One of the many reasons I love college football more than the NFL is because of the lack of pre-season games. Other than the owners, no one loves watching four meaningless games before finally getting to the games that count (while I would love it if the NFL does drop two preseason games, I'm not sure adding two more regular season contests is really the answer. Well the answer is more injuries, and more meaningless end-of-season games when the Colts would have their division locked up four weeks early instead of two. So there IS an answer, it's just probably not the one people want).
However, with the advent of the 12th regular season game in college football a few years back, we're getting dangerously close to a preseason-type atmosphere in some of our non-Big Ten Games (in the Glen Mason Era we used to call this our "non-conference schedule"). Certainly I understand that a 12th game against a 1-AA creampuff was added for more money and an easy win, and considering how many athletic departments nationwide are running in the red, I suppose I can accept a cupcake game if it means my favorite sports stays alive and well.
Still, it's hard to get too jacked up for the game Saturday against 1-AA South Dakota because it feels quite similar to the NFL preseason games the Vikings just finished up with. Sure, the 11am contest this Saturday against the Coyotes certainly DOES count (just ask Ole Miss or Kansas how your season feels if you lose. Or, if you choose, remember back to 2007 and remember what it felt like to lose to NDSU. You're right, better to just ask the Rebels or Jayhawks because I don't want to relive that one either!!), and if we get this one we're only four wins away from bowl eligibility! Um yeah, but otherwise it has all the feelings of a preseason game for the simple fact that the only thing we can learn about the Gophers from a (hopefully) win over the Coyotes is negative.
Like in preseason games, your first teams are expected to do well. That's just a given. If they do, there's nothing gained by it, nothing really proven and nothing really to learn. But if your team performs badly, or if god forbid you lose, well then the sky starts falling and cats and dogs start sleeping together. It's pandamonium!
For me, there's still plenty of positives I want to see on Saturday- even if it's not supposed to mean much:
BLOW OUT THE YOTES
In the comments section of Rencino's post yesterday about USD, there was a discussion about the Gophers never having a comfortable, blow-out win under Tim Brewster. Say what? I checked some box scores from the past three seasons, and the biggest margin of victory in Brewster's tenure was the 42-17 win at Bowling Green in 2008. But as I was reminded by a few people, that was a close game heading in the 4th quarter before a few fumbles did in the Falcons (shouldn't Bowling Green be called the Bowlers? Or the Little Lebowski's Urban Achievers? Something else besides the Falcons). So it's true- the Gophs under Brewster haven't had a game that was already wrapped up by halftime. The only thing that really came close was the 35-20 win over Purdue last year, where Minnesota took a close game at the half and scored 21 in the third to pull away. Saturday would be a GREAT time to blow the doors off of South Dakota and dominate a game from start to finish.
DO IT AGAIN DUANE!
I don't forsee Duane Bennett gaining 187 yards again or getting 31 carries-I would hope the game is well in hand so we don't have to use him that much. But I do want to see another dominant ground performance from Bennett and the offensive line. 100 yards at the half for #22? I think that's a reasonable goal. I'll also be interested to see if Donell Kirkwood (or Kirkland if you're an E!SPNU announcer) establishes himself as the #2 back in this offense ahead of DeLeon Eskridge (Ok I'm not interested to see it happen- I WANT it to happen!).
I WANT TO LOVE ADAM WEBER
I'm sure this will warrant it's own post- or many- at some point this season, but for now, let me just say that I'm trying to join with GN to find some middle ground on our 5th year senior quarterback. I'm coming from a place of loathing him and counting the days until he graduates, but I'm trying to embrace him for what he is- an overachiever who will never be great (and who should have never won 2nd team All-Big Ten in 2008. Seriously, it's the worst thing to happen to him because it's made for unrealistic expectations. Well, that and if you look at things like the statistics from that season, he didn't deserve it. So either one), but can hopefully be um...(searching my Trent Dilfer dictionary for words to describe QB's who can't win games for you but you hope won't lose them)...serviceable. GN is correct in pointing out he was quite OK after a few early bad throws in the win over MTSU. I want to have more confidence in Weber, and I think Weber needs more confidence in Weber, so I'm hoping to see at least 200 yards passing, 60% completions and two passing TD's.
WIN ON 3RD DOWN
Of the many, many, many issues we had in 2009, for me the largest was our struggles on 3rd down. Offensively we might as well have just punted on 3rd down, while defensively we could not get off the field. In the win over the Blue Raiders, the Gophs showed massive improvements, converting 8-16 3rd downs on offense, and holding MTSU's offense to 1-8. Those kind of numbers need to continue for Minnesota to have a successful season, so let's see it continue against the Yotes.
STOP THE RUN BETWEEN THE TACKLES
Our defense did an excellent job in pursuit from sideline-to-sideline last Thursday, as the athleticism and speed of our defense was apparent in basically nullifying MTSU's option runs and screens to the outside. But the Blue Raiders still gutted us for 146 yards rushing on 6.6 per carry, a YPC number that needs to come down for us to have success in Big Ten play. We have some real good size up front at D-tackle, and while Gary Tinsley isn't a huge middle linebacker, he's still good enough to make plays there. Part of the issue here is definitely that we're missing our two senior safeties, so getting them back healthy and ready to go will hopefully make a big difference here.
GENERATE A PASS RUSH
Logan Kilgore was WAY too comfortable in his first start for MTSU last Thursday, as he completed 72% of his passes and was not sacked. Considering the inexperience of our secondary right now with Royston and Theret out, we NEED to get to the quarterback to help those guys out. The Gophs struggled to pressure the QB last year, and I'm hoping with some of the young blood on our D-line (especially that Hageman guy, who needs to start sooner than later) and linebackers, we SHOULD have the talent there to start getting some sacks.