Monday, November 2, 2009

And Now...The Rest of the Story

(said in my best Paul Harvey voice)

Ok so after chowing down on some Adam Weber Crow (garnished with Chipotle flavored tobasco, ground pepper and season salt. Honestly, if he keeps playing the way he did Saturday I hope to be eating "AWC" every Monday for the rest of the season- and hopefully next season too) it's time to review the rest of the 42-34 win in what was THE most important game of the Brewster Era.

By the way, have I mentioned how much better I feel about the Gophers, this season, our bowl chances, next season, really just life in general, after a win like that? The last two weeks I just wanted to punch people. I felt like we were talented and #$*%&^&^!! WE WERE BETTER THAN THIS!!??!?! It wasn't just that we lost to Penn State and Ohio State, it was the way we lost and how completely horrible, inept and lost we looked. For as well as we played against Michigan State I do not feel bad about doubting Coach Brewster because those were two awful games that we did not show up for, but hopefully the win over the Spartans will just the beginning of a competitive, competent football team and not just a flash in the pan.

Anyway, some more random, non-Weber thoughts about the win:

Yes, we got jobbed on a few calls. The pass interference, the "excessive celebration" BS on Troy Stoudermire, the late hit out of bounds, and the phantom holding call on Ben Kuznia that brought back MarQueis Gray's long run in the third quarter were all awful calls. But the zebras gave a few back in the fourth with some calls going against Michigan State, and no matter what, when you commit a school-record 17 penalties for a whopping 157 yards, you can't blame them all on the refs. This team still has a penalty problem, and it's showing up on offense, defense and special teams. A commenter on the PP said Brewster reviews every penalty call on film with his players, and while I love the accountability he's trying to invoke, it's still not working. The official Big Ten stats don't come out until tomorrow, but I can tell you unofficially that we will be the most penalized team in the conference with 65 penalties for 567 yards. While Saturday's win showed an improvement in our offense, and in a lot of other places, we're walking a dangerous line if we're going to continue to commit so many dumb penalites.

They deserve praise for having their best pass blocking game of the year, and probably of the three years of the Brewster Era. But the o-line is far from fixed. A lot of those 17 penalties came from this group, including right tackle Jeff Wills, who at one point on third and long had back to back false start penalties. Wills has struggled all year, and while he's a mountain of a man at 340+ pounds, he has the lateral movement and agility of a dump truck, and struggles with the concept of not moving before the ball is snapped. This is especially troubling considering he knows WHEN the ball is going to be snapped on every play. Do we have better options? With the injury to center Jeff Tow-Arnett, maybe not, but we need to give someone else a shot there. Or maybe they've tried, and Wills is as good as it gets for this year. Yeesh.

The other problem with the line that continues is run blocking, or a lack thereof. Yep, Michigan State had a really good run D, but we made them look even better rushing 39 times for just 89 yards, a paltry average of just 2.3 per carry. Duane Bennett (14 carries 36 yards) and Kevin Whaley (13 carries 35 yards) split carries and ended up with basically identical numbers- and when both averaged about 2.7 yards per carry, that is not a good thing. I've been wrong about a few things this year, and one of them was my preseason prediction that we wouldn't miss Hasan Lipscomb (a four star tailback recruit from Texas who didn't qualify academically) that much because we already had plenty of talent at tailback. Whoops! Surely these guys could be better if they had some holes to run through, but we're still not going to confuse Bennett, Whaley and DeLeon Eskridge with Penn State's or Wisconsin's stable of running backs (the signing of another four star back for next year's class is nice, but doesn't solve anything for this season).

While I loved offensive coordinators Jed Fisch's play-calling in the passing game, he seemed to go pretty vanilla in the run, especially when MarQueis Gray was in the game. For one, Gray was almost always in on second down, and he was either a) handing off or b) keeping it for a run up the middle. Neither worked all that well (Gray had 8 carries for just 23 yards). Michigan State seemed to know exactly what was coming as they would swarm Gray, knowing that if he did hand off their interior defenders would take of the back. Either run more option or let Gray throw some more (0 for 2 passing against Michigan State), or defenses are going to know exactly what's coming when #5 is in the game.

They had one huge blunder when they allowed Keshawn Martin to get loose on a wide receiver reverse that he housed for 84 yards. Other than that, they held Michigan State to 40 yards on 19 carries, for an average of 2.1 YPC. So other than one play where a few key guys had a collective mental brain fart, the run D was awesome. Granted, Michigan State does not have a strong run game this year, but to hold anyone in the Big Ten to 40 yards and 2.1 per carry is impressive. Nose tackle Garrett Brown was a monster, and a huge part of the disruptive run defense. He was in the backfield almost as much as the Spartans running backs. Let's hope that effort is a sign of things to come, because we're going to need it next week against Illinois.

Nobody wins when your pre-season All-Big Ten corner isn't playing well. Traye Simmons came into the season as a possible first day draft pick, but right now, the guy would be lucky to make a high school team let alone an NFL roster. He's been burned repeatedly this season, and has just one pick through nine games. I don't know if he got over-confident or what happened, but he's regressed badly this season. Jer and I had wondered after getting torched by Ohio State and Penn State why they weren't giving talented true freshman Michael Carter a chance? Well, midway through the second quarter defensive co-ordinator Kevin Cosgrove had finally seen enough of Simmons and put in Carter. The result? He wasn't spectacular, he didn't stand out with any monster plays, but for two and a half quarters against the best passing team in the Big Ten in the most important game of Minnesota's season, the kid more than held his own. Carter is fast, athletic, and looks to have pretty good instincts, and after that performance, the coaches know he can be trusted.

We'll see whether Simmons gets the start this week or not but regardless, this is making the best of a bad situation. Hopefully Simmons gets his s*** together and turns back into the "Big Play Traye" of 2008. If not, we've got a ready and willing replacement in Carter.

Just as I hit the "Publish Post" button Jer sends me the Startrib link that the aforementioned Carter got arrested Monday morning. I wish I were kidding. If you need me, I'll be banging my head against my desk. Hopefully a concussion and all knowledge of this happening being forgotten will result.

See? Good things happen when you convert third downs, and stop the opposition from doing so. The Gophers were 10-18 on third downs, a 55.5% clip, which is light years better than the ghastly 34% we had going into the night. And defensively, they held Michigan State to 41.7%, below the 50% they were averaging. While 41.7% isn't great, it's a lot better than what we were giving up, and whatever the coaches are doing to make things better, it's working. Now let's keep it working for the rest of the season.

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