Jeff and I have been saying since the spring that this Gopher team could quite possibly be better than last year's Gopher team, but wind up having a poorer record. That being the expectation that we set ourselves up for, we probably shouldn't feel too poorly about a 5-5 record right now. Let's be serious here, the Gophers are going to finish 6-6 and go to yet another low-tier bowl game. Based on that assumed record and that result alone the Gophers have met expectations this year.
But doesn't the reality of the situation feel much, much different than that? Even though they will meet expectations, didn't it feel, at least earlier in the year, that this team could certainly outpace those expectations? After the Gophers dropped a hard-fought game to Cal and were 2-1 going into the Big Ten season, didn't you feel like this team should absolutely win more than 6 games?
If you walk through the schedule so far I would argue that the W's & L's fall pretty much where we thought they would... EXCEPT for Illinois (which is what makes that loss such a stomach punch)...
Syracuse, Air Force, Northwestern, Purdue: we expected wins, and we got them.
Cal, PSU, OSU: we expected losses, but we certainly didn't expect to lose the way we did in Happy Valley and at The Shoe.
Wisconsin, MSU, Illinois: I think that going into the season these games all looked like a crap shoot, but being as they were all at home, we figured to win 2 of the 3. Wisconsin is always a tough game, and we played well, but we couldn't get the W.
Earlier in the season when MSU dropped three strait including a game to Central Michigan, this game looked very winnable, but MSU fought back to respectability and the game with them looked tough... we got a nice win. After beating MSU, 7 wins looked very plausible for this Gopher team.
Instead of going 2-1 at home against these Big Ten foes, we went 1-2, and THAT my friends, is why we are in danger of going to Detroit.The end doesn't justify the means...
Yes, we're probably going to finish the season about where we thought we could end up. Yes, the record is down from last year, but again, we thought this was possible because of the difficulty of the schedule. And yes, the games, for the most part, fell into the W-L columns the way we thought they would. But that's not the whole story.
We beat an improved Syracuse team, a good Air Force team, and lost admirably to a Cal team that was considered a BCS contender when we played them. We then beat a decent NWestern team on the road, lost at home to our biggest rival in a game that was not as close as the score indicated, and beat Purdue handily enough on homecoming to feel comfortable. We get absolutely run out of the stadium by both PSU and Ohio States, we show signs of life against MSU and get a win, and then we lay a first half egg that we couldn't overcome against, arguably, the worst team in the Big Ten. And the point is this...
JUST WHO THE HECK IS THIS TEAM?
Listen, if we were 5-5 right now and it actually felt like we should be a 6 win team, I'd be totally fine with that. But at times this season we have felt like AT LEAST a 7-win team... after we beat NWestern I wasn't so sure we couldn't find a way to 8 wins. And at other times we have felt like a 4 or 5 win team (PSU, OSU, first half against Illinois). At times this season it has felt like our defense was our strength, and at other times they have looked completely lost. At times our offense has been unreal... okay, ONCE, but most of the time we've looked like a D-II team. If we played every game this season the way we did against Cal, I think we'd be an 8-2 football team right now. I truly believe that would have been the case.
But the bottom line is that we have been inconsistent all year, and even our inconsistency has been inconsistent. What causes inconsistency?
This is not the issue. The only place on our team where we are even a little inexperienced is the O-line, which hasn't been good, but I don't think they've been bad enough to blame all of the inconsistency on.
Don't get me started, but here are some interesting tidbits:
Did you know that Adam Weber...
...has thrown more TD passes than INT's only twice this season, (NW, MSU)...
...has thrown more INT's than TD's four times (Cal, Purdue, PSU, OSU)...
...has had two games where he threw as many INT's as TD's (Syracuse, Wisky)...
...and has thrown more INT's than TD's for the year (13 INT's, 12 TD's)?
A guy sitting behind me at the game on Saturday (who was a 10 out of 10 on the Annoying Football Fan Scale) was convinced that the Gophers are horrible in 11:00am games. So our team prefers to sleep in? If you look at the results, it's hard to argue with it... but there's no chance I'm ready to chalk up our inconsistency to kick-off times.
Now this is interesting. First of all, we've had some slow starts this season, but early in the year we did a decent job of adjusting. You look at a game like Illinois, however, and we just dug ourselves too big of a hole to climb out of. Does coaching play a part in slow starts? I would argue yes.
How about play-calling? I think this is an issue as well. It's 2nd & goal from your opponent's 1 yard line on your first drive of the 2nd half. You are a team that claims to want to "Pound the Rock." So what do you do? Well, naturally you call a... um, pass play? Weber gets sacked. Now it's 3rd & goal from the 9 yard line and now you don't have a choice anymore, you HAVE to pass. How did that work out for you?
I realize we got down by 14 points early (thanks to a beautiful pass that Adam Weber threw into the arms of Terry Hawthorne (he plays for the Illini, not the Gophers), so there was bound to be some passing to get back into the game, but we should have gone to the run more often in the first half when Weber CLEARLY didn't have it.
Again, all of this comes down to a team that has zero identity, and I think that lack of identity (and this is just my opinion) is leading to a lack of confidence in our players.
Can this team beat SDSU? This is not 2007 people, we WILL beat SDSU.