Saturday's epic struggle to remain competitive with South Dakota State University was the final game for several seniors. While compensating for the loss of Eric Decker will be challenging for the offense, the defense will lose 9 of 11 starters. Turnover is to be expected in any type of organization, and football teams are no exception. In part 1 of this review we'll take a look at which offensive starters are leaving and who may replace them:
Eric Decker - Perhaps the greatest wide receiver in Gopher football history, it would be unrealistic to expect a single player to replace Decker. Brandon Green has been a solid second option this season, and should continue to improve for next year. Da'Jon McKnight, who was primarily a basketball player in high school, appears to have a steep learning curve and the tools to become a top tier wide receiver. As of late, he's been a primary target. After last season's Insight Bowl I listed McKnight as one of the four bright spots in the game:
Da'Jon McKnight - He was only in the game for the final drive but he has the size, speed, and agility to justify predicting a bright future for the freshman wide receiver.
Nick Tow-Arnett - A fundamentally solid wide receiver, Nick Tow-Arnett will be difficult to replace as both a pass blocker and as a receiver. Curtis Hughes, Eric Lair, and possibly Ra'Shede Hageman will compete to fill his shoes as the primary tight end. Hughes has demonstrated solid pass blocking skills, Lair projects to be more of a receiver, and Hageman may end up at defensive end.
Jeff Tow-Arnett - There are three Tow-Arnett brothers on the Gophers, and Jeff had a solid year as the starting center prior to a season ending injury. While he will be missed, D.J. Burris and Trey Davis should be able to step in and replace him at a similar level of play.
Blake Haudan - Haudan has been a fundamentally sound punter, but the Gophers have Dan Orseske waiting for his turn to play. Orseske appears to be taking a redshirt year, and will have four years of eligibility ahead of him. In high school, scouts noted that his kicks had excellent hang time and that he averaged nearly 40 yards per punt.
Overall, the losses of Eric Decker and Nick Tow-Arnett will be the greatest challenges for the Gopher offense. Two or three young receivers will need to emerge as threats to adequately replace Decker, while a combination of players could replace Nick Tow-Arnett. Not bad for a sport in which the entire team is anew within each four year period.
Stay tuned for part 2 later this week, which will take a look at the nine starting seniors who will be leaving the defense and who is in line to replace them.