Once again we are on the topic of bold decisions. Previously I examined the decision by Joel Maturi to hire a relative unknown in Jerry Kill. Next I want to look back at some of the bold decisions in Gopher History and see how they worked out. This was an exercise of just trying to remember some bold decisions made by coaches or players. This is really just dependent on my memory but I'm sure you all will have many more to add in the comment section.
The very first bold move that came to my mind was Jim Wacker going for two against Purdue back in 1995. The Gophers trailed 17-7 at halftime to the Boilermakers but the second half was a high scoring, back-and-forth affair. With 1:03 left in the 3rd quarter Minnesota tied the game 24-24 on a FG. Purdue wasted little time connecting on a 78-yard TD pass Rick Trefzger to Brian Alford. The Gophers countered with a Chris Darkins 24-yard TD run to tie it in the 4th quarter but Purdue retook the lead with a 4-yard QB run.
Then it gets interesting. Cory Sauter leads a drive that is capped off with a 1-yard QB run with 1:38 remaining in the game. Jim Wacker boldly decides that overtime is unacceptable and decides to go for two. The Gophers win the game on a Sauter to Ryan Thelwell conversion 39-38. That was a gutsy move that clearly worked out in the Gopher's favor. Turns out it was our only Big Ten win that year, but at the time it was still pretty bold. The win meant the Gophers were 3-1 (1-0 in conference) and hopes of a bowl game were still real. So in hindsight it was kind of a non-event, but at the time it was very bold.
The next bold move that came to mind is much more recent. Tubby Smith deciding to move Blake Hoffarber to point guard following the injury to Al Nolen was a bold one. In this case the move appeared to work early, but eventually may have been the decision that ended any hopes of sneaking into the NCAA Tournament. In the first game post-Nolen, Hoffarber got the start at point against Northwestern. The Gophers won that game as Hoffarber scored 20 points, recorded 4 assists and got to the free throw line 8 times (a season high). The decision to play your savvy, senior shooting guard at the point seemed to be an out-of-the-box decision that just might work. But it was all downhill from there. The Gophers lost 10 of their next 11 and Hoffarbers effectiveness was greatly diminished. His scoring remained relatively the same but his assists went down by nearly one per game, his turnovers went up by more than one per game and his steals per game was cut in half.
Losing Al Nolen was crippling enough but this move greatly compounded the Gopher's inability to score and defend. Seemed like a decent idea at the time considering there was very little in the way of other options but as it turns out this bold move backfired. Tubby later admitted as much and maybe (just maybe) the slide not have been nearly as dramatic had Mav Ahanmisi been given more minutes at the point from the first game post-Nolen.
After discussing with some of my TDG cohorts I was reminded of a bold game from the Tim Brewster era. The 2009 Halloween game against Michigan State was a very different game plan than just about any other Tim Brewster game plan. The team had lost three out of four and combined to score seven points in their prior two games (on the road against Penn State and Ohio State). So what did the anemic Gopher offense do on the first play of the game? They run a wheel-route with Duane Bennett for a 62-yard touchdown pass. 20 seconds into the game and we matched our scoring output from the previous 120 minutes.
But it didn't stop there. Michigan State kindly fumbled the ensuing kickoff and we got the ball back at the MSU 28 yard line. This time it took us a few plays but after an incomplete pass, penalty and a Q run; Adam Weber threw a nice 37-yard pass to Brandon Green to put the Gophers up 0-14 in less than 2 minutes.
But it didn't stop there. The Gophers continued to move the ball and rack up 505 total yards, 416 of them through the air and 42 total points. This game was an aberration and clearly a change in offensive philosophy. Unfortunately this particular game plan was instituted because they saw some things they wanted to take advantage of against MSU because that was the one and only time we saw an offense that aggressive and productive in the 2009 season. Adam Weber threw 416 yards and 5 touchdowns that evening. Three prior games he combined for 287 and 1 TD. The three games following he threw 468 yards and just one touchdown. You can blame it on Weber if you want but this was clearly an open game plan that got receivers down field more often. A bold game plan that should have been utilized more often in my humble opinion.
So what else is out there? Clem boldly and brazenly cheated his way to a Final Four. MarQueis Gray made a bold decision to
be the first 4-star recruit to commit to the Gophers in forever commit to the Gophers when he could have gone just about anywhere. There are Gopher fans here that have better and longer memories than I, what am I missing?