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Minnesota Football: Grading the Gophers at the Quarter Poll

I was looking for a way to best sum up the first four games of the Minnesota Gophers 2010 season when I happened to see this brilliant comment from frequent commenter GoAUpher over at Off Tackle Empire:

maybe we should be grading...

on a facepalm scale? Because then I think we’d be seeing this for the Gophers:

by GoAUpher on Sep 27, 2010 1:06 PM CDT reply actions 1 recs

That is hilarious and brilliant and I'm mad I didn't think of it first. Well played, GoAUpher. Well played.

Really, that about sums up the Gophers season to this point better than I ever could in a whole post (which of course won't stop me from trying. Quite the opposite, actually). Tim Brewster "led" (and I use that term in the loosest possible way) Minnesota to a 1-3 non-conference record, which includes, perhaps most impressively, an 0-3 home record. The USC loss we expected. The loss to MAC school NIU and 1-AA South Dakota? Not so much. I mean really, if that's not how you coach to save your job, I don't know what is (trying to turn the sarcasm switch off...can't find it. That will remain on for the remainer of the post- and the season).

The team's performance compared to last year has been better offensively but drastically worse defensively. And by drastically worse I mean that 11 people pulled out of the TCF Bank stadium crowd couldn't play any worse. Of course, that would mean there was actually 11 people showing up to the games (ooooooh too soon?). The latest home crowd for the debacle against Northern Illinois could have been mistaken for Ryan Field. Or any crowd at a MIAC school. Although in fairness, they have coaches who actually get their teams prepared.

Our defense is dead last in the Big Ten in total defense, pass defense, and rush defense. Some might call it well balanced, but I'd say it's been a tram-shama-mockery. A gong show. Or as GoAUpher stated so well: a double face palm.

Still, the first four games haven't been ALL bad: just mostly. Positional grades and breakdowns for the first four games after the jump.

Let's get the most controversial grade out of the way first, shall we? We shalls. We shalls indeed. Weber has been the lone guy to play QB in the first four games, so this is all on the fifth year senior. He hasn't been as bad as people want to believe, and as you'll see after everything grades out, he's far from our biggest problem. I give him good marks for yardage (1005 yards is fourth in the Big Ten), his TD/INT ratio of 7/3 is a major improvement from last year, as is his 62.6 completion percentage. He's also helped the Gophers do much better on third down, converting 46.7%, a big improvement from a year ago. You could argue he's having to work with the least talent- certainly experienced talent- of any QB in the Big Ten. However, his pass efficiency rating is not even amongst the top 10 in the conference, so while he's improved his overall play from a year ago, it's still not even average in the BT.
Grade: C+

Duane Bennett would get an A from me by himself, and fullback Job Hoese's play has been exemplary as the fullback. Still, as a group they only average 3.8 yards per carry (9th in the BT) and the 166.2 yards per game is only 8th best in the conference. I'm not going to drop them completely for a lack of production against USC because Bennett was playing on a sprained ankle, but I DO have to dock them marks for not converting some short yardage situations against NIU. A lot of that certainly can be blamed on the coaches and offensive line, but the backs have to share part of it too.
Grade: B-

MarQueis Gray has been beyond our wildest dreams at wideout- or wait, did you think with virtually no experience he'd have 22 catches (leads the conference, and his per-game avg of 5.5 is third) for 328 yards (2nd) and 3 TD's (3rd). You didn't either? He's been by far the best thing about this season. Ok he may be the only good thing about this season. Da'Jon McKnight is getting better in his second full season as a starter, ranking 10th in the conference with 4 catches per game, in the top 10 for yardage (215) and like Gray also has 3 TD's. Troy Stoudermire showed some flashes before getting suspended moved to defensive back (6 for 114 and a score), and fill-in Bryant Allen proved capable against NIU. Starting TE Eric Lair is third on the team in catches with 14 and looks more and more comfortable. He's also had some problems dropping passes but then again, so has everyone else. Overall though this has easily been our best position group.
Grade: B+

Yes, they've made progress from last year. But it's like saying Lindsay Lohan has made progress by kicking that nasty drug habit and is now just a full blown alcoholic. It's better, but not by much. This is supposed to be a run-first smash-mouth team, and thus far the O is only averaging 3.8 yards per carry and 166 yards per game. Again, yes that's an improvement over last year, but it still doesn't get us out of the bottom third in the Big Ten in either category. They have done a better job of keeping Adam Weber clean, allowing just 4 sacks, but the lack of push at the line on those short yardage situations against a much smaller NIU team was horrible, as are the penalties they just can't seem to stop committing.
Grade: C

Here's where it starts getting ugly. Double Face Palm Ugly. Can you believe that before the season I was most excited about our D line and all the potential we had there? How could I have been so wrong? We're last in sacks in the conference with a pathetic two for just 19 yards lost. Just how pathetic is that? It''s not just worst in the Big Ten, it's second worst in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. Not surprisingly, QB's are completing a league-high 68% of their passes against. They're not just comfortable in the pocket, they're mixing drinks, smoking stoggies and eating Grey Poupon back there. They're riding off on our women, and pruning the hedges of many small villages. It's ridiculous. Why even put them out there? Four drunk frat kids could do that badly. You could turn it into a contest to get students to actually show up to games. The run game? No better. No wait- Actually worse! Dead-freaking-last (by a mile, I might add) in yards allowed (751), yards per game (187.8), and TD's given up (8) in the Big Ten. The worst stat of all is Minnesota is giving up 6.42 yards per carry. That's not just last in the Big Ten, that's dead last in the entire country. Worst run defense in the country? Yep that's us!
Grade: F

Same story, different group. I may have mentioned that the Gophers are last in the Big Ten in every meaningful run defense category? Well just for good measure, they're also last in pass efficiency defense. But don't worry, they're not last in the country in this one- just 113 out of 120. The only reason they haven't given up more yards or TD's through the air is because teams just haven't had to throw. They commit dumb penalites and cannot tackle. Other than that, a bang-up job so far.
Grade: F

Good thing Kyle Theret came back. He made such a difference for us against USC and NIU. But at least he's trying. Remember Michael Carter? 4 star recruit who was supposed to take a major step this year? He's taken a step all right- backwards. Off a cliff. He's been so bad a true freshman has replaced him. Hopefully Kim Royston's return comes soon and comes with him being 100% because he is sorely needed back there.
Grade: F

The ONLY bright spot has been the return game, and with Stoudermire sticking around, that should continue. But keep checking his Facebook status for accurate updates! The rest of it has been...wait for it...awful. Last in the Big Ten in net punting (110 nationally) and punt return D (108), and only Purdue has been worse at covering kickoff returns (92 nationally). Field goal kicker Eric Ellestad is 5 for 9, and shanked a couple of beauties in the MTSU game. Just for fun, we've also seen plenty of penalties. It is a team game after all, so best to spread those yellow flags around.
Grade: D

What's lower than an F? What about a G? Or a Z (or as they'd say in Canada a "zed". Silly metric Canadians)? I wasn't in Minnesota for the Jim Wacker years but I can't imagine them being any worse. The team squeaked out a win against MTSU and their backup QB, looked completely unprepared and were badly outcoached and outplayed by USD and NIU, and then played ok in a loss to USC. Either Brewster's recruits are overhyped or he cannot coach. I'm going with yes.
Grade: F----- (that's an F quintuple minus)

Marqueis Gray, Duane Bennett, Jon Hoese and Troy Stoudermire (when he returns kicks) have been good. Weber and the rest of the receivers have been ok. The rest have failed. Truly, totally, and epiclly failed. They're not 0-4, which means no F-, but they're not much better.
Grade: F+