Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
The Daily Gopher staff grades the position groups for Minnesota Golden Gopher football for the first half of the season.
OK so full disclosure: this was supposed to be a much longer and more detailed post, but work has been forcing me to, well, work this week, so better to get this posted now than not at all. Feel free to give your own grades in the comments section or make fun of ours. Your choice.
GoAUpher: Split grade...Gray gets a B. Max gets a B-.
Gopher Nation: Grade B+ - When Gray is healthy is gives us a great chance to move the ball, score points and win. Max Shortell did great vs. Western Michigan, was OK vs. Syracuse and pretty average the rest of the time.
JD Mill: Grade C: As a unit, a passing grade. MarQueis has clearly been the biggest spark plug of the offense, but he's been injured more than 1/2 the time. Max has had flashes of brilliance in relief of Q, but in games where he's started he's been bad or mediocre.
Jeffrick: Grade C: With the injuries to MarQueis Gray, both he and backup Max Shortell have played about three full games each. Gray's played every game well with his legs, but has only thrown well in four or five total quarters. Shortell had a strong start in mop-up duty against UNH and after taking over in the Wester Michigan win. Since then, that guy has disappeared as he did just enough to win against Syracuse, and flat stunk against Iowa and Northwestern.
GoAUpher: Grade B-. Nothing special. I think that Kirkwood would be doing better if Gray were in there and his grade would be higher as a result.
GN: Grade C+: I have been really impressed with Kirkwood. He isn't all-conference material but he is much better than I thought he would be. Unfortunately the rest of the crew has been less productive than I had hoped or thought.
JD Mill:Grade B: Instead of RB, we can just say Kirkwood. He's been good and durable, but inconsistent.
Jeffrick- Grade B-: Based on two players, this position has seen an upgrade from last year, and has, for the most part, had a good first half. For the 3.5 games he's been on the field, Gray has been his usual dangerous self running the ball, as he's second on the team with 54 carries for 320 yards (5.9 YPC!) and three scores. The problem is he's been not just a danger to opposing defenses, but also to himself, as he's been injured twice already running the ball.
We wondered who would fill the void left by Duane Bennett, and after two down years Donnell Kirkwood has stepped up, stepped in, and more than made up for Bennett's loss. Kirkwood leads the team with 111 carries for 467 yards (4.2 YPC) and three scores, and the only game where he was really shut down was the Iowa debacle.
So that's been the good- the bad has been trying to find anyone else besides those two to consistently gain positive yards. Removing Shortell's 32 carries for 66 yards (numbers obviously heavily skewed by sacks) and slot receiver Marcus Jones' 7 for 33, six other running backs (six!) have combined for 45 carries for 155 yards (3.44 YPC) and one lousy touchdown. Almost half of those totals have come from one guy, JUCO transfer James Gillum, who has 23 for 60 (a whopping 2.6 YPC) and a lone TD came all the way back in week 1 against Vegas, and despite good healthy hasn't seen the field in two games. The coaches were so exhasperated to find a backup running back, they took the redshirt off Roderick Williams against NU, who actually did OK with 3 carries for 18 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
GoAUpher: Grade B: Getting surprise production from several guys, but still way too many drops and bad routes.
GN: Grade B-: AJ Barker, John Rabe and Andre McDonald have been pleasant surprises. DCT and Brandon Green need to do more.
JDMill: Grade B: The depth for this unit has been a huge surprise, which is great, but they have dropped a lot of catchable balls and nobody has significantly seperated themselves from the pack as THE guy.
Jeffrick: Grade B: Walk-on AJ Barker has become the go-to guy the team has needed, leading the team with 22 catches for 406 yards and 4 TD's at a very impressive 18.5 average. Isaac Fruechte and Devin Crawford-Tufts are tied for second with just 11, and while both have shown flashes neither have been consistently good yet from week to week. Derrick Engel has come from nowhere and been solid with seven catches for 136 yards.
Tied for third in receptions with just nine each are the tight ends, who have gone in opposite directions of late. John Rabe started very strong and was targeted often by Gray, but since Shortell took over, Rabe's production has basically ceased while Shortell has locked on to Drew Goodger, whose 9-73-2 have almost all come in the past three games.
What's been surprising is the lack of production from the rest of the group. Two experienced guys who played plenty last year in senior Brandon Green and junior Malcom Moulton have combined for zero catches for zero yards and, if you believe it, also zero touchdowns. Neither has hit the injury report all season, and while Green has been on the field some he's still yet to catch a pass while Moulton has been relegated to special teams. Slot receivers Marcus Jones and KJ Maye (who also plays some running back) haven't been utilized in the passing game as much as they should be. Shifty and speedy, they're two of the most dangerous Gophers with the ball in their hands, yet between them have a combined 9 catches for 104 yards and no scores. True freshman Andre McDonald would get an incomplete grade after a bizarre first half that saw him miss time due to a staph infection from a turf burn, then what was called "minor" heart issues which were tested and thankfully cleared. His latest game against Northwestern might not look like much with four catches for 33 yards, but he led the team in both receptions and targets, and is hopefully a sign of a big-and healthy- second half to come.
GoAUpher: Grade C. I know injuries are playing a huge role but things aren't good right now.
GN: Grade C+ - At times they have been pretty good and received plenty of praise. Other times they have struggled. They are young and I am excited about the next couple years.
JDMill: Incomplete (?): Lots of injuries and sporadic at best. I had high hopes for this unit, but they've been a bit disappointing, in my opinion.
Jeffrick: C+: We speculated to start the season that there's no way injuries could ravage the offensive line two years in a row. Well guess what? It's happening two years in a row. This unit got whooped against Iowa, was decent against NU, and pretty good against their four non-con opponents. Oh, but can't forget: SEVEN (!!!!) botched snaps against Northwestern?!?!? That is inexcusable. That's bad for Pop Warner football. I believe the opener against UNLV was the only time we've gotten to see the original starting five- Olson, Olson, Mottla, Epping, Campion- together so far this season, and considering Ed Olson is doubtful this week, it's going to be at least another before they get closer to being healthy. I know the experience will help all the young guys playing this year, but the injuries have definitely hurt their performance and coheisiveness.
GoAUpher: Grade B: Great pass rush but not stopping the run well enough.
GN: Grade C+: I might be harsher than most here. They have been pretty good in rushing the passer, but I think they need to be much better against the run.
JDMill: Grade C: If we could break this up and give a grade for the DL vs the pass/DL vs the run, I'd give the pass DL an A, and the run DL an F. This group HAS to get better against the run. They are getting blown off the line of scrimmage on a regular basis, aren't plugging the gaps they need to, and are leaving the weakened LB group to pick up the pieces, which is as close to a nightmare as I can imagine right now.
Jeffrick: Grade B-: The pass rush has died down a bit since the Syracuse game, and certainly they're as responsible as the linebackers for the running game woes, but they're playing much better as a group than I had hoped before the year started. If we're grading just the past two games, they're lower, but for the season? They've done pretty well through six games. Ra'Shede Hageman and DL Wilhite have really stepped up.
GoAUpher: Grade D: Getting killed too often in the run and simply not a factor.
GN: Grade C-: Terrible at the start of the year, becoming more productive in the last couple games. This unit was supposed to be a strength.
JDMill: Grade D: This was supposed to be a team strength, let alone the strength of the defense, but they have been poor.
Jeffrick: Grade C-: They were supposed to be the backbone of the defense, but they've struggled through most of the six games thus far. Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper have made plays at times, but there should be much better production out of a group with so much experience amongst them.
GoAUpher: Grade B: Like the WR's, this is a mixed bag. Surprised performances but also too many mental and fundamental errors at the wrong times.
GN: Grade B+: Outside of the flea-flicker at Iowa I cannot think of a really big breakdown in coverage. Derrick Wells is earning plenty of accolades, Michael Carter has stepped up his game and the other young safeties are solid contributors.
JDMill: Grade B: Again, if we could separate the run vs pass DB play, I'd give them an A vs the pass, and a C vs the run. This group has been absolutely SOLID against the pass. As far as the run... look, I understand that by the time RB's are getting to the third level these guys are going to have their hands full, but the DB's have been playing more up into the LB's level on obvious running downs and we are STILL getting gouged.
Jeffrick: Grade B: Like the d-line, their production has dipped since the Syracuse game, but think about it: Minnesota has the #2 pass defense and #1 pass efficiency defense in the Big Ten thus far. They're only allowing 162.5 passing yards per game, 4 pass TD's and just an average of five yards per attempt. Did you ever think through six games that the pass defense would have numbers like that? They also have seven picks on the season, already a boost from last year.
GoAUpher: Grade C-: Eldred has been consistent but not great. Place kicking has been pretty meh. And the errors on returns are just killing us.
GN: Grade F: botched punts, fumbled kick returns, terrible punting and average FG kicking. Special teams was supposed to be a traditional strength of Jerry Kill coached teams, not this year.
JDMill: Grade C: At best ST should be a game-changer, and at worst, a non-issue. But there have been many issues with this unit. A fumbled opening kickoff. Poor punting. Sporadic (although somewhat stabilized) PK game. The mistakes they've made have overshadowed the things they've done well.
Jeffrick: Grade C-: Ugh. We knew punting and kicking could be an issue, but returning kicks too? Just a mess. AJ Barker has been the only reliable part of special teams, and had you made that statement before the season started I would have bet you $1,000,000 it wouldn't come true. Kick and punt coverage has actually been good too (2nd in the B1G), which is the only reason the grade isn't a lot lower.