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Seven Things from the Minnesota Gophers 30-7 Loss to TCU

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Where we try to find positives before we talk Leidner, Turf Toe, and the lack of offense.

Cooper Neill

Fine, because GN claims the sky isn't falling, I'll try and find at least a few positive things from that debacle of a gong show...

I DIDN'T HAVE TO WATCH THE WHOLE GAME

There. That's...something? Right? Well at least for me. Sorry for all of you who sat through the entire game. I DVR'd the game because I couldn't watch it right at 3pm, so I started watching on DVR about 90 minutes after kickoff and stopped watching right before halftime when the Gophers got the ball with time AND timeouts remaining, and chose to run up the middle on three straight plays then punted. Since Coach Kill was declaring his team was done at halftime, I figured I should be too. Watched a few of the other games that were on (fine, it was mostly just Iowa/Iowa State. Keep icing the kicker, Kirk), and went for a walk with the wife, baby and dog on a pretty nice afternoon. Did not regret it one bit, though pretty sure my lovely wife wasn't happy about me complaining the entire walk about our dumpster fire of a team. But bottom line, it was a much more positive experience for me to turn the game off at halftime.

On the topic of watching other games, just a quick aside here- one of the many, many things I enjoy about college football over the NFL is that with pro football, you generally only have one game on at a time, and chances are, that game is at commercials. With college football, once the games start at 11am, you're pretty much guaranteed to have no less than three games on at one time for the next 12+ hours. I do not watch NFL games live anymore because there's so many commericals, but college? The commerical breaks just give me a chance to check out like 6 other games going on at the same time.

MAYBE TCU IS REALLY, REALLY GOOD

That would help us all feel better, wouldn't it? After a two year blip of mediocrity (or worse) to start their time in the Big 12, maybe TCU is back to being the elite program they were prior to joining a BCS Big 5 conference. In JD's weekly Q&A with the opposition, he asked TCU blog Frogs O War why the Horned Frogs had struggled so much in their first two years in the Big 12. Their answer:

The first issue was the "purple haze" incident- the massive drug bust that went on in the 2012 offseason that crushed our depth and removed several starters (particularly on the O-line) which pressed freshmen into a few key starting roles...with the offense piloted by All-MWC quarterback Casey Pachall we got through a monsoon in the next game, when halfway through the prep week of our first conference home game, Casey went for a drunken drive and ended up removed from the team for the remainder of the season...All told I'd say perhaps 30% of the struggles we've had are about the actual upgrade in competition, and 70% are from a number of exceedingly poor one-off kinds of situations.

In some ways those reasons- suspensions and QB injuries/stupidity that hurt their depth and offense- could be seen as just excuses. After watching TCU dismantle the Gophers in pretty much all facets of the game, maybe those reasons were legit after all. Because the Horned Frogs sure looked like the real deal. TCU was a big-time program in their non-BCS conference days, and despite the poor record the past two seasons, their defense remained really good. Well the kids seem to be taking to the new offense just fine and the D looked as fast and tough as ever. Oklahoma and Baylor look like the class of the Big 12 this year, but TCU could very well jump into contention for the conference title or big bowl game.

If they do that, maybe we'll look back on this one at the end of the year and feel a little better about it. There's also this...

IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T NOTICED, THE B1G WEST HAS NOT BEEN GOOD SO FAR

Misery loves company, AMIRITE? The B1G as a whole has been kicked in the teeth through the first three weeks, and just about all of the West division have struggled to various degrees. The Gophers at 2-1 are in a three-way tie for second. Sure, nobody in the division has played a conference game yet, but that's not the point. The point is...the Gophers are tied for second! Sconnie and Nebraska are likely still the teams to beat in the division, but they've looked pretty mortal thus far (which is good considering the Gophers have to travel to both Madison and Lincoln in November. Thanks again, Overlord Delaney!), and if you really want to feel better about things, just head over to BHGP and see how Iowa is doing. Guaranteed to put a smile on any Gopher fans' face!

I HOPE MATT LIMEGROVER IS NOT JERRY KILL's "JOHN HILL"

To Gopher Hockey fans, I apologize for rehashing this. For non-Gopher hockey fans, I'll make this quick: John Hill is a long-time friend and former assistant coach of current Gopher Hockey head coach Don Lucia. Hill was an assistant at The U after resigning/seeing-the-writing-on-the-wall from UAA where he had four mostly unsuccessful seasons at the head guy for the Seawolves. When Lucia and prominent assistant/D Coach Mike Guentzel had a falling out in 2008, Guentzel left and Hill was promoted to work with the D. From 2008-11 Gopher Hockey had quite literally their worst three year stretch in program history, and while there were a number of factors at work, their poor defense and lack of development for their kids on the backend stuck out. Lucia finally pulled the plug and canned his good buddy Hill, and perhaps not so coincedentally also brought back Guentzel to replace him. Since then, the Gophers have reclaimed their spot as The Yankees of College Hockey as one of the premiere programs in the country.

How this relates to Jerry Kill is this: it's great that he has so many loyal assistants he's had around forever, but what happens if one of them isn't good enough at this level? Can Kill look past his long-time friendship and make the right decision for the offense and the program? We're not there yet, but if we go through another season of a stagnant offense that cannot establish any kind of identity against Power 5 conference opponents, it will be time to start asking that question.

Saturday's game was an absolute embarrassment on offense, and while I did not expect Minnesota to win vs TCU, I at least expected them to be competitive. Of course, thanks to the offense they were anything but. My concern is not so much that they weren't able to pass, it's that they couldn't run the ball either, and this is not a new issue. Since 2013 the Gophers have now played 10 games vs BCS Power 5 Conferences (the eight B1G games last season, the bowl game vs Syracuse and TCU last Saturday), and here are their offensive averages: 

RUSHING PASSING
Att Yards Avg TD Att Comp % Yards Avg/Att TD INT TOTAL YDS 1st Down
42.8 150.8 3.35 0.7 118 23.4 46.32 167.3 4.32 1.2 0.8 318.1 17.1

 

In those 10 games Minnesota is 4-6 with an average score of 17.4 - 23.9. A team whose offensive identity is supposed to be running the football is only averaging 151 rushing yards per game and 3.3 per carry against quality opponents. We're into year four under Kill/Limegrover, and pretty much every player are guys they've recruited and feel should fit in this offense. For all of former coach Glen Mason's warts, he was at least able to establish an identity as a running team early, and by year three they were able to run the ball pretty well on pretty much everyone.  The identity of this team is supposed to be a power run game, and yet in the past 10 games vs Power 5 opponents with experienced, quality linemen and running backs, they've had difficulty gaining traction or positive results, especially in their most recent four games, which have all been losses.

Limey has shown an ability to be creative and draw up a winning offense- see the Nebraska upset last season or the following week road win vs Indiana when the Gophers piled up both yards and points both on the ground and through the air in a 42-39 win over IU. But that creativity and the apparent ability to adapt to what a defense is doing has been few and far between of late for Limegrover, or over his four year tenure as OC of the Gophers. The first two years I can understand growing pains, but by year three you should start establishing an identity (which they did at times) and by year four you should be able to do SOMETHING well.

The other troubling part of this is how much the O-Line got pushed around by TCU. Fine, TCU is fast and strong and a good defense- but the Gophers had no line push and couldn't open holes for the backs or QBs. The O-line is supposed to be Limegrover's specialty, but they were far from special in the loss. And please don't give me excuses about injuries- every team has them, and part of the strength of this line is supposed to be the depth. Behind the starters are some pretty promising players who have been in this system for a number of years. What happened to next man up?   

I'm not calling for Limegrover's head (yet) or saying we need to abandon the entire offense and start over, but I'm concerned that in Year 4 not only can the Gophers not pass on quality opponents, but they can't run either.

I believe in Coach Kill. I believe in Coach Claeys. I believe Coach Limegrover has to be better. Hopefully we see progress and better results going forward.

THE QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL CONTINUES- PROBABLY

I hate that the Gophers have only played three games, and we're already looking at a QB controversy- for the third year in a row. Sunday news broke that QB Mitch Leidner broke a bone in his left foot in the loss to TCU. Then it was maybe only a broken toe. Then it was not. Now in his presser today Kill is apparently calling it "Turf Toe" and he'll practice today. Still, if true it means Moose likely won't be right the rest of the season, as that is just a brutal injury for a mobile QB. 

So is this Chris Streveler's team then? Should it be? Before we get to that a few words on Leidner: His previous knee injury likely affected Leidner's ability to run and cut decisively in the TCU game, and perhaps it affected his ability to step into his throws. But he looked tenative and indecisive, and the option he usually chose to throw to was well covered. Leidner threw three picks and was lucky to not throw at least two or three more, and as bad as the numbers were for that game (12/26 for 151 yds and 3 picks) I still don't think it quite sums up how poorly he played.

Look, I have no idea what's going on behind the scenes up until now- I don't know how he's being coached, how he's looked in practice or what reads or cues they're telling him to look for. Clearly it didn't work vs TCU in a game where they needed to throw, and it didn't even work that well in the previous two where they really didn't. I am not ready to give up on Mitch this season because that kid who threw so well at a 7-on-7 camp to earn a scholarship offer is still in there. So is the guy who threw it pretty well in the bowl loss vs Syracuse. The Leidner we saw most of 2013 may not have been accurate but he was at least confident and carried himself that way. The one we've seen thus far in 2014 has been the opposite. I wish I had the magic cure to free up Moose to get that swagger back and trust himself and the decisions he makes, but I don't. I just really hope the coaches can figure it out

If the injury news of Leidner having turf toe is true, then any arguments about how good or bad he's been are rendered pretty much moot. It's going to be very difficult for him to do the things that are asked of a QB in this system (don't you DARE say something snarky like "you mean like NOT throw?" or "Wait, you mean he could be worse at passing than he's already been? That's not possible" Don't you dare say anything like that!), as it will severely limit how well and quickly he is able to cut, plant, and change directions. Or just plant and throw. Or just stand. Maybe it's a minor injury and Moose will be fine, but more likely he's going to have difficulty running- and running this offense. I want Leidner to succeed for more reasons that I'm just sick of the Freshman QB Carousel, but if this news is true, it likely means we're in for another spin this year sooner rather than later.

SO CHRIS STREVELER THEN

I have no idea whether Chris Streveler is any better at passing than Leidner and to be honest, he doesn't either. Nobody really does yet, and I'm not sure we'll have any more of an idea after this Saturday. He went 2 for 3 for 18 yards and a TD vs TCU's second string, and he'd likely be just fine vs San Jose State this weekend. After that however, Minnesota is pretty much out of games where they're going to be able to run on every down and win. We know he can run well when given the chance, but that all changes when teams scheme for you as the starter and don't respect the pass- those open running lanes will be much harder to come by if the passing game (and quite frankly the running game and blocking) don't improve. If he starts Saturday he'd be the fourth freshman to do so in four years, and I'll admit I have less confidence in him than the previous three, mostly because we've just seen so little of him. Then again, of those previous three, two have left the program (Shortell and Nelson) and Leidner has been less than stellar. With the turf toe injury, it could be tough for him to improve. My guess is Leidner gives it a try, but I'd be surprised if we don't see Streveler some on Saturday. He probably deserves a chance to play more in meaningful series, but how badly Leidner is injured will likely dictate Streveler's playing time this weekend. As always, stay tuned.

FINALLY, ALL IS NOT LOST...YET

I have voiced my concerns and frustrations but for now, I'm trying to take a page from GN and his usual positivity: the season is far from over and conference play- in what looks to be a pretty crappy conference- is yet to start. If the Gophers get back on track vs SJSU they're just three wins from bowling, and there are possibilities galore amongst games against Purdue (1-2), jNW (0-2), Illinois (2-1), and Iowa (2-1). And who knows, maybe something crazy happens in the other four conference games? A six or seven win season is still well within reach and dare I say it's not crazy to say 4-4 in the B1G for the second straight year is still on the table. Let's see who plays QB this Saturday vs San Jose State and the next vs Michigan, and we'll hopefully have a better idea of what kind of seaosn we're in for. Hopefully this loss to TCU was the last game where I'll gladly turn it off at halftime.