Friday, February 12, 2010

I Like What Jeff Horton Has to Say

To say I wasn't excited about the Gophers hiring Jeff Horton as the new offensive coordinator is like saying I've been disappointed in the final season of Lost thus far: it would be a big understatement. Horton, a coaching retread who has been nothing better than a quarterbacks coach since getting fired as head coach at UNLV back in the late 90's, and a man who has NEVER called plays, wasn't exactly the hire I was hoping for. But after reading his comments in an interview with the Strib's Kent Youngblood, I'm much more intrigued, and much more hopeful, that Horton can get the offense turned around in 2010.

"The college game and the NFL game, they're different," Horton said. "The
NFL's more about matchups. ... The college game is a little different. It's not
all 1-on-1, which is what you see in the NFL all the time. What we want to do is
get some things we can hang our hat on, know we can do well, then we can dress
those things up. My goal coming out of spring practice will be to have an
effective scheme, but one that is simple enough where the players can play

I've never coached football at any level, so you know, take this for what it's worth, but I like hearing this. I think one of the many problems for our offense last year was that Fisch just made it too dang complicated. Too many plays trying to do too many different things. An offense like the spread or the wishbone has some basic plays and formations, and at the college level they work well if they're executed well. Sounds like Horton wants to simplify the playbook, find some things this group of offensive talent does well, and stick with it. While this is easier said than done, it's a better direction that trying to do a thousand different things at once under Fisch.

Of course, what REALLY will make this offense better in all facets is the ability to run the ball. And Horton believes he can make that happen.
"We have to establish ourselves as a physical team that can run," he said. "We
have to. We have to be a team that can run the ball in October and November in
bad-weather games, when we have to do it and [the opponent] knows we are going to do it. That has always been a credo of mine. Off that, I'm a big play-action guy. The better you run the ball, the better you can run the play-action pass. I
was raised on that."

Again, it's one thing to say you're going to commit to the run (how many times last year did we hear Brewster talk about the Gophs being a smash mouth football team despite having the worst rushing attack in the Big Ten?), and quite another to actually do it. But if he's going to simplify the playbook and concentrate on the bread and butter basics of blocking and finally opening some holes, this offense could finally take off. And did he say play-action passing? Did he actually talk about something that's Adam Weber's strength instead of being like Fisch and trying to pigeon-hole him into a drop-back short-read precision passer that he's not? My goodness, could Horton actually want to try to play to the strengths of our quarterbacks instead of forcing them to do things they're not good at? Crazy talk is what that is! Crazy talk! And I like it!
"From the first meeting this spring, we will set those guidelines," Horton said.
"The defense may stuff us 20 times in a row this spring, but we'll keep
hammering until we get it right. Repetition builds confidence."

Ok, maybe that's not the best thing to say, as it seemed last year Fisch stubbornly ran the ball despite having little to no success with it, but I do like the idea that running the ball is going to be a priority from day one. It's going to be not just emphasized, but expected. Hopefully an experienced offensive line improves here in the off-season and in the spring, because without better play from them, it's not going to matter. I'm also hoping that now that Duane Bennett is more than a year removed from knee surgery that we'll see the burst and explosiveness we saw from him in 2008 but did not see last year, and that any one of the three incoming freshmen can make a big splash.

I continue to believe there's talent here, and while we may not be the best offense in the Big Ten in 2010, we can be a helluva lot better than the worst like we were last year. From what Jeff Horton is saying, maybe, just maybe, he's the right guy after all to get the most out of this group.

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