Your humble blog correspondent had a tough time rewatching the Northwestern game. I only have one chart to show before I spend some time editorializing.
You may believe that I used these colors for the colorblind readers. You would be wrong. I used these colors because they best represented the vomit inducing performance on Saturday. For the record, each one of these bars represents a Minnesota drive. It begins at the starting field position, and is filled in based on the result of the drive. In case a reader missed the game on Saturday, the Gophers did not score.
Let that sink in. The Gophers were shut out against Northwestern. The last time that happened? 1958.
For those in the fanbase who assumed that the problems were solely on Mitch Leidner, Croft checked in on drive 10. During those drives, Northwestern brought in substitutes on defense. Croft's passes were almost picked on three occasions. He was sacked, hurried, or forced to scramble out of the pocket a fifth of his plays. As fans, we can continue to pretend that every single problem with the offense is due to the quarterback, or we can expand our focus to look at the unit as a whole.
Croft did not change the fact that a team built on a power running game is too banged up to move the line back. Perhaps you do not blame injuries, an argument I find wrong but defensible. Then the Gophers are faced with the problem of being a power run team that is incapable of consistently running power.
But maybe that's being too "apologist," whatever that may mean. As fans in comments and on Twitter felt necessary to mention, Croft has never played in a game before and Leidner has played for three years. This is both true and irrelevant. Croft could have played for three years and it would not have made his receivers more open, or made his protection more compact. Croft's spiral does not override the systemic problems with play calling.