2007 was miserable. It was painful to watch and the off season left us with a 1-11 taste in our mouths for months. We had the hope of a great recruiting class, new defensive coordinator and improvement based on getting comfortable with the new coaching staff's schemes. But those reasons
for hope were overshadowed by more significant questions. Would Weber be able to cut down his turnovers and keep the defense off the field? Would the JUCO's really upgrade our athleticism and be able to make a difference? Would we be able to stop anybody (especially on third down)?.
Through four games we have seen answers and improvement in every area we needed to see it.
1. Weber was good last year but he has been really good this year. Most of the offense's stats are virtually identical when compared to the four non-conference games from2007 with two major exceptions.
|Yds / Game||407.5||403.8||-3.7|
Passing and rushing yards are pretty much identical. But a drastic reduction in turnovers and the ability to finish off drives with touchdowns has turned this into a dangerous offense. 11 fewer total turnovers has resulted in 10 more points per game.
We all thought if Weber could reduce turnovers and make better decisions this offense would be good enough to give us chance. But what we didn't expect was the way he would lead this offense with a killer instinct. The defense has forced 13 turnovers this year and we have scored a touchdown on NINE of them. In fact only one of those possessions was stopped by the other team. One was a FG, one came with seconds left before half time and one resulted in a kneel down to end the game . We are generating turnovers and immediately turning them into points. Weber has surpassed expectations through four games.
2. Will the JUCOs really improve our talent and athleticism? This is a resounding yes as well. In college football JUCO transfers do not usually have immediate impact like what we have seen from Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons and Simoni Lawrence.
Combined those three are in the top five among Gopher tacklers. Brock leads the team in tackles and has one very athletic interception down the sideline in one on one coverage. Traye Simmons has two intercpetions, 8 passes defended and 6 pass break ups. To put that into perspective, a year ago Jamal Harris led the team with 10 pass break ups for the season. Simoni Lawrence has stepped in at linebacker and has recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 of those were sacks and an interception for a touchdown.
There is no question that all three of these guys are an upgrade from a year ago.
3. How much has this infusion of talent, combined with improvement from the returners made on the defense? The 4-0 record is the most telling stat, but turnovers, yards allowed and points allowed have seen incredible turnarounds.
The table below shows total turnovers from 2007 compared with 2008's through only four games.
|3rd Down %||44%||34%|
We already have more interceptions than a year ago and we get the opponent's offense off the field at a much more acceptable percentage on third down. The turnovers and defensive 3rd down conversions have been the biggest turnarounds but yards allowed has also been rather impressive.
|Yds / Game||518.7||354.8||163.9|
The 163 yard improvement has really helped to bring down the 36.7 points we gave up in our non-conference games a year ago. Remember this is not including any Big Ten games from a year ago, this is just improvement on the 2007 non-conference schedule that was very similar to this years.
This improvement has been greatly aided by the JUCOs but the returners deserve credit for how they have improved to make this a respectable defense. Willie VanDeSteeg is healthy and generating some pressure on the QB. Barret Moen and Garrett Brown are quietly helping the D by stuffing the inside. Steve Davis and Deon Hightower are in position on a regular basis and are improved tacklers. Kyle Theret has been better notching two interceptions and is third on the team in tackles. And the two biggest returning contributors have been Marcus Sherels (pictured right breaking up a pass) and Lee Campbell. Both made position changes that have made a world of difference for this team, credit to coaching staff for this one. Sherels has been very good in coverage and Campbell has been a big MLB who always seems to be in the thick of things. We are better at nearly every position than we were a year ago. The parts are stronger and the sum of the parts has improved exponentially.
This team is not perfect on either side of the ball and has a long ways to go. But these were the biggest questions heading into this season and all three have been answered beyond what we could have hoped for. We need continued improvement from the offensive line, especially as we head into the Big Ten season. We need more offensive weapons in the passing game. And the defense is still going to have to stop people when the turnovers are coming to us as easily.
Managing expectations becomes tricky now, but this team is much better than a year ago. The offense is effecient and is playing with a killer instinct. The defense isn't going to be confused with the 2007 Ohio State D, but we now have players who are Big Ten caliber, are able to break on the ball, are tackling better and are in position to make plays. The Big Ten will be different than Bowling Green and Montana State, nobody is predicting 12-0. But many of us thought 3-1 would have made for a successful non-conference portion of the schedule. 4-0 and improving is where we sit. Bring on the Big Ten so we can continue to show that this team is different and things are changing in coach Brewster's Gopher Nation.