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Minnesota Football: Charting the Offense vs. Kent State

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A summary of Minnesota's offensive woes against Kent State

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you that follow me on the twitters (shameless plug @UStreetTDG), you are already aware that I have begun a charting project to put actual data to the discussion of Minnesota's offense or lack thereof. I put together some graphs based on the Kent State game. I plan to put one of these out every week to give an explanation of what the Gophers are doing well and where improvement is needed. Spoiler for the rest of this post, the latter is everywhere.

One difficulty with charting is deciding what to track. Bill Connelly tried to do a full charting project before giving it up due to lack of interest (and lack of dollars). My first cut is deliberately simple. I record the drive number, starting field position, down and distance, the personnel grouping, whether the play was a run or a pass, the result of the play, and include comments for each play. This week #RUTM was a frequent comment because I am not an expert like Derek Burns. #FollowDerekBurns

From my comments this week, I agree with the view that Mitch Leidner had a poor game throwing the ball. Both interceptions and KJ Maye's drop were direct results of poorly thrown balls. I also agree that the offensive line had major issues, and that play calling was a contributor to the offensive woes.

On to the data.

Offensive Drives

Each drive begins at the starting field position, and is colored by the result of the drive. The Gophers had three drives of 40 yards or more. Two of those ended in points, and one of them was Kent State's fumble recovery for a touchdown. Minnesota had good field position for most of the second half drives, but could not convert. Instead, the Gophers spent a lot of time practicing Einstein's definition of insanity and then punting.

Offensive Variance

Minnesota had problems across the board on offense. The Gophers had tremendous difficulty remaining on schedule throughout the game. The Gophers ran the ball 60% of the time against Kent State, but they were predictable by down. Some of that is reasonable. Third down was pass heavy because of the large number of third and long situations. Limegrover had no option but to call a passing play.

First and second down tell a different story. The next chart plots the distribution of play calls by down. That is, whether the Gophers ran or passed the ball. See if you can spot a pattern that Kent State's defense may have picked up.

There's predictable, and then there's constantly running Power on first down against eight and nine man fronts.

Personnel grouping was also predictable. Minnesota ran 32 plays with at least two tight ends on the field, and ran the ball 85% of the time. Over 80% of the time, the call was a #RUTM. The Gophers rarely pushed tempo, and from a play calling standpoint were playing the equivalent of Tecmo Bowl.

Some caveats about this chart. First, I use 10 personnel to refer to a 4 WR set. The Gophers frequently put a TE in the slot, so terminologically this usually would count as 11. Second, 22 refers to two men in the backfield, not strictly speaking two running backs. Third, this chart is not causal because it is not the case that just having 10 personnel in the game on third down means the Gophers will get a long gain.

With that said, it's interesting to see how rarely the Gophers lined up in certain personnel. They never had a 4 WR set on 1st down, and never had two tight ends and two men in the backfield on second down. Against TCU, the Gophers regularly lined up with 4 WR on first down to spread the field, preventing TCU from loading the box. With the line struggling, it is surprising that Limegrover never went to this formation early to run.

Conclusion

As I mentioned, I'm going to be charting each game going forward. I have also charted the TCU game, but not the Colorado State game because only a masochist would want to rewatch that game. If you are interested in helping, let me know in the comments.