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Gopher Football: Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

What a weekend. The Gophs get destroyed in yet another rivalry game, the Twins get swept out of the playoffs (again), and I can't even enjoy the Packers losing with news the NFL is fast-tracking the investigation on Favre sexting his junk to a reporter a few years back (Gopher hockey did squeek out two wins, but it's against a rebuilding UMass squad that's not supposed to be any good).

So what to talk about on Monday as a fan of Gopher football? We hear at TDG are hearing the same rumors you are- "reliable" sources have Brewster either getting fired today, or coming back next year because of how messed up the U is financially and with Bruinicks not leaving until June. Tony Dungy is either a done deal as coach next year, or he's not coaching anywhere ever again. New head coaching candidates are popping up every day.

The 41-23 bludgeoning Saturday was another frustrating loss of immense proportions. Bret Bielema proved yet again to be a "Richard" going for two up 25 with 6 minutes left (our own JG made an interesting point: going for two there would have covered the spread. Coincedence? Hmmm...) and Brewster- for once- made a wise PR move by making a big deal about it. If anything, it deflected the spotlight away from how awful the team was (again) and might rally his players and a few fans for a little while longer (as others have pointed out it also looks petty and whiny). But the bottom line is that this team, and this season, is sinking faster than the Titanic, and there's nothing to stop it from happening.

As a Gopher fan, I'm not quitting on the team. I'd like to, but I can't. I want a new coach and coaching staff almost as much as the folks on the Titanic would have liked a new captain and crew, but as a die-hard fan of the USS Gopher Football, I'm going down with the ship and I don't have a choice. I'll be at the three remaining home games, and will be watching the three roadies on TV. Like it or not, all six of those games will probably have Brewster as head coach, so until we get something of substance and credibility on Brewster's future, I'm leaving it alone for now. I realize this is, like the old cliche says, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but since Brewster being fired seems to be out of the realm of possibility for now, I'd like to see two things happen that will make the journey to the bottom of the college football ocean a bit more enjoyable:

First thing: Fire Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Throw him overboard. Like right now.

This defense stinks. Like a used diaper full of indian food. From opening week to yesterday, they're not getting better, they're getting worse. The defense allowed Wisconsin to run for 245 at 5 yards per carry, QB Scott Tolzien to complete 73% of his passes for 223, and pick up 30 first downs. 30. Seriously. The most damning stat of all though (well, other than forcing zero turnovers or zero sacks)? The Badgers converted 7 of 9 third downs. SEVEN OF NINE! I don't know what's worse- that they allowed them to convert that many, or that they only faced nine third downs all day? Before the 4th quarter, Wisky only had six third downs. 1st half they were 1-3, converting on 3rd and 2, but threw 2 incompletions on 3rd and 6 and 3rd and 8. 3rd quarter Tolzien converted on 3rd and 7, then the Gophs bailed them out with a 10 yd defensive holding.

The drive to start the 4th, Wisconsin started from their own 20 and ran 6 plays- 5 runs one pass- and drove for a TD. Every play got another first down. The rest of the fourth quarter went about the same way. Great Oden's Ravens, it doesn't matter what the Gophers would have done offensively, there's no way you're beating anyone when your defense plays that poorly.

Cosgrove should be cleaning out his office today, and I don't care who replaces him. Promote one of the coordinators for the rest of the year, go hire a high school coach, or give people in the crowd opportunities to coach them. Doesn't matter, no one else could possibly do any worse than Cosgrove has. Fire him. Now.

The second thing I want to see? My only hope for watchable Gopher football (notice I didn't say winning football, since I'm not sure they get another one the rest of the year) is for an improved offensive philosophy. Since I'm assuming Brewster coaches out the year, I'm also assuming Adam Weber remains our quarterback the rest of the year. The PP's Marcus Fuller questioned Brewster on the chances of a QB change, and it sure doesn't sound likely. Another assumption I'll make is that Brewster needs five wins to keep his job (especially since if he was somehow able to piece together four more wins, it would mean beating some very good teams, and maybe even winning a rivalry game...I'll wait for you to stop laughing at the slim-to-none possibility of that happening... waiting... mmmm this coffee is good... what's for lunch today?... hey is that an iceberg dead ahead?), which means the Gophers wouldn't hit 8 losses until November at the earliest. So that's AT LEAST another month of games I have to watch with Weber at QB.

Jermo and others here have talked before about Minnesota having a rather predictable offense: run, run, then run some more, even if it hasn't been very successful. With their current philosophy, the Gophs are 8th in the Big Ten in rushing offense (154 yds per game at just 3.8 per carry), total offense (397 yds per game), and scoring offense (26.2 pts per game). With the defense being dead last in the Big Ten in just about every meaningful defensive stat, if the Gophers are going to competitive and watchable at all, it's going to be on the offense for it to happen.

A theory Jermo and I have shared is that the Gophers run far too much on first and second down. After looking over the stats from the Wisconsin debacle, I found one of those two is true. For the game, Minnesota had 32 rushes for 96 yards (3 ypc) and 249 yards passing (11-25, 10 ypc). The team committed 7 penalties for 54 yards (I believe five of those were on the offense), and they were a terrible 3-13 on third down. The only reason the game was even as close as it was is because Minnesota was 3-4 on 4th down.

If you've had the displeasure of watching the Gophers this season (and really any season under Brewter) you now converting third downs has been a problem. It certainly was in this game. So I combed through the stats for the first three quarters to see what I could find (the start of the 4th Q the Gophers HAD to pass so the stats are skewed):

Minnesota had 16 first down plays in the first three quarters: they had 11 rushes on for 57 yards, and threw five times. On those five first down pass plays Weber was 3-5 for 73 yards.

Quick math shows the Gophs were actually quite successful on first down. Just running the ball alone they averaged over 5 yards per carry. And 73 yards on 5 pass attempts is obviously a great number. Turns out (at least in this game) OC Jeff Horton WAS calling the right plays on 1st down for the most part, as just running the ball they were getting on average at least five yards, setting up very makeable 2nd downs.

But here's where it gets interesting: through three quarters, on third down Minnesota needed an average of 7.5 yards to gain a first down. So the offense was going an average of at least two yards backwards on every second down. What the hell was going on? Glad you asked. Here's the 12 second down plays they ran in the first three quarters (not including penalities that made them run the play again):

5 yard rush, sack for -10, illegal motion -5, rush for -2, rush for -2, false start -5, 5 yd rush, 6 yd rush, 3 yd rush, 9 yd TD pass, 1 yd rush, rush for -3.

If you're scoring at home, that's one sack, two penalities, and four rushes for one yard or less in 11 attempts. If you remove the penalties from the equation, there's a lot of run plays there for minimal to negative yardage. We found out the Gophers ran quite well on first down in the game, but what happened when they ran on first AND second down (not including second downs negated by penalties)?

RUSH: Eskridge 1 yard gain, Esk -3, Esk 5, Bennett -2, Benn -2, Benn 2, Esk 5, Esk 1, Esk -3
PASS: incomplete pass, Weber rush 3 yards

So in 11 second down attempts after a run on first down, Horton decided to run nine times (I'm assuming the Weber run was designed as a pass play but he had to bail), which gained a grand total of four yards. That's .4 yards per carry. Sure, the two pass plays weren't very successful, but they only tried it twice and hey, 3 total yards on two plays is still much better than what they had running.

I'm not saying they need to open it up and go all Texas Tech offensively, but they clearly DO need to mix it up a lot more on second down and give these receivers a chance to make plays. If you don't trust Adam Weber, at least trust that there are some guys on this team who can catch the ball. You could make a strong argument that we have the msot talented receiving core in the Big Ten. Defenses are taking MarQueis Gray away, and when they're thrown to, Da'Jon McKnight, Bryant Allen, and TE Eric Lair are making them pay. We have two wide receivers on the outside in Gray and McKnight who can make plays one-on-one. Lair is starting to prove he's a weapon over the middle, and Allen, in the right situation, is very effective.

Watching the South Carolina game, I loved Spurriers' simple yet effective idea of once or twice a quarter throwing a simple fade route on first or second down to his gigantic sophmore wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. If he had one-on-one coverage on the outside QB Stephen Garcia would take a 3 step drop and loft the ball 15 yards down the sideline for Jeffrey, and he'd go over the DB to get it. While I don't think Gray or McKnight are quite as good as Jeffrey, I would argue they're good enough to make a play 1-on-1 on a jump ball at least 5 or 6 times out of 10 if the ball's thrown anywhere near them. Add the chance of pass interference, and I'd wager if the Gophers run a fade-type jump ball route to either McKnight or Gray on the outside they have at least a 70% chance of either completing the pass or drawing pass interference. I mean, did you SEE the first TD catch McKnight made on Saturday? Best catch of the year, as good as anyone in the country could have done. His second one wasn't bad either. MarQueis Gray has made similar catches before. I believe they can do this repeatedly if they were just given the chance!

Even if you don't trust Adam Weber at all (he's far from our biggest problem, but he did only complete 44% of his passes Saturday), we have playmakers at wide receiver, and if we'd give them a chance to make more plays, we'll have a better offense (especially on second down). Horton doesn't need to throw 80% of the time, but since we haven't been a great running team, throwing the ball, especially to an excellent group of wideouts, just seems to make too much sense.

Again, I realize this is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Regardless of how well the offense plays, the coaching and defense will sink this season. Regardless of how well the offense plays, Minnesota probably only wins one or two of their remaining six games. But since I'll be watching all six games, and will be in person for three of them, that means I'm a passenger going down with the ship. If that's the case, and since we can't seem to remove the captain or his crew, I at least want a productive, watchable, less-predictable offense while Minnesota's 2010 season goes down.