Saturday's defeat to Wisconsin was an all-too familiar scenario for Gopher football fans. Uncertainty heading into the rivalry game, followed a glimmer of hope, and then a catastrophically deflating disappointment.
What really happened on Saturday? Why did it happen? How did it happen? What can be taken away from this loss?
First, let's take a look at the key events in the game that contributed to the Wisconsin victory:
- Duane Bennett fumbled on the first drive of the game. Since Hasan Lipscomb did not qualify for the 2009 recruiting class, two star running back Duane Bennett is the best Minnesota can field. Bennett is a serviceable back, but he doesn't have game-changing talent. The fumble gave Wisconsin an emotional edge and resulted in a touchdown by their four star running back John Clay.
- Traye Simmons commits a taunting penalty on the first drive of the second quarter. Minnesota had stopped Wisconsin on third down, and a punt was imminent. Unfortunately, Traye Simmons decided to taunt the Badgers when their third down pass was incomplete. Simmons is a senior, and he should know better than to act in that manner. The penalty resulted in three points for Wisconsin, which also happened to be the margin of victory.
- With 8:01 left in the first half, Minnesota advances the ball to Wisconsin's 1 yard line and fails to score. An unnecessary penalty and poor execution by the offense resulted in a Minnesota field goal when they started at first and one yard to the end zone.
- With 12:09 left in the third quarter, Adam Weber throws a 1 yard interception. This pass was thrown too hard, was off target, and was intended for a running back about 1 yard away from him who was covered. The pass never should have been thrown.
- With 0:39 left in the game, Weber fails to get rid of the ball and fumbles to Wisconsin. Weber had terrible blocking, failed to recognize the impending blitz, and didn't throw the ball away when the play was a bust.
Now, here's what can be learned from the loss:
- Minnesota's offense has one star player: Eric Decker. Eric Decker is a one man wrecking crew, and has gifted Adam Weber good statistics the last few years with his ability to get open on nearly every route he runs. Without Decker, this offense might not have the talent to move the ball whatsoever.
- Minnesota has a below-average offense: Wisconsin's defense is not very good, yet Minnesota could not consistently move the ball against them. Next week, expect Ohio State to light up the Wisconsin secondary like a Christmas tree. Adam Weber can be a good quarterback, but only when he has ample time to throw and his primary or secondary receivers are open. This year the offensive line hasn't blocked well, the very average running backs cannot overcome substandard blocking, and Weber doesn't have the ability as a quarterback to overcome these obstacles with audibles or speed. Freshman Marquies Gray has the athleticism to overcome substandard blocking with his legs, but if he were ready to become the starter he probably would be.
- Minnesota doesn't have top tier speed. Junior College transfer Hayo Carpenter was supposed to have blazing speed, and is supposedly one of the fastest Gophers. With 7:44 left in the first quarter, Carpenter ran for 25 yards and could see the open field...until he was caught from behind by defensive lineman Louis Nzegwu. Other than sophomore Troy Stoudermire and freshman Bryant Allen, the Gopher offense has slightly above average speed (at best) for the Big Ten.
- Neither Wisconsin or Minnesota have very good football teams this year. Minnesota has a realistic chance to defeat Purdue, Illinois, and South Dakota State. Absolute best case scenario would be 6-6, but expect 5-7. Wisconsin has a realistic chance to defeat Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, and Hawaii. Absolute best case scenario would be 9-3, but expect 8-4. Sadly for Minnesota, these two teams were very evenly matched on Saturday.
- It will take until at least 2011 for Minnesota to field a team that can compete for the Big Ten title. Two seasons will be needed to develop a top tier Big Ten offensive line, at least one or two more years will be needed to prepare Marquies Gray to start, and another recruiting class is needed to add more depth to the defense and bring in a top tier running back. Until all of those requirements are met, Minnesota will be a mid-level Big Ten team at best. That's not to say that these requirements can't be met.