Many Gopher fans are frustrated with the current state of the offense, especially the passing game. This led me to take a closer look at how the program has progressed over the last 4 years and how it compares to NIU from 2008-2013. In my first article, I will be focusing on the offense using FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index) and S&P+. An average team has an FEI rating of 0 with positive numbers being better and an S&P+ of 100 with numbers above 100 being better.
EDIT: Updated charts for clarity. NIU with Kill is red, Minnesota is gold, and NIU post-Kill is black
Overall Offensive FEI and S&P+
The similarity between 2008-10 NIU and 2012-14 Minnesota stood out to me. I was surprised (though I probably shouldn't have been) that the offense Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover inherited at Minnesota was worse and took longer to fix than the one he inherited at NIU. Minnesota now has a serviceable P5 offense, but is it appropriately balanced to take the next step? How close are the Gophers to replicating NIU's offensive success?
S&P+ Rushing and Passing Ratings
The running game appears to be right on target based on Kill and Limegrover's rebuild at NIU. One thing that NIU had that Minnesota has not is stability at QB. Chandler Harnish was the man from 2008-2011 and was followed by Jordan Lynch in 2012 and 2013. In Kill's 4 years at Minnesota we have seen MarQueis Gray & Max Shortell in 2011, Gray/Shortell/ Philip Nelson in 2012, Nelson & Mitch Leidner in 2013, Leidner (and 1 game of Streveler) in 2014, and Leidner in 2015. The passing game is slowly trending in the right direction, but the lack of consistency at QB looks to have hampered some of the expected growth. We are now in Leidner's 4th year in the system--3rd year playing and second year starting--so I would like to see an improvement in S&P+ passing ratings to the level that Harnish hit in 2010. I don't think Leidner has a big jump in him, but steady improvement will do wonders for this offense.
There is no question that Kill and Limegrover have built a formidable running game at Minnesota. As recruiting continues to improve, Minnesota should establish a Wisconsin-esque ground game. I also wasn't terribly surprised to see that the passing game is close to peak NIU levels. While this is great for 4-4 or 5-3 conference seasons, we need to see a larger jump, similar to the one in the rushing game, to get to the next level. It will likely take an increase in talent (as well as stability) to see the needed jump. Fortunately for Gopher fans, recruiting is really starting to improve and #FACILITIESMAS is right around the corner.
My final thought is this: Kill is building this program for the long haul. It is okay if they don't win the division this year (says the guy who picked 10-2 (7-1) and a trip to Indy) as the team isn't built for one shot at glory. He is building a program that will consistently compete for division crowns and eventually conference championships. The program will take steps back along the way but the floor and ceiling will continue to rise. Patience is most difficult when the reward is closest. This doesn't mean expectations should not be raised, tbut it does mean that everything doesn't need to be burned down when those expectations aren't met every step of the way. I also learned how to keep articles under
2000 1000 600 words!
Coming Up Next
We'll take a closer look at the defensive progression.