As of today, the Gophers have the 16th best Division 1 rushing offense in the Nation. Sure, the season is young and it could be a fluke. But that's not likely. What's the likely case is that new offensive coordinator, Jeff Horton, wasn't bluffing when he committed to running the ball.
Now the Gophers may not finish the season in the top 25 for overall rushing, but I'll take any bet that they end up near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. That would be a dramatic improvement for a team that didn't even average 100 yards per game rushing last year. More impressive than the rushing yards tally were two different rushing statistics: 1) besides a botched snap to Adam Weber, there were no fumbles by Gopher rushers and 2) There were only 5 (non-sack) rushes for a loss, and two of those were from taking a knee to end the game.
So, I think it fair to assume that the Gophers will have at least an average, if not a much better than average rushing offense this season. So, what does this mean for Horton's offense? Based upon the one game that we've seen, I'll make the following predictions for 2010:
- If Duane Bennett can stay healthy and avoid wearing down as the year progresses, the Gopher rushing attack will be in the upper half of the Big Ten. If he gets hurt or wears down, the triple-headed-attack of Donnell Kirkwood, Deleon Eskridge, and Jon Hoese will keep the Gophers near the middle of the pack.
- Opposing teams will routinely put 7, 8, or 9 defenders in the box and the passing game will open up. The difference between a 7-5 record and a 4-8 record will hinge on the offense's ability to execute the passing game.
- The defense looked inexperienced with missed tackles and a few blown coverages, but with a rushing offense that eats up time and keeps them off the field they should be able to perform at a similar level to last season.
- By the end of the season, Minnesota will have one 1000+ yard rusher, and another one who is able to surpass at least 800 yards.
- USC, Penn State, and Ohio State will have the talent to contain the run with 7 in the box. The only chance the Gophers have to keep these games competitive will depend upon how the passing game fares against the opposing secondaries.
Entering the season, many analysts and fans had doubts about whether there would be dramatic improvements made in the Minnesota running game. Well, those doubts have at least been suppressed for the time being. The newly-found rushing offense bodes well for 2010, but as for how well we won't know for at least a few more games.