too. Here's my predicted order of finish from back in August:
1. Ohio State
2. Illinois
3. Penn State
4. Wisconsin
5. Iowa
6. Minnesota
7. Michigan State
8. Michigan
9. Northwestern
10. Purdue
11. Indiana

Yeah so I got a few right there, but plenty wrong. Before the season started me and everyone else outside of Iowa thought the Big Two would be Ohio State and Penn State, with a huge throng of teams fighting for spots 3-9, and the Indiana schools bringing up the rear. Four games into the season I'm not sure there is a Big Two anymore. For one thing, as we're seeing all across the country, upsets are back, and nobody, no matter how good we think they are or how high the rankings, are safe. We could have zero BCS conference schools undefeated when they select the bowls, and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if that happens. Everybody except Alabama seems to have a glaring issue, and because the Tide play in the SEC, they're far from safe from an upset.

In the Big Ten, Ohio State is still the class of the conference, but they're far from invincible this year. For the second straight year their defense is as good as their offense is bad, which is surprising on both accounts considering how many defensive players they had to replace, and that the offense was returning Terrelle Pryor- aka the greatest player in the history of the universe who really hadn't proved much yet. I'm not saying Pryor's going to be terrible- he is, after all just a sophomore and probably at the same level or ahead of where Vince Young was at the same stage of his career- but he's got a long way to go to be a real passing threat. It's not Pryor's fault he was ridiculously overhyped by the media, who tagged him as the preseason conference player of the year. Then again, for reasons only coach Jim Tressell knows, they haven't unleashed Pryor's rushing ability either. The Buckeyes D is so good it's going to give them a chance to win every game, but if the offense remains as stagnant and conservative as it has been, they're going to have a chance to lose some games too.

After Ohio State it is WIDE OPEN! It just KILLS me to have to talk about Iowa as the second best team in the conference so far, but they have been. After an awful opening week against Northern Iowa WHERE THEY SHOULD HAVE LOST, they've bounced back to look like the Big Ten title contender everyone in Iowa thought they were. Everyone (me included) thought the conference title would be decided November 7th when the Buckeyes travelled to Penn State, but we might need to cross that one off and pay more attention to Ohio State's home game the next week when Iowa rolls into town. The Hawks defense has been as good as Ohio State's, and the offense, well it's not quite as bad, but not much better. In their impressive win over Penn State last week they had just 298 yards of total offense, and they don't have anyone as talented as Pryor either. In the last two weeks against the Nittany Lions and Arizona they've only averaged 3.3 yards per rush. They're clearly second but not unbeatable.

After that? Honestly, tell me who's third best right now. Michigan? Wisconsin? Minnesota? Penn State? Hell, tell me who's the worst team- Illinois? Michigan State? Indiana? Northwestern? It's so early and everybody 3-11 have been so inconsistent, I'd believe these nine could finish just about anywhere by season's end. Penn State went to Cupcake City for the first three weeks, and when they played a real opponent, all of the questions we had on them to start the year- having to replace most of their offensive line, secondary, edge rushers and wide receivers- showed themselves. With the best QB and running back in the conference in Daryll Clark and Evan Royster they'll always be dangerous, but they're going to be vunerable too.

We'll get heavy into the Gophers as Badgers later, but I will say both are where I thought they'd be after four weeks, and both should like their chances of a top 3 finish. Michigan State and Northwestern are also both right where I thought they'd be. Each could still go to bowl games but they've got enough issues that they won't be competing for a top four finish. Michigan has played about as inconsistently as you'd expect with so many true freshman and sophomores getting major minutes. They looked like world beaters against Notre Dame, but then escaped with their lives last week against the Hoosiers. I'd be shocked if they win the conference, but I'd also be shocked if they only win the six games I predicted for them.

Finally the Indiana schools are looking much fiestier than expected. Charlie Weis' Big Ten Christmas card list continues to grow. First it was Michigan State handing him a win he didn't deserve, then last week it's Purdue head coach Danny Hope inexplicably calling a timeout to give Notre Dame two chances for a touchdown instead of one. Still, Purdue has been better than expected and nobody can look at them as an easy win. Ditto Indiana, who I thought would play like, well, Indiana once they started playing real teams in the Big Ten. So much for that, as they were THIS close to knocking off the Wolverines. Maybe it's a good thing they're not on Minnesota's schedule? Ok, ok that's crazy talk. I'd still rather take my chances with the Hoosiers than anyone else.

So after four weeks I'd say we still have many more questions than answers about the conference, and I have a feeling that at the end of next month, we'll still feel that way. Makes for an exciting season though where every game always counts, but this year, it seems like every game could go either way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Quick thoughts after beating NWestern

A nice win for the Gophers on Saturday in Evanston, and a well-rounded one at that.  I watched the game from a Buffalo Wild Wings in Bismarck, ND where I would watch my niece walk down the aisle later in the day.  I was handicapped by not having any sound (and as Jeff pointed out, the BTN's tight camera work), but I did take some notes while watching.

-Kafka was constantly finding holes in the middle of our secondary and it was maddening!  Also, the bartender at BWW in Bismarck was VERY aware that I was not happy about this.

-When did we start missing tackles?  I'll take better notes when I re-watch the game, but it suddenly felt like, at least in the first half, we were having all kinds of trouble bringing down ball-carriers.

-Really nice to see Jedd mix in some more Wildcat formation.  Gray got some runs out of it, and you can definitely see where they will also be able to do some different things through the air from this formation as well.

-It was good to see Kevin Whaley begin to get some carries and he appears to be a very tough runner.  A really nice change of pace.

-Speaking of change of pace, Hoese from the fullback position with a couple of nice runs in this game.  If we can get the running game going, and start getting 4-5 yards/carry out of our fullback, that will really keep opposing defenses off guard.

-There was a really annoying guy sitting not far from me who was there with his wife and son.  He insisted on doing a running commentary of the game and why certain things were happening.  Not only was he annoying, but he was also usually wrong.

-Keanon Cooper saw quite a bit of action against Cal, and again against NWestern.  He's going to be a good one, and he is really fast.  Nice to see him in there.  Our linebackers continue to impress.

-The first drive of the 4th Quarter was EXACTLY what we need to see out of this offense as we continue into conference play.  Balanced, time-consuming, and we were able to do absolutely whatever we wanted to the NWestern defense.  We almost moved the ball at will.  13 plays, 83 yards, and used up over 6 minutes of the clock. 

-Speaking of ball control, Weber was doing a nice job with the play clock, not snapping the ball until there were 3-4 seconds left.  He was making sure the offense was chewing up as much clock as possible.

-On the other hand, Gray needs to learn to pay attention to the play clock.

-Bennett did a much better job of being patient finding the open hole and then bursting through it in this game.  He appeared much more comfortable.

-Tow-Arnett is becoming a very nice safety valve for Weber, and I really like the way they are using him in the screen game as well.

Well, that's all I had.  Not much, I know.  But a good win for the Gophers who have a tough match-up this weekend in The Bank.



I give up. I mean really- is ANYBODY good this year? Just when we think we've got a bit of a pecking order established then Penn State, Ole Miss and California go out and get trounced. You can blame injuries on some of these losses. Oklahoma's and USC's for example had key players injured and almost half of Ole Miss' team was hit by the H1N1 virus before their loss Thursday night. But what excuse is there for Penn State and Cal? Were they overrated or just had a bad week? Parity in this day and age really levels the playing field, and if you have an off night, you're going to get knocked off. People are already asking if this is going to be like 2007 all over again, which had ridiculous upset after ridiculous upset, and a two loss team- LSU- winning the whole thing? I would say that not only could we something similar this year, but that this is going to be the new trend, where we don't have a group of juggernauts, but instead a widely contested national championship all the way through.

For competitive balance, that's certainly not a bad thing, but unfortunately there is something bad that schools are going to take from this: scheduling. I have said from the beginning I'm not moving Boise State up into the top 12 so they could make a BCS bowl. They beat Oregon, which after Saturday looks a whole lot more impressive, yet they play nobody of substance the rest of the way. I cannot and will not justify them being one of the 10 best teams to play in a BCS bowl, yet I believe they're going to get in. Why? Because we're four weeks into the season- FOUR WEEKS!- and they're already up to fifth in the country. Only four teams stand in their way and none of them outside of Alabama look invincible. Florida's passing game has suffered, which means Tim Tebow has to basically play halfback as much as quarterback. Texas run game has been hurting and LSU had an Iowa-vs-Northern-Iowa type miracle to stay unbeaten against Mississippi State. And as awesome as Bama have looked so far, this season has proven you just never know.

It's very possible that the only undefeateds left by the time they select the bowls will be Boise State, TCU and Houston. Three non-BCS conference teams who won some big non-conference games and then steam-rolled through weak conferences- well ok TCU is definitely not in a weak conference, but Conference USA and the WAC are. And these are going to be your three undefeated teams at season's end. What this has to do with scheduling is that BCS conference teams are going to look at this and say if they had just scheduled four cupcakes in the non-con, then they'd for sure be going to the national championship. Not only would any undefeated BCS conference champ to the national title over these teams, but any one-loss champ would too. It's more incentive to schedule weaker teams in the non-con and hope to only lose once when you get in conference. People can talk all they want about how the BCS doesn't reward a weak schedule, but when there's SO much parity in the sport, an undefeated or one-loss BCS school is going to get rewarded no matter how weak their strength of schedule.

Hopefully teams continue to schedule like the Gophers, who have added Texas and USC in the coming years. Ok then, onto the polls. If you think my poll is a joke and full of errors, just look at the USA Today Coaches' Poll. Andy Staples wants to have it abolished and it's hard to argue with him after looking at this week's (He also comes up with the best idea for having an objective poll I've ever heard, but as he says, it makes way, way WAY too much sense to ever happen).

GFB Top 25: Week 5

1. Alabama (4-0)
2. Florida (4-0)
3. Texas (4-0)
4. LSU (4-0)
5. Virginia Tech (3-1)
6. USC (3-1)
7. Ohio State (3-1)
8. Cincinnati (4-0)
9. Houston (4-0)
10. Iowa (4-0)
11. TCU (3-0)
12. BYU (3-1)
13. Oklahoma (3-1)
14. Miami (2-1)
15. Boise State (4-0)
16. Kansas (4-0)
17. Oklahoma State (3-1)
18. Georgia (3-1)
19. Oregon (3-1)
20. Michigan (4-0)
21. Penn State (3-1)
22. South Carolina (3-1)
23. Ole Miss (3-1)
24. California (3-1)
25. Nebraska (3-1)

DROPPED OUT: 17. Florida State (2-1), 23. Washington (2-1), 25. Georgia Tech (3-1)

Now That's More Like It!

So THAT'S what a win over Northwestern feels like! It had been so long (since 2004 because of the two-year schedule thing- oh and also that we hadn't beaten them in 2008 or 2007) I had almost forgotten. And yes, after beating the Purple Smart Kids it only reinforces my elitist feelings that we should never, ever lose to Northwestern again. I think a big part of it was their stadium- honestly, when you turned the game on and saw the opening kickoff, were you not thinking they were playing in a high school stadium? I thought the game had been moved from Ryan Field to a local high school in the greater Chicagoland area, and the number of people in the stands (reported to be 22,091), or complete lack thereof, only reinforced that. The Big Ten cameras kept showing all of the Gopher fans in the stands and rightfully so, since the only full sections were the ones with people clad in maroon and gold.

ANYWAY, despite the fact it looked like a high school field, the teams certainly didn't play that way, and gave us an entertaining and nerve-wracking game. Because we're nothing but positive here (just like our head coach), and because we'd NEVER say anything critical of the team, let's start with what I liked before I tell you what I didn't:

Hey A Running Game!!
166 yards on four yards a carry isn't exactly lighting the world on fire, but my goodness gracious sakes alive, it was SO much better than what we had seen from the Gophs on the ground the first three games. In an afternoon where he wasn't constantly being tackled behind the line of scrimmage, Doo-on Bennett showed he can be a solid Big Ten running back with 89 yards and three touchdowns. What I REALLY liked seeing was a healthy Kevin Whaley, as the dread-locked youngster carried just five times for 31 yards (that's over six yards a carry for those of you scoring at home), but ran hard and looked good doing it. If Whaley can stay healthy, he needs to be our #2 back, because DeLeon Eskridge, both this season and last, has been given every opportunity to prove he's a legit Big Ten running back, and he just hasn't done it.

You Love MarQueis as Much as I Do!
Ok noone has himself a man-crush on MarQueis Gray like I do, but it was still great to see the coaching staff getting him more snaps (five carries for 33 yards). And while you might think this is the part where I start yelling about "Why don't we let Marqueis throw?!?!?" you would be wrong. Do you know why? Because it's coming. Just like how the coaching staff obviously held back a big chunk of the offensive playbook until the Cal game, I think "MarQueis Gray The Dual Threat" will be coming next week against Wisconsin and it will be an awesome sight to behold. For the last two weeks when they've actually had Gray on the field lining up as a quarterback he's attempted zero passes. This from a kid who demonstrated in the spring game and all summer long in practice that he clearly knows not only how to throw a football well, but who to throw it to. Yet in the two games the playbook has opened up, he hasn't attempted a pass? I believe it's by design. Have Sconnie and their opponents believing the run is coming when Gray comes on the field because that's all they've been shown. Do it a couple of times to start the Border War on Saturday, and then when you bring him in again and Bucky Badger brings those safties up...HAYO! it's to the air we go!!! Well not HAYO! as in HAYO! Carpenter since once again he had zero catches and zero carries, but still, the passing version of MarQueis is coming and it's going to be a thing of beauty!

Eric Decker Continues To Amaze
Just another day for Decker- 8 catches, 84 yards and two more touchdowns. Northwestern's 12 fans and three- count them THREE!- blogs were all fired up because corner Sherrick McManis came back. It didn't matter, just like how it didn't matter that Decker was being covered by All-American SydQuan Thompson in the Cal game. Decker's going to get his numbers no matter who's covering him, and I don't think there's a corner in the country who can defend him one-on-one (although I'm sure the guys down in Gainesville would disagree). Decker continues to be the best receiver in college football, and arguably the best offensive player in the country too. Enjoy him this year GOpher fans- he's one of the best we've ever had.

Your New #2 Receiver- Nick Tow-Arnett
The big tight end hauled in five passes for 64 yards, including his 20 yard catch and run where he looked like a bowling ball and made the Northwestern defenders look like bowling pins. Weber seems to be growing more and more comfortable with Tow-Arnett, and the senior has proven to be a solid weapon over the middle and underneath.

Mike Kafka Didn't Kill Us with His Legs...
I'm only reminding you that Kafka ran for over 200 yards on the Gopher defense last year so that I can point out how big of an improvement the defense made. I hate that the NCAA counts sacks against a quarterback's rushing total (it should count against team passing yards like in the NFL), but even if you remove the sacks, Kafka was a non-factor on the ground. His official stats were 12 carries for -13 yards, and that about tells the story. The Wildcats ground game as a whole struggled as well, managing just 64 yards on 29 carries (a putrid 2.2 per carry).

...But He Did Kill Us with His Arm.
The game camera was zoomed in so close to the action, it was difficult to tell what kind of pass defense the Gophers were playing, if any. But all I kept seeing when Northwestern had the ball was completion after completion to wide open receivers, either in front of the linebackers or behind them. Kafka completed 68% of his passes for 309 yards and two TD's, and looked even better than those numbers suggest. Whatever Kevin Cosgrove and the defense were trying to do was not working, and didn't work all afternoon. All season the defensive coaches have done a good job of adjusting on the fly and making corrections to their schemes as the game progressed, but until the last two series, it really didn't happen. Kafka actually looked like a real quarterback out there, firing passes to all sides to purple wideouts who kept finding open space. If anyone got a better look at just what the hell the Gophers were doing, or more accurately weren't doing, I'd love to know, and they're going to need to fix it by Saturday because if you haven't heard, Sconnie can throw this year.

Our Wide Receivers Not Named Eric Decker had Two Catches...
...and all two of them went to Brandon Green. Zippo for Troy Stoudermire. Zilch for HAYO! Carpenter. Nada for Da'Jon McKnight. Bubkis for Bryant Allen. Myabe these guys just aren't that good and can't get open, or maybe Weber will only throw to you if you're born and raised in Minnesota. I do know Green has made plays when he gets the ball, yet he still rarely sees it. Decker continues to be amazing and Tow-Arnett is doing well, but do you know how good the offense could be if Weber started getting a weapon like Green involved more? Do you know how good the offense could be if we got ANYONE else besides Decker and Tow-Arnett involved? Kafka had a monster day and completed passes to NINE different receivers while completing 68% of his passes!!! Weber completed passes to just three different guys at just 57% and he had a running game to balance off of, which Kafka did not.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Big Ten Picks Week 4

Hey hey! We FINALLY get some real Big Ten conference football. No more cupcakes (well unless you're playing Indiana), and no more directional schools (although there will be some schools going in the wrong direction after this week). After this week, we're going to start to figure some things out about who are for real and who have benefited from Northwestern-esque schedule (like, oh I don't know...Northwestern?!?!?) Onto the picks...

Indiana at Michigan (11am CST ESPN2)
Two undefeated heavyweights ready to square off in the Big House! A battle of the titans...that should last for maybe the first quarter. The Wolverines throttle the Hoosiers because Michigan is not a cupcake or a directional school. A silver lining for Hoosiers fans is they've still got one more week after this for the team to stay above .500.

Michigan State at Wisconsin (11am ESPN)
This, and the matchup involving the state of Indiana's two good football programs, have me perplexed. I flipped a few coins, then played rock/paper/scissors in a best of three, and yet that solved nothing. Michigan State's passing offense has looked good (except for Kirk Cousins' last throw against the Irish. I'm STILL not sure what he was thinking!), but the pass defense has not. Wisconsin has actually looked decent throwing the ball, while their usually vaunted running game can't seem to hang onto the ball. Defensively they've done just enough to keep the Badgers ahead. Somehow, someway I'm picking Sconnie to win this one even though conventional wisdom says Michigan State desperately needs this one to avoid starting 1-3.

Illinois at Ohio State (2:30pm ABC)
On paper this should be a Buckeye blowout, yet the Illini have played Ohio State very tough in the Horseshoe, including the shocking 2007 upset. Before the season started (you know, back when I believed in the Zooker), I was very bullish on Illinois and even then I still didn't have the Illini winning this game, so I'm certainly not going to change my stance on them with their dreadful start. Still, Illinois keeps it interesting.
PICK: Ohio State

Notre Dame at Purdue (7:00pm ESPN)
Have I mentioned how lucky the Irish were to win last week? Like it was about seven steps beyond just having the Luck of the Irish? Without star wideout Michael Floyd, and with QB Jimmy Clausen limited with turf toe, the Boilermakers pull the upset in Lafayette. Charlie Weis hot seat goes from warm to on fire, and then the suddenly dangerous Washington Huskies AND a ticked off USC squad rolls into South Bend the next two weeks. Someone get Cincy's Brian Kelly on the phone because there could be a coaching vacancy in South Ben available soon!

Iowa at Penn State (7:00pm ABC)
Have I also mentioned how much I hate Iowa? More than Notre Dame, if you're wondering, so a lot. Everyone is almost counting the Hawkeyes out simply because they pulled the upset last year then there's NO WAY they could pull it off two years in a row, right? RIGHT? Man I hope so. Iowa's D has been really, really good in two easy wins against Iowa State and Arizona, but then again, it's Iowa State and Arizona, so I'm not sure what that says. Even without LB Sean Lee I think the Nittany Lions can slow down QB Ricky Stanzi and the Hawkeye offense, and on the other side of things, I see Evan Royster having a big night and Daryll Clark using a national, prime time stage to remind folks he's the best QB in the Big Ten this year.
PICK: Penn State

Minnesota at Northwestern (11am Big Ten Network)
I am optimisitcally nervous about this one, or maybe nervously optimistic? One of the two for sure. Northwestern hasn't look good the last couple of weeks against 1-A opponents, and Eastern Michigan and Syracuse aren't exaclty good 1-A opponents. Yes, the Wildcat defense gets starting corner Sherrick McManis back, but how much does that really matter? Honestly, if Eric Decker goes for over 100 yards and two scores last week on All-American SydQuan Thompson, what's he going to do to McManis or anyone else who tries to cover him? Exactly. Neither team can run the ball, and I not only like Minnesota's passing game better than Northwestern's, but I like the Gophers defense a LOT better. Minnesota SHOULD win this game by at least a touchdown, but then again I would have said that last year...and the year before that...and we know how that worked out.
PICK: Minnesota. I hope.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Podcast is Up and Ready!

Another podcast is ready for your listening enjoyment. We wax poetic about the Cal loss, how good the defense is, how not good the offense is, and how much we hate Northwestern. This week's guest is Hilary from the Rivalry, Esq, who was kind enough to take a break from her law studies to talk to us about the Wildcats.

A Northwestern Football Blog Exists!

No really, it does:

Sippin On Purple

As the author says, the Wildcats were the last Big Ten school to get a blog on the SBNation network (same one that Daily Gopher and The Rivalry, Esq. are a part of), so there's now proof that Northwestern football has at least one dedicated fan.

What Does Jedd Fisch Want This Offense to Look Like?

E!'s Adam Rittenburg has a blog blurb about his time spent with the Gophers before last weekend's game against Cal. He has nothing but nice things to say about the players, coaches, and of course, the stadium. The one thing that stood out for me though was this about new Gophers offensive coordinate Jedd Fisch:

The former Denver Broncos assistant brought much of the Denver offense to the Gophers, and since Minnesota hasn't run all the plays in games, the players watch tape from the Broncos' 2008 season to give themselves a better feel.

Now I knew he came from Denver, an offense that in 2008 piled up the yards and points, but I didn't know, or maybe just hadn't paid attention to, that Fisch is showing his QB's game tapes from the Broncos 2008 season to help them understand his offense. I had thought o-line coach/running game coordinator Tim Davis was in control of this "power run game" they talked about bringing in, which of course, has been anything but powerful thus far. So does this mean Fisch would like to run a reasonable facsimile of what Denver did in 2008, as well as in the previous bazillion years Shannahan coached there (Fisch was only with the Broncos for one year as their wide receivers coach)?

I'd love to know what Fisch's vision of the offense is, because I think we can all agree that Jedd, and everybody else, would like it to be much more efficient than this. The Gophers offense has struggled mightily in the first three games, and I'm certainly not going to say it's because Fisch has a terrible scheme. You can attribute the struggles to everyone getting used to a new scheme, as well as the Gophs schedule thus far, which has been tougher than anyone else's in the Big Ten.

Still, the numbers through three games have been mighty ugly. You might want to hide the women and children before looking at these: they are dead last in the Big Ten in points per game (21.3), yards per game (319), 3rd down percentage (32.5%), touchdowns (6), yards per play (5.26), rushing yards per game (85.7), average yards per rush (3.3) and team QB rating (119.1). The Gophers have really done nothing well except get the ball to Eric Decker early and often, and yet despite the toughest OOC schedule in the Big Ten, we're still 2-1. Thank you defense. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU DEFENSE!!!!!!

Obviously things can- and damn well better- get better offensively. As I said off the top, I'm not here to call for Fisch's head because there's a lot of factors playing into all of this. We all want to see a productive running game, a more efficient passing game, and an offensive line that actually, you know, blocks. Hopefully all of that comes together, and comes together soon, and the fact Decker is being reported as looking healthy AND that Matt Stommes is getting some looks at right tackle (I'm not blaming the offensive line woes on Jeff Wills, but they need to do something to shake things up!) has to be encouraging news.

So things can and should get better, but I'm wondering today that when they do, what's that going to look like? What's Jedd's dream offense look like? Through three games, the Gophs have ran the ball 77 times and thrown 105 for a run pass ratio of 42/58. Obviously a big part of that stems from last week where the running game was non-existent while the passing game was the only way to move the ball. Right now I don't trust that Weber is capable of being efficient enough for us to win games if he's being asked to throw 60% of the time, but if we can't run and Eric Decker continues to do his best Jerry Rice impression, then that may be the best option we have.

Still, what does Jedd want this group to be? While Fisch is going to put his own tweaks and flair into the offense, I think we should expect it to look very much like what the Denver Broncos ran in 2008 under Mike Shannahan. The vast majority of the time that position coaches become coordinators, they bring very much the same offense they worked with before to their new role. While I don't think we'll see an exact replica of the Shannahan Era Broncos, I think we should expect a lot of similarities, or at least that's what Fisch is going to want.

So what were the Shannahan Era Broncos, at least post-Elway? It really varied from year to year, which says that they looked at their personel, and then would do whatever worked with the skill they had. This might seem obvious, but a lot of coaches and OC's want to run THEIR offense regardless of who their players are, and will often try to fit round pegs into square holes. If Fisch liked what Shannahan did in his time, which if he's showing his QB's game tapes from the 2008 season means he definitely did, then Fisch is going to take the same approach.

Here's the yearly numbers for the Bronco offense from 2008 back to 2002:
Passing yards per game rank: 2nd, 13th, 25th, 18th, 6th, 22nd, 8th
Rushing YPG rank: 12th, 9th, 8th, 2nd, 4th, 2nd, 5th
Pass att: 620, 515, 454, 465, 521, 479, 554
Rush att: 387, 429, 488, 542, 534, 543, 457
Run/pass %: 38%/62%, 45/55, 52/48, 54/46, 51/49, 53/47, 45/55

Shannahan showed a willingness to change his strategies depending on the type of team he had. The 2008 team Fisch worked for was an aberration, as that team had an awful defense and no good running back so they were throwing a lot more than they probably wanted to. They of course also had an excellent quarterback like Jay Cutler, and three really good receivers in wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and TE Tony Scheffler, so throwing that much obviously made sense. But in the other six seasons on our chart, only twice did they pass more than they threw, meaning that if Shannahan had a reliable running game, he was going to use it.

Time will tell how this relates to the Gophers, as Fisch and the offense will hopefully grow up together this year and in future seasons, but if he does indeed intend to incorporate a large chunk of the Shannahan offense into the Gophers, I think these stats are good news for us. It shows that Jedd's going to be willing to work with the strengths of the offense, and not stubbornly try to do things his way whether we've got the athletes or not. Our old coach was running 60% of the time no matter who he had, making us very one-dimensional. I think Fisch is going to play to his strengths. While Weber hasn't been as efficient has he'd like, if throwing 55-60% of the time is his best option, that's what he's going to do, while in future seasons WHEN we get better backs and offensive linemen in here, he's going to have more options on when to run and pass and how much.

It gives me hope that he's going to find more and more ways to get Troy Stoudermire and MarQueis Gray involved in ways that will use their strengths to an advantage. Let's hope it starts this Saturday against Northwestern.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not Wild About the Wildcats

Last month I did a post on the five most hated Gopher opponents (definitely one that Iowa fans just loved), and for some reason I did not include the Northwestern Wildcats. Well as game day against the Purple Smart Kids approaches, I've realized the error of my ways, and would like to apologize to all five or six Northwestern football fans out there: we hate your team. Sorry for not including you sooner.

My obvious mistake was Purdue, because while I don't like Purdue and they've given us some tough losses over the years, I just hate Northwestern more. Much more. Why? It's not so much that I feel like we should beat them every year, it's that I feel like we should never lose to them. Ever. And just thinking about the fact we've lost to them two straight years makes my blood boil. It's inexcusable. It should NOT happen. The first rule of Big Ten football is YOU DO NOT LOSE TO NORTHWESTERN!!! Ok actually the first rule of Big Ten football is to hate Notre Dame (check), the second rule is to hate Michigan (check), the third rule is DO NOT lose to Indiana (che- oh wait, no they're not on the schedule for the next two seasons), and the fourth rule is you DO NOT lose to Northwestern (ch- yeah not close. We can't seem to beat Northwestern. Fail!).

I don't hate all six Northwestern fans, and I definitely don't hate their coach, Pat Fitzgerald, who's done a helluva job in his time in Evanston since the tragic passing of former coach Randy Walker in 2006. What it boils down to is I hate them not only because they've been successful and the Gophers have not, but because I feel they've been successful and they should not. I mean, they're Northwestern. They hold the NCAA 1-A record all-time records for losses, points allowed, and negative point differential. They've only been to eight bowl games since their inaugural season in 1876, and have only won one of them. They play in a small, insignificant stadium (49,256 seats) that rarely seems full. They have a great law school and are one of the most prestigious academic institutions in America. But they are NOT, or should not, have a good football program.

This is what I think of when I think of Northwestern football. And yet in the last 15 years, they've been every bit as successful as the Gophers, and I would argue even more so. Sure, they've had a few more down years in that time than Minnesota has, but instead of the sustained mediocrity we've seen at The U, when Northwestern's been good, they've been good. Consider the following:
* In 1996 they went to the Rose Bowl, something Minnesota hasn't done since 1962.
* The next year they played in the Citrus Bowl (now the Capital One Bowl), which is a New Year's Day bowl. The Gophers haven't played in a New Year's Day bowl guessed it, 1962.
* They also played in the Alamo Bowl in 2000 and 2008, which is a better bowl than the Gophers have played in since-stop me if you've heard this- 1962.

Not only that, but their small stadium is actually only about 1,549 seats less than the Gophs brand spankin' new 50,805 seat TCF Bank Stadium. Would I trade Ryan Field for The Bank? Not in a bazillion years, but as it turns out, it's not like their field is rinky-dink in size compared to ours. So have I been wrong about the Wildcats? Is perception clearly not reality? It is, and yet as Minnesota Gopher fan who wants to see the Gophers in a Rose Bowl and a New Years Day Bowl and hell, even the Alamo Bowl, I still can't stomach losing to Northwestern, no matter how much they've improved in the last 15 years.

If the Gophers lose again Saturday in Evanston it'll be as much of a punch to the stomach AND a kick to the groin as the last two losses to the Purple Smart Kids have been. Because no matter how good Northwestern becomes, losing to them will always be unacceptable.

Monday, September 21, 2009

GFB TOP 25: Week 4

Another week of college football games, and another wild week of upsets. Some big movers and shakers in the top 10, and all the way on down. As always, here's the polls that actually matter.

Gopher Football Blog Top 25

1. Florida (3-0)
2. Texas (3-0)
3. Alabama (3-0)
4. Miami FL (3-0)
5. LSU (3-0)
6. California (3-0)
7. Penn State (3-0)
8. Mississippi (2-0)
9. Virginia Tech (2-1)
10. Oklahoma (2-1)
11. USC (2-1)
12. Ohio State (2-1)
13. Cincinnati (3-0)
14. Oklahoma State (2-1)
15. Boise State (3-0)
16. TCU (2-0)
17. Florida State (2-1)
18. Georgia (2-1)
19. BYU (2-1)
20. Kansas (3-0)
21. Houston (3-0)
22. Michigan (3-0)
23. Washington (2-1)
24. Nebraska (2-1)
25. Georgia Tech (2-1)

With USC's stunning (or not so stunning if you watched the Ohio State game) loss, we're now down to three teams that started the season being absolutely, positively better than everyone else. And after Florida's offense struggled a bit to move the ball on Tennessee, would ANYONE be shocked if the top 3 lose at some point before the bowl games? Still, until they lose these three are clearly the best in college football. Famous last words!

Yep, Miami jumped from the late teens to #4. Why? Because they've beaten two ranked teams and no one else has. Georgia Tech should still win 8-9 games and after Florida State beat the snot out of BYU, the wins for the Hurricanes look even more impressive. Of course this ranking could be short-lived as they play a VERY feisty Va Tech this week. With Washington's upset of the Trojans, LSU's opening week win looks a lot more impressive, so they bump over Penn State, who three weeks in has played absolutely noone- or maybe it just seems that way. Cal's schedule (especially with Maryland losing to Middle Tenn St- yikes!) isn't much better, but a road win over Minnesota is more impressive than anything the JoePa's have done yet. Ole Miss literally played no one last week, and while that's not their fault, well, I'm bumping up teams who actually played.

Our "one loss" group gains an undefeated and a defeated, as Cincy's win over Oregon State moves them WAY up (in hindsight I had them ranked way too low to begin with), and USC drops WAY down- but not below Ohio State because that wouldn't make any sense.

15-19: Boise State stays at 15 and won't go any higher until the play another ranked team. TCU gets tested soon but can stay here for now, and FSU, Georgia and BYU either rise or fall into a pretty fluid group of three one-loss teams.

20-25: Three undefeateds move up with easy wins, while three one-loss teams fill out the last three spots. UDub and Nebraska both have more impressive wins AND losses than the Jackets, yet I feel like Georgia Tech has played good football so they just survive.

Dropped out: 16. Utah (2-1), 20. Oregon State (2-1)
The Utes and Beavers can climb back in with some wins, while undefeateds like Auburn, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina knocking on the door.

Sorting out Cal

I really had a tough time sorting out my thoughts about the Gophers loss to Cal on Saturday.  This isn't going to be a very analytical post.  But join me as I hammer out this loss in my head.

On the one hand I was very disappointed with how the Gophers started, and I think starting that slowly against a team like Cal, who you should absolutely know what to expect in their opening drive, is inexcusable. On the other hand, our defense made good adjustments again in this game, and did a fairly nice job of slowing down Cal's rushing attack as a whole.

The Gophers have played three non-conference foes so far.  All three opponents are better than the type of non-conference opponents that the Gophers have faced in the past.  Despite the fact that we have made good adjustments by the 2nd quarter of these games, I find our slow starts to be very concerning.

However, the adjustments have been there, and they have been good in all three games, and I think this says a lot for our coaches game-day ability.  It's difficult to avoid wondering what might have happened if Cal hadn't started out quite so quickly.  I can forgive the opening drive, and Best's 33 yard TD run, because I think that Jahvid Best is a guy that you can watch on tape and see how shifty and fast he is, but my guess is until you have him coming at you, it doesn't quite sink in.

But again, this is a resilient team.  Cal goes up 14-0 very quickly, and yet, they didn't get down and feel beat like they clearly did against Iowa in last season's Metrodome finale.  The Gophers stuck to the game plan, adjusted to the speed and quickness of Cal, and methodically started the second quarter by finishing off a 7 play, 54 yard drive with the infamous Decker catch that, as Jeff already pointed out, is truly the stuff of legend.

After the way this game started, for the Gophers to go into halftime down only 21-14 was pretty impressive.  And then to start the 4th quarter tied at 21... again,  you wouldn't have expected this after going down 14-0 very quickly early. 

You have to wonder if the speed and shiftiness of Best, along with the accuracy of Kevin Riley, and the truly balanced nature of the Bears offensive attack, just caught the Gophers off guard.  Thankfully it didn't take them long to adjust.  Unfortunately the Gophers were already down 2 TD's when they did.

In regards to Adam Weber, unfortunately his 3 INT's look horrible on the stat sheet, but those three interceptions came on the Gophers final three drives of the game when the Gophers really needed to make something happen.  Sure, Weber forced the ball as he has been guilty of many times, but on those final 2 INT's Eric Decker was not in the game.  Cal's D knew that they didn't have to worry about our #1 threat, plus they knew that we HAD to throw because we were down AND we couldn't run the ball all day long.  While I don't forgive Weber for forcing the ball where it doesn't belong, the Cal defense clearly knew it was coming.

Overall I was actually fairly impressed with how Weber handled the situation.  I mean, let's look at the factors here: the offensive line was horrible and Cal was getting pressure from all directions all day long.  He was forced out of the pocket constantly, at least until the play-calling shifted to actually calling for him to role out (something I have been BEGGING FOR since early last season).  And there was ZERO running game to speak of (37 yards on 21 attempts), so Cal knew he was going to be throwing the ball.  By the 4th quarter everybody in the stadium and watching on TV knew exactly what the Gophers were going to do.  With all of that in mind, I think Adam Weber played a better game than the stats tell.

Penalties were a real killer in this game as well, and it's difficult to know where to lay the blame for that, but clearly the team isn't overly disciplined in this area.  After Cal stomped down the field on their opening drive the Gophers did a reverse on the ensuing kick-off which worked great and got us to Cal's 47 yard line. Unfortunately a false start penalty on the first play put us back into our own territory and gave us 1st & 15. 

Our second drive started with another penalty, this one a 15 yarder.  1st & 25.  Adjustments or not, it's tough to be competitive when you are constantly shooting yourself in the foot.

The Gophers are a scrappy bunch, and they don't give up.  You can tell that this team really believes in each other and their ability to stay in games.  Especially on the defensive side of the ball.  It isn't always (or ever) pretty, and they sometimes end up giving up a lot of yards, but they seem to find a way.

In the end, I think that Cal is just a much faster and much more talented team, and they simply wore the Gophers down.  Cal just had too much for us in the end despite the fact that we scratched and clawed to stay in this game.

Losing sucks, and I was clearly disappointed with how the 4th quarter went for the Gophers after solid 2nd & 3rd quarters.  And I am not into moral victories.  But there are definitely some good things to take away from this game, and I think that we now know that, with good game planning, solid adjustments, and scrappy play, we can hang with anybody in the Big Ten.

The "Best" Offense is a Good Minnesota Defense

Full disclosure before I begin: I did not see the game. Not one single down. The only things I'm going off of are Jer's constant texts during the game, the Big Ten Network highlights I watched this morning, and the box score and game recaps online. My wife's grandmother died, so I was at her funeral in Kokomo, Indiana all weekend, and the only game I watched was Notre Dame-Michigan State game because I was in a house full of Notre Dame fans (Charlie Weis should be sending flowers, thank you notes, and half his paycheck to the Spartans defender who flat dropped a fourth quarter INT when Golden Tate cut his route short, and to Spartans QB Kirk Cousins who, despite playing well all afternoon, through an absolutely inexcusable pick that ended the game. That was the worst pass I've seen all season, and that includes anything Adam Weber has thrown....I kid, I kid. Weis and the Irish deserved to lose that game, and Weis deserved to lose his job). So if any of my observations are off (or at least more so than usual), because I know stats and highlights never tell the full story, please let me know.

Ok, so after getting all the texts from Jer and finally getting to see the box score and some writeups, I have to say, I'm really optimistic about the Gopher defense. And that's not being sarcastic at all. Yep, the D gave up 35 points and Jahvid Best, who in this age of overhype is absolutely, positively worth every word printed and spoken about him last week leading up to the game, had a monster day, but the defense still played really well. I said it last week and I'll say it again, that's the "Best" offense we've played against in years, and that's easily the "Best" offense we'll see all year. Best has to be the leader in the clubhouse for the Most Overrated Award in Sports (aka the Heisman), and while he theoretically can't win it because he doesn't fit the criteria (you apparently have to be the QB on a top 5 team), he IS the best offensive player in the country after three weeks (I will also hear arguments for Miami QB Jacoby Harris, Arkansas QB Ryan Mallet, and yes, Minnesota's Eric Decker. More on him in a minute). Watching his TD runs, the kid just has unbelievable speed and acceleration. I mean seriously, the Gophs defenders were generally taking the proper angles to get to him, and he just flat outran them. It was like watching Reggie Bush in his USC prime. That first TD run was ridiculous, and even the two second half short yardage six-point plunges he outruns Gopher defenders to the corner.

Best is going to light up EVERYBODY this year, so I'm not knocking the Minnesota D for making Best look like Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson. In the second half it looks like they adjusted, as Best was minimalized other than the two short TD runs. On the day the Gopher defense held Cal to just 3.7 yards per carry for only 163 yards rushing and 415 total yards of offense. Those are pretty respectible numbers, especially against one of the best offenses in the country. The defense has carried the team kicking and screaming to a respectable 2-1 start, and they held up well against Cal, giving reason for optimism that they're going to be able to play with anybody this year, even Penn State and Ohio State.

As for the offense? Yeesh. There were definitely some positives, and just so we don't get blamed for being all negative again, let's start with those:

Eric Decker: We all knew Decker was good, but THIS good? Wow. Just wow. The first TD catch was the stuff of legends. The second, where he ran a slant-and-go route was a thing of beauty. He may not be the best NFL prospect at wide receiver in the country (I would give that honor to either Julio Jones of Alabama, AJ Green of Georgia or Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State), but without question he's been the best receiver in college football this year. If he keeps it up, he's a sure-fire first team All-American and should win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver. He's been that good. Few players, if any, are being asked to carry as heavy a burden in their offense as Decker is, and yet despite that, despite everybody in the building knowing that when Weber drops back to throw it's going to Decker, he still makes the catch. You just cannot say enough about what he's done and meant to this team, and just how amazingly good he's been. Like with Javhid Best, he cannot be overhyped at this point.

Trickery: Hey will you look at that! The coaches DID have some of that trickery and tomfoolery up their collective sleeve that they promised us in the preseason we'd see. Perhaps they were saving their trick plays and wildcat packages just for Cal, just thinking and hoping they'd be good enough to beat Syracuse and Air Force without having to really get creative. I did see the Decker TD pass to MarQueis Gray (honestly, is there anything Decker can't do at this point? Well other than help our running game), as well as that Hayo! Carpenter lives! Hayo! had two carries and a catch for 35 yards, as well as a kickoff return for another 35. Hopefully this is a sign of more Hayo! in the offense.

Other than that? Well there's still a lot of work to be done. Weber's numbers looked better, but he did throw three picks (I only saw the last one, so I'm not sure how egregious the other two were), was sacked three times, and was outplayed by his counterpart Kevin Riley of Cal. He also still doesn't seem to be looking for a second or third option offensively. Yes, it looks like we got more people involved in the passing game, and I was happy to see Brandon Green with a yards-per-catch average over 10 with a decent 13. But he only had three catches. Stoudermire was again barely a factor with three catches for just 19 yards for an inexcusable 6.3 YPC. Again, I didn't see the game, so was this Stoudermire not getting open, or was Weber only throwing to him on short routes when he was his first read? A player as explosive as Stoudermire shouldn't be averging only 6.3 YPC.

To be fair, the other part of the passing game I should bring up is that perhaps everybody else not named Decker is just not as good as we'd hoped. Maybe Green, Stoudermire and Hayo! just aren't getting open or aren't stepping up to make plays like we'd hoped they'd be able to. Cal has a really good defense, so perhaps it was just a case of Decker Being Decker and him making catches no matter how many white shirts were around him while everyone else were having trouble getting open. I didn't see the game so if this WAS indeed the case, please let me know.

Finally, the running game/offensive line or complete lack-thereof: the Gophers had 37 rushing yards on an average of 1.8 YARDS PER CARRY?!?!?!? Holy shinto that's awful! I don't have to watch the game to know that is really, really, REALLY not good!!!! I know the Gophs were down 21-0 before everybody were even in their seats, but that just cannot happen. They had to throw more often than planned to get back in the game, but how can your two top backs only have 14 carries COMBINED?!? Were there just no holes for them to run through? Did Brewster and company give up trying to run the ball in conventional fashion because they just couldn't run the ball in conventional fashion? Was the offensive line really that bad?

While the trick plays are great because it finally shows some creativity, it could also be a cause for concern if we're going to need a lot of that to move the football effectively. If we can't run between the tackles with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge, maybe those seven or eight wins this season won't be as attainable as we had hoped. Minnesota does have a defense that's going to keep us in every game the rest of the season, but we do NOT have the quarterback to be able to overcome the complete lack of a running game. California had a solid defense so maybe the line was just over-matched, and being down so quickly meant they had to abandon a traditional running game sooner. I hope so. I hope they get things sorted out quickly because while Northwestern is certainly beatable this Saturday, they're not a gimme, and neither is anyone else except South Dakota State the rest of the year. There were definitely some good things to take away from this game, but the running game, offensive line, and Weber need to improve.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Ten Picks: Week 3

First, I am crying uncle. I am tapping out. I am admitting defeat. I am a quitter. Picking against the spread has owned me since I started doing it last year, and since these picks are, as Nacho Libre would say about a man wearing stretchy pants in his room, "just for fun" I'm going to just pick winners and losers straight up from now on. I will hand in whatever manliness I have left after getting married and admit I'm just not man enough to pick against the spread.

Second, what a difference a couple of weeks makes for the perception of teams around the Big Ten. We've seen more than a few opinions change from the start of the year to here in week 3. For each squad, we'll tell you what their coaches and fans were saying before the season started, and what they're saying now that a bit of reality has set in...

Illinois (bye week)
Today: maybe Florida was right...think the Motor City Bowl would take us right now?

The Illini didn't just lay an egg in their opener against Missouri, they took a collective dump on the field. Then this week devastating news that their best defender, LB Martez Wilson, is out for the year with an injury. In less than three weeks Illinois have gone from darkhorse Big Ten title contenders (at least according to me) to wondering if they'll even make a bowl game. At Florida The Zooker brought in great recruits but couldn't convert them to wins on the field. At Illinois? Let's just say we're starting to see a pattern developing here.

Eastern Michigan @ Michigan (11am Big 10 Network)
Preseason: Wolverines fans were waiting outside RichRod's house with pitchforks and torches
Today: Wolverines fans wait outside RichRod's house to carry him to practice and games like an ancient Egyptian king complete with grapes, giant palm leaves and a flying V headdress.

Two weeks ago there was division in the locker room, and coach Rich Rodriguez was absolutely, positively NOT a Michigan Man. After blowing out one of the many Michigan directional schools in week 1 and then knocking off the overrated Irish in week 2, coach RichRod absolutely, positively IS a Michigan Man! The same streets Michigan fans were threatening to spill his blood in are now being named after him, and instead of cursing his name now every new newborn baby in Ann Arbor is being named Rich or Rod or RichRod. What a difference two weeks makes.

Temple @ Penn State (11am Big Ten Network)
Preseason: Who cares about all the guys we lost to graduation? We're the best team in the Big Ten!
Today: So far, it's hard to argue with them.

To be fair, they haven't played anybody yet, and I don't think they would have fared any better against USC than Ohio State did, but the JoePa's have taken care of business so far against their usual slate of non-conference patsies. The one concern, and one JoePa himself expressed in the offseason, is how good an almost entirely new offensive line would be, and so far, it's hurting their running game big time. Can you believe a Joe Paterno team has won two games easily while averaging barely three yards per carry? And this is with perhaps the best tailback combo in the conference of Evan Royster and Stafon Green? It doesn't make sense and I can't see it lasting, and while they won't need to run against Temple to win, but they sure as heck will starting next week against Iowa.

Ohio State at Toledo (11am ESPN360)
Preseason: Terrelle Pryor is our Savior and he will lead us to the promised land
Today: Waiting outside head coach Jim Tressell's house with the torches and pitchforks Michigan fans have thrown out

Ok so it's not quite that bad yet in Columbus, but it's amazing how fast the "What have you done for me lately" approach has caused Buckeye nation to turn on Tressell. Look I get it, you guys are fed up with beating up the Big Ten but losing to top 5 teams. While I imagine that might be frustrating, please keep in mind the other ten teams in the conference would love to be in your position. Seriously, if you want to trade four straight Big Ten Titles, the 2003 national championship and a trip to four straight BCS bowls in for a couple of Music City bowls, an 0-12 season, and a coach who bans then doesn't ban his team from going on a local radio station because that station has the gal to be critical, let me know. We'll even throw in the Timberwolves so you guys can have your very own pro basketball team if you could give include a couple of cash registers for the new stadium. It's really all we ask. It's part of that "Minnesota Nice" you've heard so much about.

Wofford at Wisconsin (11am Big Ten Network)
Preseason: What's stronger: Badger fans love of their team and all things beer, brats and cheese, or their hatred of coach Bret Bielma?
Today: No really, which one? It's too close to call right now

Some idiot on some Gopher blog said in the preseason that Badger fans needed to calm down, that Wisconsin would win at least eight games and probably nine, and everything would be fine. Two weeks in and the Badgers ARE 2-0, but it's been anything but pretty. They've survived two big scares with a defense looks shakier than Green Bay right tackle Alan Barbre (seriously, did you see that guy Sunday night against the Bears? I was waiting for him to pull a red flag out of his pants and yell "OLE!!!" like a matador every time Adewale Ogunleye ran by him to bludgeon Aaron Rodgers). Bielma needs to get a few things figured out this week in their last preseason game, because if they play like this against Big Ten teams, well, Bielma will be more hated in Wisconsin than a certain old, indecisive, spotlight-hogging #4-wearing, gunslingin' quarterback who nows plays professionally in Minnesota.

Northern Illinois at Purdue (11am Big Ten Network)
We are NOT the worst Big Ten team in Indiana!
Today: We are NOT the worst Big Ten team in Indiana- or Illinois!

Anyone who thought the Boilermakers would not just be 1-1, but would have done it on the strength of their running game, raise your hand...anyone...anyone at all? Yeah there was no way to see this coming. The preimenent passing team in the Big Ten the last decade has a sophomore running back that even Purdue fans wouldn't have recognize when the season started leading the conference in rushing. Ralph Bolden has 357 yards and 4 TD's while averaging 7.1 yards per carry and the defense has forced five turnovers. If quarterback Joey Elliot would start throwing to his own team more than the defense (4 TD's to 5 INT's), Purdue is going to upset some people in the Big Ten this year.

Michigan State at Notre Dame (2:30pm NBC)
Preseason: We WILL live up to the hype! We WILL live up to the hype!
Today: DAMMIT!

I like Sparty head coach Mark Dantonio and think he's doing a great job in rebuilding Michigan State. But wow, you just do not lose to a MAC team on your home field if you want to be taken seriously. Yet that's just what the Spartans did, getting shocked 29-27 by the Chippewas of Central Michigan last week. And it's not like CMU were flukes- they outgained the Spartans by more than 100 yards (481-316) and wracked up 352 yards passing on a Michigan State secondary that was supposed to be the strength of that defense. The Spartan offense, which we heard was going to be much improved despite losing a guy in tailback Javon Ringer who was pretty much their entire offense last year managed just 51 yards on the ground at 3.4 per carry. That has to improve, and quickly if Michigan State wants to play in a New Year's Day bowl, and despite all my negativity, I still like the Spartans to beat Notre Dame yet again.

Indiana at Akron (2:30pm ESPNU)
Preseason: When does basketball season start?
Today: No really, when does basketball season start?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, they're 2-0 and could very well go 3-0 if they can beat Akron tomorrow (I don't think they will, but it's possible), but considering they beat 1-AA Eastern Kentucky and a not-so-good Western Michigan squad by a combined 11 points, does anybody think they're even winning a game in the Big Ten this year? Anyone? Nope didn't think so. Hoops practice starts soon, Hoosier fans. Not soon enough, but soon.

Arizona at Iowa (2:35pm ABC)
Preseason: Same as every year- we're winning the Big Ten title!!!
Today: Ok we were nervous there for a minute...but we're still winning the Big Ten title!!

I hate giving Iowa credit almost as much I hate the team itself, but the Hawkeyes really showed something last week in Ames. Without their All-American left tackle and a top corner they destroyed a Cyclones team that seems to always give them trouble. The week 1 game they absolutely positively should not have won could just be a blip on the radar screen when we look back at this season, and if they play like they did against Iowa State they're going to be good again- not good enough to win the conference (they are NOT doing better than 2-2 on the road in the Big Ten), but good enough. And yes, I'm hoping all of my positivity reverse-jinxes them against the Wildcats tomorrow.

Northwestern at Syracuse (6pm ESPN 360/Gameplan)
We're for real!
Today: No really, we are! That near loss to Eastern Michigan? What near loss to Eastern Michigan? We're fine! Nothing to see here! Carry on, people, carry on!

If you've read us at all here, you know I'm not exactly bullish on Northwestern this year, and after destroying Towson and then surviving against Eastern, well, let's just say I haven't exactly changed my mind about them. I said to start the year Mike Kafka had a LOT to prove about being able to throw as well as he runs, and so far, he hasn't proven much. Against Eastern he 14-24 for just 158 yards and a pick, and while the team ran for 185 yards, it took them 48 carries to do it for just an average of 3.9 yards. Their defense is salty, but if the offense continues to struggle moving the ball, the Purple Smart Kids aren't going to be for real after all. And yes, I love Syracuse to pull the upset tomorrow.

California at Minnesota (11am ESPN)
Preseason: Our offense? I mean wow. Just wow. It's awesome. It's so much better. It's so much more diverse. It might be the greatest offense ever. Look at the weapons. Just look at them!
Today: Same crap as last year- it's Eric Decker and nobody else

I should probably tone down my criticism/negativity/realism about the Gopher offense or Brewster could ban his coaches and players from talking to this site too. Oh that's right, they don't talk to us regardless. Anywho, the defense has been awesome and has carried the team to two close wins thus far. Offensively, it's been the same stagnant, predictable stuff we saw last year, just in different formations. The run game has been a bit better, and like last year, the effectiveness of it depends upon how healthy Duane Bennett stays, but the passing game is actually even more titled towards Decker. Third year starting quarterbacks are supposed to look MORE comfortable not less, but Weber we're still waiting for Weber to start throwing the ball a) like he means it b) accurately and c) to someone else other than Decker. Look I love Decker, but they've more than 60% of the teams' receiving yards have gone to Decker, and as good as he is and as much as I love him, that is NOT a recipe for success. Neither is the fact the offense has scored just three offensive touchdowns (and two of them have been on VERY short fields) and are 9-28 on third down. If the Gophs want to get to even the seven wins that myself and many others predicted for them this year, the offense needs to get better, more creative, and more diverse, and it needs to happen soon.

New Podcast is Up!!

After a week hiatus, we've got another podcast fresh and ready for your listening pleasure. We talk about the Gophs first two wins, the new stadium, why the new stadium getting some cash registers for this weekend might be a good idea, and Coach Brew's one day ban of KFAN.

Also, special guest this week is Ken Crawford, who authors the popular California Golden Bears blog Excuse Me For My Voice, and gives us all you need to know about the Bears for this Saturday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An account of Opening Day at The Bank

If you've read this blog for a while, you may have seen me talk about my aunt and uncle.  Dave & Lynda, and several of their die-hard Gopher fan friends, used to attend Gopher games in Memorial Stadium.  When the Metrodome opened in 1982 their group decided to get season tickets and have had them ever since.

Throughout the years there were games when Lynda would decide to stay home, so my cousin would get to attend games, and several times there were extra tickets available in the group, so I was able to attend as well.  While many people complained about the Metrodome, it was really all we ever knew.  Gopher football games, Twins games, Viking games... who knows how many hours I spent in those unforgiving blue chairs.

In 1998 I moved to the Twin Cities and my era as a Gopher Football tag-along ended.  I started attending more Gopher games with friends, but I always made it a point to try to make it up to section 207 to talk with my uncle about the game.  He was always in his seat for kickoff, he was in his seat when the second half started, and he was still in his seat as the last seconds ticked off the clock.  He never left early... no matter what the score was. (Yes, even for the 55-doughnut debacle.)

There are Gopher fans who have been to more games, who have had season tickets longer, who have traveled to more away games and bowl games, but nobody has more passion for Gopher football than my uncle.  

The excitement for bringing Gopher Football back to campus started a few years ago.  Unfortunately I didn't get to attend the Gophers first game in The Bank and I didn't get to see my aunt and uncle on game day.  So I asked my uncle to give me his thoughts and an account of the day Gopher Football came home.  Enjoy.

Saturday September 12 was an amazing day!  Actually the entire weekend from Friday AM thru Sunday when we arrived home was amazing.
We arrived in the Cities around 10:30 Friday morning to attend the Goal Line Club luncheon at the DQ Club Room.   Nice digs.  Coach Brewster, #98 Eric Small, and #99 Garrett Brown were there and talked.  I have attended several of these luncheons and this was the best attended by far.  We were surrounded by Gopher faithful including sitting next to Judge Dickson.  This started the weekend off right and got us excited for the activities to come.
Friday night we attended the dedication of the veteran memorial.  This was very well done and was a moving tribute to those who have protected us in the past, currently, and into the future.  This memorial also ties the old Memorial Stadium to the new TCF Bank Stadium in some ways.
Staying right on campus was great!  The place was crawling with Gopher fans young and old.  Several of us "senior" fans even enjoyed a little libation at Sally's before hitting the sack so we were well rested and able to enjoy fully the day on Saturday.
Saturday morning......What a beautiful day for some OUTDOOR Gopher football!  We eased into the day with all of the other Gopher fans staying at our hotel.  The atmosphere was more like a bowl game than any of the bowl games we had attended in the past.  It was GREAT to see all of the Gopher fans dressed in their maroon and gold.  The excitement was electric!  The Alumni put on a great experience at the Alumni Center.  If you get to a game be sure to take it in.  You can attend for free and get your fill of food and drink (not free) and watch other games inside on the big screen televisions.  (Even after the game we were able to watch the ending to the Ohio State/USC game while enjoying a celebratory brew and brat.)  At about 3:30 PM my wife and I headed for the stadium to get a good spot to watch the victory walk at 4:00 PM.  

This was palpably exciting!  The sidewalks filled.  As the 4:00 PM hour approached the crowd spilled into the streets, traffic was stopped, and the coaches and team were visible in the distance.  The crowd pressed even closer only allowing one person to pass at a time.  Coach appeared to have a tear in his eyes and be very touched by the fans enthusiasm.   
The band followed close behind and disappeared through the gates into the stadium.....   The game was not far off now....  (How long have we all waited for this day to come anyway?)  Anxious to experience all we could we headed for gate "B" to be among the first to get inside and enjoy the night.  Lines were long and moved slow but everyone around us was patient but excited.... 
As the game approached the student section filled and began cheering and chanting.  Gopher football is back on campus!  All of the pre-game activities were special.  Brewster's attempt to connect the current to the past was evidenced by the 400+ ex-players in attendance on the field before the game.  Everything was tastefully done and the teams lined up for kick-off.....   
From then on it was a dream like experience......  I had forgotten how much better outdoor football is.  (Saying that makes me think.....  Would my wife and the other wives we attend games with have been such Gopher football supporters and fans if they had NOT experienced 28 years of Gopher football in the Dome?  That at least allowed them to grow into fans and not have to worry about the weather.  Now I think my wife for sure is sold on Gopher football and would support it no matter what.)  Well we enjoyed all of the evening especially the final score!  Now we can be proud of our stadium, or team and what the future holds for Gopher football.  Things are looking up.  The future is bright and I hope we can all expect a return to our championship years.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting Offensive

With the Cal Bears rolling into town tomorrow for Saturday's game against the Golden Gophers, there's been a lot of talk about offenses- particularily how good Cal's is (3rd nationally), and how not so good Minnesota's has been. I would like to contradict these statements but, well, since I'm not exactly optimistic about Minnesota's chances, I'll probably end up throwing more fuel on the fire on why the Gophers have little to no chance to pull the upset. I hope I'm wrong. I mean I really, really hope I'm wrong, but there's a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise...

True, the two teams Cal have pummeled, Maryland and Eastern Washington, are not exactly juggernauts. Heck, Eastern Washington isn't even 1-A! But they've outscored those two teams 111-20, which is exactly what a team ranked 8th in the nation is supposed to do. They've taken care of business against weaker opponents, and they've made it look easy.

You've probably heard a lot about their tailback Jahvid Best, and if you haven't, there's an article all about him in the PP today from Fuller. He's the real deal and worthy of the hype of "Best" Back in the Country (pun totally intended), but the Golden Bears offense is much more than just Best. They have an experienced offensive line, and two other quality tailbacks in Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, who has rushed for 146 yards on 7.3 yards per carry, and Shane Vereen, who while only rushing for 93 yards on 4.2 per carry, leads the team is rushing touchdowns with four and is a dangerous return man. But it's not like the Gophs can stack the box and know that, like against Air Force last week, that if they stop the run they stop Cal. Bears QB Kevin Riley has 446 yards and 5 TD's while completing 65% of his passes and his 182.5 Qb rating is 70 points better than Adam Weber's 112.01. His receivers, Marvin Jones, Verran Tucker, and Nyan Boateng, aren't world beaters, but they are big (all at least 6'1) and athletic. When you've got a running game like Cal's, it makes the passing game, and especially the play-action pass, that much more dangerous.

In fact, this Bears offense could be the best Minnesota has seen since the Gophers played Ohio State in Glen Mason's last season in 2006, when the Gophs went to Columbus and got destroyed 44-0. Cal certainly doesn't have the number of future pros that Buckeyes team had (an obscene list including soon-to-be Heisman trophy winner Troy Smith at QB, running backs Antonio Pittman and Beanie Wells, and four- count 'em FOUR- future NFL wide receivers in Anthony Gonzalez, Ted Ginn Jr, and "The Brians" Robiskie and Hartline), but they threaten to be every bit as explosive and effective. Ohio State did whatever it wanted that day, rolling to 484 yards of offense and 29 first downs, and Cal has the fire power to do the same. I've loved what I've seen from the Gophers defense so far, but they're going to need everybody to step up their game to have any hope of slowing down the Bears.

As for the Gophers offense, well, as Kent Youngblood writes in the Strib today, their numbers may look ok, yet I still don't feel very good about them. Yes they're averaging 4.5 yards per rush, and yes Weber was much more efficient in the second half last week (he completed 15 of 18 passes), but I just don't have much confidence in the Minnesota offense right now. I have two reasons:
1) the offense has only scored three touchdowns, and of those three scoring drives, only the long 72 yard drive in the the first half last week started in their own territory. The other two came in the first quarter of the Syracuse game when the Orange offense gifted them two quick turnovers in their own end.
2) Through two games Minnesota is just 9-28 on third down. Yikes.

And these numbers have come against two of the worst defenses they'll see all season. If you're having trouble scoring touchdowns or converting on third down against Syracuse and THE entire United States Air Force, how are they supposed to be effective against a real defense like Cal's? Minnesota's offense thus far has been toothless and far too predictable, and if it continues Saturday, a talented Cal defense won't have much problem stopping them.

But so I'm not all doom and gloom, here's a few keys for what has to happen for a Gopher victory, other than, quite frankly, an almost flawless performance on offense, defense, and special teams:
- You can't understimate the effect the 11am kickoff can have on a west coast team. That's a 9am kickoff their time, which is at least three hours earlier than any other start time they'll have all season (PAC 10 games usually don't start until 12:30 or 1pm Pacific) and if they think that's early, consider how early they'll have to be getting up Saturday morning to start their usual game day routines. If kickoff is at 9am, they'll have to be up by what, 6? That's 4am on the left coast. Cal got crushed by Maryland on the road last year, and it's been partly attributed to the early start. Coach Jeff Tedford is bringing his players out on Thursday, a day earlier than usual, to try and help them adjust, but if you've travelled at all, you know what will essentially be two sleeps in a new time zone that's two hours different isn't enough to help you acclimate. Yes it's not a HUGE difference like flying to Austrailia or something, but it's still a difference.

- When Cal has the ball, you need all eleven guys attacking the run. While Riley and the receivers are solid, I'd much rather take my chances letting them beat me than Best and company. You have to protect yourself from the play-action pass, but priority one is to swarm the ball carrier and make their backs, especially Best, pay each and every time he touches the ball. He hasn't been hit a ton in these first two games, and the Gophers need to hit him early and often.

- When the Gophs have the ball, for the love of Pete, spice it up a bit! We heard all preseason about The Wildcat and MarQueis Gray and Troy Stoudermire and they've done little to nothing with all of it but the same bread-and-butter boring, ineffective %&^* we saw last year. The only difference being that instead of going out of the shotgun spread Weber's now under center. I'm hoping and praying that maybe, just maybe, they've got more up their sleeve but haven't shown it because they didn't want to tip off Cal to all of their trickery.

Maybe, just maybe, the coaches wanted to concentrate on the basics to help everyone learn the offense as fast as possible, and the plan was to go with the basics for the first two games, and then unleash the beast against Cal.

Maybe, just maybe, we'll finally see MarQueis Gray as the dual threat weapon he is instead of a decoy, and we'll see Troy Stoudermire used like Percy Harvin instead of a possession receiver running five yard routes.

Heck, maybe we'll even see them throw the ball to some guy named Hayo! Carpenter. Remember him? The guy Brewster said over and over and over again is the explosive complement to Eric Decker this offense has been lacking? So far, zero catches. So maybe, just maybe, we'll see him too.

If Minnesota wants to win, they're going to need to sustain long scoring drives to keep that Cal offense off the field, and to do that, they HAVE to mix it up a bit. As you can guess, I have my doubts, but we'll see what happens. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Marthaler's recap of opening night

Many have probably already read this, but if you haven't read John Marhaler's review of the first game in The Bank, you really need to.  It's goose bump inspiring.

As a Gopher fan, the ending alone could bring a tear to your eye:

"...that'll be my memory of the Gophers' win over Air Force, of the first night back on campus in TCF Bank Stadium: Nate Triplett, all alone, sprinting towards a thousand joyous Gopher fans, towards Williams Arena, towards the Minneapolis skyline. I've been a part of many things, but nothing even remotely approaching that. It's all different now."

Defending (the) Best

Unlike any hype that you were hearing about Greg Paulus (did you know he went to Duke and played PG for Coach K), any hype that you are hearing about Cal RB Jahvid Best is absolutely legit.

The guy can flat-out play and he is likely the best running back that the Gopher defense will face all year long. 

Here's some quick stats to help you get to know Jahvid Best:
-Height: 5'10", Weight: 195lbs
-40 yard dash: 4.4 sec
-Ninth rated RB prospect in the country and the 11th rated prospect in the state of California in 2007.
-2008 Stats: 1580 yds rushing, 8.1 yds/carry (HOLY CRAP!), 15 touchdowns.
-Career runs of over 60 yards: 9.
-2009 Stats (through 2 games): 281 yds rushing (over 140/game), 10.4 yds/carry, 4 TD's (3 rushing, 1 receiving).

Here are some highlights from Best's effort in the Maryland game:

The word YIKES comes to mind.

It appears that Best isn't too difficult to tackle... if you can catch him.  And good luck with that.  He is very fast and unbelievably shifty.  He is an unreal open field runner, and if you catch him one-on-one in the open he will make you miss.  If he gets an opening he is incredibly dangerous.

The thing the Gophers might have going for them is a d-line that has done a nice job of gobbling up blockers, backed up by a group of linebackers that are good hole fillers and tacklers.  Campbell, Triplett, and Lawrence have had two fantastic games so far this season, but they are all going to have to play out of their minds to be able to stop Best on the ground.

And even if you can stop him on the ground, Best has good hands out of the backfield, and can make things happen in the screen game.

Get ready for this one Gopher fans.  We are really going to find out what our defense is made of this week.  Make no mistake, Best is absolutely the key to the Bears offense.

If the Gophers can hold Best to a reasonable game on defense (and I'm not going to make any mentions of what the offense needs to do, because it's clear they need a much faster start), then they might just have a shot at winning this game.