Monday, November 2, 2009

Mmmmmm This Crow Tastes Good!

Ok, ok so maybe I've been a little harsh to Adam Weber this year. Just a little. Maybe a lot. I said on numerous occassions that he's the worst starting quarterback in the Big Ten, that he's regressed, and that we cannot win with him playing the way he was.

I was wrong, so my apologies to Adam Weber, and coach Tim Brewster (who I criticized heavily for sticking so blindly with Weber): I guess we can win with Adam Weber as our starting quarterback, and if he continues to play the way he did against Michigan State, I have no problems with him starting the rest of the year over MarQueis Gray.

Weber picked a really, really good time to have the game of his life with 414 yards and 5 TD's. My favorite part (well besides only the one pick)? His 61.3 completion percentage, completing 19 of his 31 attempts on the night. We can not only live with that Adam Weber, but we can win with him too.

Not that I'm expecting 400 yards a game now, or even 300 for that matter. His 13.4 yards average per pass was absurd, and wouldn't even be sustainable in the video game on PS3, but if he can keep hitting roughly 60% of his passes and keep the turnovers down, we'll be alright. He did continue to struggle on timing routes, like slants and comebacks. It's never been his strength and probably never will be, but he sure throws a beautiful deep ball, which we saw on a number of throws. The best of the night was the Brandon Green touchdown in the first quarter where he threw it 37 yards to the back of the end zone where only Green could get it. An absolute beauty. He also showed a good ability to find guys in the seam, and it's obvious that TE Nick Tow-Arnett has become his go-to guy with 8 catches for 81 yards and two scores. Fine by me if we keep getting these results!

Two other Weber comments before we move on to other things (isn't it amazing not only how much more there is to talk about after a win, but how much more you WANT to talk about after a win? Good lord almighty this is so much more fun than the last two weeks. You might even hear a positive podcast this week! No really, you might): one is the offensive line was great in pass protection. Fantastic even. Weber had time to actually look off his primary read when he needed to, and was even getting to his third and fourth read for completions at times. This just did not happen in previous weeks, and the offensive line must get credit for doing a great job of pass protection against what has been a really ferocious pass rush (the Spartans were second in the Big Ten in sacks coming into the night).

The other thing is that Weber was actually willing to check down or not force the ball to his primary target, and I think the reason is because his primary target all night wasn't Eric Decker. Look, I love Decker, and he's one of the best offensive players we've ever had at Minnesota, but this might be the best thing to happen to Weber and the passing game. Decker was Weber's security blanket and as amazing as Decker was, Weber just wouldn't throw to anyone else unless Decker was triple-teamed, and even then he would force throws to him. Decker being Decker would usually make the catch, but it created a very one-dimensional passing offense, with the biggest disparity in the Big Ten, and quite possibly the country, between a top receiver and the rest of his teammates. I don't know if Weber didn't seem to trust anybody else because he didn't want to or because he didn't have to. We'll probably never know.

But what we do know is that faced with the fact he'll never throw another collegiate pass to his best buddy Decker, Adam Weber looked like a quarterback. He started trusting the rest of his guys, and they made plays for him. Tow-Arnett will be his security blanket the rest of the year, and again, that's fine. A QB needs that, and Tow-Arnett, a former walk-on, has earned that status. But I LOVED seeing Weber make throws to this young group of receivers that we'd heard so much about and yet had done so little. The numbers are really not that eye-popping: because he only completed 19 passes all night only two guys, Tow-Arnett with eight and Da'Jon McKnight with four, caught more than two passes. But it's the catches they made and the passes that were thrown downfield that was the big change.

Green and Stoudermire were both averaging under 12 yards per catch, and McKnight of course was averaging zero yards because he had caught zero passes. Well that changed Saturday night: Green averaged 30 a catch, McKnight 24.5 and Stoudermire 48. Like Weber's pass average of 13.5 is unsustainable, obviously so too are those yards per catch numbers, but what they show is a willingness from Weber, and perhaps more importantly offensive coordinator Jed Fisch, to start calling more aggressive down-field passing plays, and putting some trust in these young kids to make plays. And they did.

Green continued to do a lot with a little, and McKnight looked like the real deal. He's 6'3 and at least 200 pounds and looks like he's got some giddy-up in his step, so while you could wonder why the hell it took Fisch nine games to get him involved, I would say better late than never. Stoudermire continued to be...well, he was Troy being Troy. Frustrating at times, and yet so freaking explosive you can see the potential he has. The dropped touchdown in the second quarter (yep, the one where he was open by at least 20 yards), was awful, but I loved that Fisch drew up a play to go right back to him in the end zone. I also love that they called a big play for him later, where he caught the 48 yarder down the middle. My goodness does this offense ever need a guy like that to stretch the field and provide a home-run threat that a defense has to account for. The personal foul call on him right after that catch was an absolute joke (the Gophers earned most of their penalties, but that call, the "late hit" call, and the pass intereference were brutal. Just brutal. I'd like to think that the crowd booing the refs for five solid minutes after that last one swayed them to make finally start making some calls on Michigan State late in the game), and I love the enthusiasm he showed.

I also love that we finally started blocking for him on kickoffs without cheating. It seemed like all season long he was THIS close to busting one, only to have it brought back by a holding or clipping call. Well the boys finally held their blocks legally and Stoudermire did the rest- 6 returns for 192 yards. He was electric, and sitting there in the last row of the stadium (which were still pretty good seats. I also liked that we could stand the whole game and not get yelled at to sit down. God forbid we stand and support the team), it felt like every time they kicked to him he was going to house it. Anyway, as someone who has been really frustrated with the way Brewster and Fisch was using- or misusing- the wide receivers on this team, it was great to see them finally play the way we thought and hoped they could.

One other thing on Brewster (this has gotten so long I think I'll write a separate- and less glowing- post on the defense): I HATED the call to sit on a half time lead. With 1:04 left and the ball at your own 37 with TWO TIMEOUTS and a 21-10 lead, Brewster chose to do what he always seems to do, and that's play not to lose. I HATED that call, and if you were at the game or saw it on TV, you heard that I was not alone, as a cascade of boos rained down on the field from the crowd. After this had backfired on him before, I couldn't believe we were doing this again! Jer and I talked at halftime about how I would be interested to see if we'd go into full-fledged "play not to lose" mode like we had done against Wisconsin earlier in the year. Of course, Michigan State started the second half with the kick return for TD to make it a game 21-17, and I had less than flattering things to say about Brewster at that point.

Yet the Gophers got the ball, and stayed aggressive, throwing deep balls and taking good chances. Congrats to Brew for learning from his mistakes of the past, and staying aggressive and challenging the Spartans. Hopefully that, and just about everything we saw from the offense, was a sign of things to come.

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