In 2005, Minnesota traveled to Michigan and won the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1986. I was very pleased - for the first time as a Gopher student/alum, I was able to call my father, the Michigan grad, and gloat. He was gracious and congratulatory, as it had been only the 4th time in his lifetime that the Jug took up residence in Minnesota. Perhaps the Gophers were on the rise?
After the victory, I really hoped that the Gophers would build on such a rare victory to have a special season. It didn't happen - the Gophers lost their next two at home to Wisconsin and to Ohio State, later was blown out by Iowa, and then lost the annual Music City Bowl appearance to Virginia. I was really disheartened - after such a great and rare victory, the Gophers stumbled and wasted it. I felt they had thrown it all away.
Fast forward to today. I've got the same feeling after watching the Gophers stumble to what really was their third shutout in Big Ten play this year (one TD against Ohio State in garbage time). Obviously, this is not because of any heavyweight victory, but because of the team itself. This season was thrown away by Tim Brewster in early 2009.
Prior performance obviously cannot guarantee future results. However, look at this bio line:
In his fourth season coordinating Northwestern's spread attack and his fifth at NU overall, Mike Dunbar has the Wildcat offense ranked among the nation's elite after averaging more than 400 yards per game in 2004.
A year ago, Northwestern ranked 29th nationally in total offense (409.5 ypg) while facing a formidable slew of defenses. In the Big Ten, the Wildcats ranked fourth in total offense (third in rushing offense and third in passing offense).
Look at that. Third in rushing offense. That was during Dunbar's third season as Northwestern's offensive coordinator. That Northwestern team beat Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois in finishing 6-6. Dunbar obviously knew how to coordinate a successful Big Ten offense, he just needed more talent and practice within the system for Minnesota to get it work. Dunbar's third season at Minnesota would have been ..... 2009.
Instead, Brewster threw it all away.
MarQueis Gray is still the highest-profile recruit Brewster has signed at Minnesota. As has been stated around here before, he was delayed a year due to GPA / entrance exam issues. He was obviously recruited to play in Dunbar's spread offense. Had Dunbar been retained, Gray probably would have been utlized more than 3 isolated plays a game, and certainly would not have been foolishly used as a WR in certain sets (if you've trying to have a QB learn a playbook, and the limited nature of his playing time suggests he hasn't grasped much of said playbook, the last thing you'd do is make him practice as a WR too, right?) It's not too far-fetched to think that Gray could have started a few games this year had the spread been the base offense.
Instead, Brewster threw that all away, and in all honesty, threw away a year (or more) of Gray's college career.
And what more to say about this defense? What a performance today, and in all honesty, this whole season. The seniors have all played really sound, fundamental defense all year, and were a joy to watch. I was very skeptical of a few aspects of this defense prior to and during the first month of the year, and I'm going to ingest crow. Kevin Cosgrove, you've done very well this year. Ronnie Lee, really? Fine job.
And this must stand alone: Ryan Collado, when used as a run-stopper or blitzer, you are a fine player. I am happy the coaches have figured out your strengths.
And yet, Brewster has thrown the excellent performance of this group of seniors all away.
On retrospect, this team would have won the Wisconsin and Illinois games and yes, could have won the Iowa game had the team not decided to trash and re-vamp its offense during the offseason. A spread offense system can really simplify the scheme for younger quarterbacks, which could have given Gray more playing time. And yes, Adam Weber would have been in year 3 of the scheme and could have worked on better synergy with his linemen and teammates, instead of having to sit in meetings every day with Jedd Fisch learning the 500 hand signals needed to comprehend his plays.
The 2009 season was a natural crescendo for the defensive players on the team, and Brewster should have known that. He had a group of JUCOs that he signed that were seniors, along with Brown, Small, Campbell, and Triplett. This year was a year to make a statement with the team moving into a new stadium and having the nation's attention.
However, whenever the Gophers had a network audience, what happened? Functional to very good defense was squandered because an offense was suffering from its offensive coordinator learning how to call plays on the fly.
As we all predicted how this season would turn out for Minnesota, the TDG consensus was slightly below to right around .500. Obviously, they ended up right at .500. However, the road traveled has been really unsatisfactory. What should have been a team in Brewster's third year humming on all cylinders with a fast, athletic offense and veteran defense descended into a team with that great defense, but with a slow, plodding confused offense that in 5 of its games scored 0 or 1 offensive touchdowns. It descended into fans and Gopher coaches yelling at each other during the SDSU game.
As the team looks to 2010, it has to replace 9 senior starters on defense, as well as its most prolific WR ever, get its linemen in functional shape so a running game can get established, and most importantly, Jedd Fisch needs to pare back his playbook so that Gray and Weber can comprehend what the hell he wants to do. Calling a coherent game plan would also be welcome.
College football has really been tough for this writer and his father since the 2007 season has started. Both schools the family supports have had the worst year in their respective histories. Despite that, we both have optimism things are turning around, no matter what the MSM wants to tell the uninformed fan. All that is really asked for is some consistency, some organic growth, not tearing down that which was or is growing well and could become something special. So, as my father hopes that his alma mater doesn't throw it all away by dumping a coach with 89 freshmen and sophomores on his roster and with 25 more on the way this year, I also hope that Brewster will stay the course, let his team develop, not bow to pressure to change coaches or coordinators, and not throw it all away. I hope that when Minnesota and Michigan play again for that Jug in 2011, the winner of the game can do more with it than what was done in 2005.