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.

No comments: