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A Friday Consolidated Preview of Denver Hockey and Ohio State Football - October 23 and 24, 2009

The Gopher sports world is still absorbing, digesting and getting over the news that Brook Dieter has left the Gopher womens' volleyball team. TDG always attempts to keep a balanced perspective on life and move on despite bad news, so on to this weekend's major revenue Minnesota sports tilts.

First, hockey. The Gophers salvaged one point in Grand Forks last weekend, and return home to play preseason number one ranked Denver.  Way to ease into the season, Minnesota. In the interests of time and a hat tip to a well-done piece of e-prose, Gopher Puck Live has a writeup of last weekend and a preview of this weekend that I find covers anything I would have written.

Second, football. Minnesota travels to Columbus this weekend to face the 19th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. We're the Homecoming opponents. Again. The Buckeyes are doing an amazing amount of navel gazing after Purdue upset them 26-18 last Saturday, while Terrelle Pryor did his best Chris Rix impersonation. Believe me - there has been a lot of ink spilled and keystrokes wasted trying to figure out what is wrong with Terrelle Pryor.  Even Pryor's HS coach decided to weigh in with some painful comments directed at Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel. Well, only somewhat painful comments.

Despite all this quibbling, there is a game to be played tomorrow, and again, thanks a lot to Purdue for ticking off the Buckeye beast. Any thoughts that Minnesota could sneak into Columbus and get a result are mostly shot. This is Ohio State's last chance to play a meaningful game (no, New Mexico State on Halloween does not count) before they play what has turned out to be the toughest three-game Big Ten stretch this season (at Penn State, v. Iowa, at Michigan). Also, like I stated earlier this week, Tressel has had exactly ONE losing streak at Ohio State (a three-game losing streak in 2004).  So, a 7-5 season is not out of the realm of impossibility for Ohio State now - this is despite having around 10 five-star level recruits on their roster.

Some statistical information:

First off, this is another nauseating series for Gopher fans. The Buckeyes have won 41 of the teams' 48 meetings. Minnesota's last victory against Ohio State was a 29-17 decision in 2000 in Columbus.

Moving on, I find Pat Forde to be a college football rip-off of Gregg Easterbrook, which is probably unfair to both of them. However, I did find one very interesting morsel in Forde's column this week. Minnesota is dead last in Division I-A in plays from scrimmage per game, averaging only 57 offensive snaps. I did some quick research and found out that in 2008, Minnesota averaged 64 offensive snaps per year.

There are a couple things that could be contributing to this lack of snaps. One, obviously, can be who Minnesota is playing. Air Force ran 83 offensive plays and controlled time of possession because of their run-dominant attack (which, BTW, is top 5 nationally). Minnesota only ran 53 plays from scrimmage against AFA and that is understandable.

Last week, Minnesota only ran 40 offensive plays against Penn State. That was a combination of Nittany ball control and the Gophers' abysmal play selection and execution.

A second reason Minnesota may be getting so few plays is due to the offensive transition. The prior system used by the Gopher QBs was to use a wristband, get the quick sign in from the sideline, read the play off the wristband and get into formation (either that, or stay in the spread no-huddle). Now, Jedd Fisch utilizes a system of hieroglyphics the Egyptians would have found difficult to decipher. Weber is required to wait for the playcall to come in, then translate it in his head, then make the playcall to the team, and then set everything up. If this extra level of interpretation takes 2-3 seconds, there by itself is where a couple plays a game can be lost.

The last paragraph proves, BTW, that college football is doing itself and its fans a disservice by not allowing QBs to utilize radio in their helmets like the NFL. But, college football proves every year (BCS, disgraceful refereeing in the SEC, commentators openly politicking against teams based on their television contracts Gary Danielson) that as long as the money keeps rolling in, it could really care less if the average fan or scholarship athlete is screwed or not.


Some quick hits about Ohio State and Minnesota:

Minnesota's passing offense is 10th in the conference. They are playing the only one that is worse tomorrow.

Adam Weber's 2009 stats: 106/190, for 1,325 yards, 6 TDs, 9 INTs. And, uh, -27 rushing yards including sacks.

Terrelle Pryor's 2009 stats: 89/159, for 1,169 yards, 10 TDs, 8 INTs. And, uh, about 377 rushing yards and 4 TDs.

A problem for tomorrow: Minnesota has the worst rushing offense in the Big Ten (103 ypg). Ohio State has the second-best rushing defense in the Big Ten (87.86 ypg). They would probably have the best had Penn State not played....Minnesota last week.

Injury news for Ohio State: RB Boom Herron is questionable, and junior DL Dexter Larimore remains sidelined with a knee injury. Brandon Saine, a speedster, is in for the BOOM, and Todd Denlinger fills in for Larimore. While Larimore is injured, however, this is how he will "soothe" himself:

Larimore is also succeeding off the football field as an accomplished ceramics artist. His work was selected to be shown at an exhibition during the 2009 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.

His apartment in Columbus includes an area where he keeps clay and a small kin.

"To be able to go in there after football -- it kind of relaxes me down and kind of soothes me from all the stress I deal with (during football)," Larimore said.


Here are the keys for a Gopher Victory:

(1) Figure out a way to make Terrelle Pryor a liability - this can be done by either (a) putting a quick LB on him (Keanon Cooper hello?) as a spy, by (b) forcing him to be a pocket passer, which he does not have the greatest proficiency at at this point, or by (c) causing a few three and outs in the first half, which could stir the Buckeye faithful and lead to more arguments between Pryor and his coach on the sidelines. At that point, Bauserman may become an option at QB, and if so, the Gophers have a fighting chance. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota fans can probably expect a lot of spread-read and a lot of Saine and Pryor getting the edge with their superior speed.

(2) Be cautious about taking the Purdue approach to victory - good teams correct mistakes (cliche ding). So, the expectation would be that Ohio State will be supremely focused upon stopping any sort of short passing game that the Gophers would try to copy from last week's game. In this sense, I disagree with our Buckeye brethren, who wrote:

I can personally guarantee that Minnesota is looking almost exclusively at Purdue game tape right now, and that Tim Brewster - say what you will about his coaching, he's probably not retarded - is emphasizing the quick release to Adam Weber more than ever this week.

The Buckeye defensive staff can undoubtedly self-scout, and they'd know what to address in the midweek. Sure, SOME short passing routes would be useful early to find out exactly how the Buckeyes plan to compensate for the Purdue debacle, but I'd be watching USC v. Ohio State game tape if I were the Gopher staff, because our offense is pretty similar in style to the Trojans' and will likely be able to attack the Buckeyes in a similar manner.  Regardless, this is a game where the Gophers have NOTHING to lose. The expectation in Vegas is an 18-20 point loss. So, this is a perfect opportunity for:

(3) More MarQueis Gray, Hayo Carpenter, etc. - it's time to break open the playbook. Maybe the low number of plays the Gophers get each week is cutting into Gray's playing time. However, Gray is not allowed to do much other than the controlled QB keeper or misdirection play. It's time to get him some snaps in a hostile environment, that way he can be an effective weapon when the Gophers really need him - the games against Michigan State, Illinois, South Dakota State (what - they're 5-1 and beat NDSU? Great.) and Iowa which will decide the Gophers' bowl eligibility. Those teams won't be fooled by anything the Gophers have done so far this year. Inserting Gray into the game for 10 plays, mixing the pass and run, even in a losing effort, will give those Sparty fools in East Lansing more to game plan for, which may provide Weber a little more flexibility in his offensive sets (more time preparing for Gray = less time addressing Weber's playcalling tweaks).

(4) Maybe this game they should just spread it out - Ohio State's front four is every bit the behemoth Penn State's was. Both teams' combination of speed and strength were/are too much for the Gophers' offensive line. Last week, the loss of the center-playing Tow-Arnett was felt, as nothing was established in the rushing game. Perhaps spreading the Buckeyes out, utilizing Carpenter on Ohio State's nickelback, trying to create mismatches with Decker in the red zone? Anything - more imagination, and less NFL-style Fisch predictability, is necessary for the Gophers to succeed offensively tomorrow and pull the upset.

(5) Beware special teams and turnovers - Ohio State defeated Wisconsin by 20 even though they were outgained by about 200 yards. For years the trademark of Jim Tressel teams is: I'm going to pin you inside your 20 with my punter, I'm going to get good field position, I'm going to kick field goals, and then I'm going to get a third-quarter INT for a TD and beat you. Brewster has to break this tendency - a surprise onside kick, a fake punt, a blocked punt, something quirky in the special teams (in addition to Stoudermire's excellent returns) has to happen tomorrow to flip Tressel's script.

Weather? It should be cloudy and about 50 tomorrow at gametime. Good.

Prediction? The overriding theme here is that the Buckeyes had their worst loss in the Jim Tressel era last Saturday and has had one losing streak under Tressel. The Gophers are going to pay for the Purdue loss last week, because I think Brewster will try to copy Purdue's gameplan, and Tressel will be ready with a counter.

Ohio State 27 - Minnesota 10.