Monday, September 21, 2009

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.

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