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Minnesota Football vs Northwestern Recap: Off the Cuff Thoughts

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That's right, drop the film quotes, it's time to get serious

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Editorial Note: I actually like the amount of disagreement in the comments recently regarding the state of the 2015 Golden Gopher football team. I enjoy a hearty debate and educated discourse. I think the amount of disagreement is actually an indication that the program has seen a decent amount of success and shows that people are passionate about the team. I hope that we can continue to disagree on various aspects of the 2015 Football Gophers while engaging in enlightening debate. Providing evidence is always a plus.

Generally I come to you in this forum to interject a bit of humor and optimism through the wondrous world of cinema. However, this past weekend has left me a bit salty and lacking in pertinent movie quotes. Instead I would like to use this weekly feature to discuss the rest of the Minnesota football season. I hope you will bare with me as the following will be mostly my opinion based on observation and very generic statistics. I'm sure many here will disagree with what I say but luckily, we have the comments section to argue with each other! So without further ado: Here. We. Go.

Ok, so I used one quote. Sorry.

First off, let's address the issue of quarterback. I approve of playing Demry Croft at the end of the Northwestern game IF the reason was to get the backup quarterback of this team meaningful reps in the occasion that Mitch Leidner is injured. I do not approve of the plan of starting Croft from here on out. My reasoning for this is simple: Mitch Leidner has proven to be a capable Big Ten quarterback. He was the quarterback for a team that went 5-3 in the Big Ten last year with a road win against a ranked Nebraska team. Was he the main reason we won these games? No. But he was the quarterback of a successful team that attended a New Years Day bowl and he was plenty capable of running the offense with serviceable efficiency. I still believe that he represents a good chance of winning football games against comparable competition. The game against Northwestern is just one game against an elite defense. No need to jump to conclusions just yet.

Furthermore, if people are going to continue to destroy Leidner for every mistake he makes and praise Croft for every single completion he garners, it's going to be both a long season and entirely insufferable. Wow, Croft throws a beautiful ball! It's so pretty how it spirals! Mitch only throws ducks! He's garbage and the only reason our offense has looked so inept! Put in the true freshman! Seriously, if we are judging success by how the ball looks, we're in trouble. Jay Cutler throws laser-spirals all over the field. Peyton Manning throws ducks in every direction. Guess who's 4-0 and who's the quarterback of probably the worst team in the NFL? You want to be critical of Leidner, that's fine and perfectly in your right to do. But it would be cool if we avoid a ridiculous double-standard when it comes to critiquing the two quarterbacks just because Croft is a true freshman.

Which leads me to my next point: saying Croft should start from here on out and we should accept the freshman mistakes as they come and chalk this up as a lost season is asinine and preposterous. Yes, we were shut out by Northwestern on Saturday. The offense has looked completely lacking in any type of explosive play. But please, remind me which Big Ten West team's offense looks explosive? Is it the Cornhuskers, who hung a massive 13 points on LOLlinois? Is it the Hawkeyes or Badgers, who combined for 16 points in Madison this weekend? Surely after watching Northwestern's offense this past weekend you didn't think to yourself, "OH MY GOODNESS, LOOK AT THOSE WILDCATS FLY ON OFFENSE!!!!!" They had a defensive touchdown and scored another on a 10-yard field after the special teams had a massive blunder of a punt. The Wildcat offense basically scored 13 points even though they had the ball for what seemed like 45 minutes of the game.

(SIDE RANT: Very few people have mentioned this but one of the reasons for the lack of success this year has been the completely underwhelming in every aspect special teams. Mortell has been mediocre. The return game has been anywhere from mediocre to disastrous. The field goal unit has been so-so. If we're going to bash the offense for being inept, can we also do the same to the special teams. They aren't getting it done and that hurts us when we're heavily reliant on field position to carry this team.)

I don't think we'll contend for a West title. I'm not delusional. But saying that we will be lucky to win six games this year or proclaiming it a lost season is awfully short-sighted. If the injuries continue to pile up and the offensive line shows zero improvement the rest of the season, OK fine, six wins might be the ceiling. But we've only played five games. How many times is a season over after five games? Are we 0-5? No. Are the other teams on our schedule world-beaters? Well, some people might think we can't win any games on our remaining schedule but I just haven't seen anything that leads me to believe we will be completely out-manned in any game remaining on the conference slate (outside of Ohio State at the Shoe).

Remember 2013? We beat a bunch of patsies in the non-conference schedule and then were utterly humbled by a mediocre Iowa team at home and destroyed by a mediocre Michigan team at the Big House, scoring a combined 20 points in the two games. We were an empty 4-2 and destined to finish with a losing conference record. We had a quarterback we were dissatisfied with and a younger, "better" option that would most definitely improve the offense tenfold if the coaches just released the reigns and let him go free. Well, after that whooping in the Big House, the Gophers won four straight conference games for the first time in decades, the quarterback play improved, the offense became respectable, and they finished with a 4-4 conference record. The young quarterback who people were clamoring to have play more was Mitch Leidner. Funny how things work isn't it?

Sure, getting shut out by a team is never good. But people do realize that Northwestern's defense, by most statistical measures, is one of the best in the country so far this year, right? They are currently 6th in the country in S&P+ defense. They held the Stanford Cardinal to 6 points. That's the same Cardinal team that has averaged 42.25 point per game in their other four contests, beat USC at the Coliseum, and just hung 55 points on a decent Arizona team. But no, let's not look at facts, let's just say the world is ending, Mitch Leidner is the worst quarterback in FBS, and we should start wondering if Jerry Kill is on the hot seat.

OR I present you an alternative mind set.... join me on what I like to call the "Sane Train" and examine these points:

  1. The Gophers are still 3-2. They have the same conference record as Wisconsin and Nebraska. Heck, they almost had the same conference record as the vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes, who squeaked by FREAKING INDIANA on Saturday.
  2. The two Gophers losses are to teams currently ranked #2 and #13 in the AP Poll in TCU and Northwestern, respectively. In other words, it's not like we've lost to Illinois like some people...
  3. The Big Ten West, and heck the Big Ten in general after watching Michigan State and Ohio State's performances on Saturday, is still wholly unknown. Right now Iowa and Northwestern look like the bee's knees but do you really expect them to go wire to wire as the top dogs? I'm not saying we have any chance of winning the West but these teams are still figuring themselves out. We are a part of that shuffle.
  4. One thing that has consistently manifested itself in 4+ years of Jerry Kill-coached Gopher squads is the ability to play better as the year goes on. We lost to TCU 30-7 last year. Did our offense stay atrocious? No, it didn't. Did our defense get any better by the end of the season? Why yes in fact it did.
Before you peg me as some unreasonable Pollyanna, don't take this assessment of the season thus far the wrong way. We could definitely lose to Purdue this coming Saturday and it wouldn't surprise me all the much. I suppose we COULD lose every game the rest of this season. But look at our defense. Look at our coaches. Look at the way this story has played out before. You realize Limegrover was the offensive coordinator the last two seasons when we won 4 and 5 conference games, right? Or do you just want to focus on the time we scored zero points against an elite defensive unit?

TCU averages 50.8 points per game. That's second in the nation in scoring. Their advanced profile is pretty good too because they currently sit at 11th in S&P+ offense. We held that team to 23 points, with 7 of them a result of a blown blocking assignment 15 yards from the endzone. If the secondary can get healthy, who's to say this defense can't carry this team to some wins in an ugly Big Ten West? According to S&P+, the Gophers are projected to finish the season 4-3. Now, some of you might dismiss this as statistical hogwash because you've seen this team play and you've seen this inept offense in action and you know this team isn't winning another game this season because they are the worst thing in the history of college football, Mitch Leidner couldn't hit water in a boat in the middle of the ocean, and Matt Limegrover couldn't scheme an offensive drive against a Peewee squad of 6 year-olds. And that's perfectly fine because at the Daily Gopher, everyone is entitled to their opinion and we enjoy sharing and discussing those opinions. But the facts speak to the possibility of a rebound and the projections speak to the fickle nature of college football. Let's not all throw in the white towels just yet. The conference season is just getting started and I for one will not doubt this staff and this team until the record and statistical profile dictate that I should.