Monday, September 28, 2009

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.

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