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Minnesota Football: Charting the Offense Against Ohio

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We look at a much better showing by the offense.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A much better offensive performance this week. Minnesota did a good job staying on schedule throughout the game. The offense was far less predictable, and even made use of constraint plays to the flat. What a concept!

As a reminder, I'm staying deliberately simple in what to chart. 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.

From my comments this week, Minnesota's actual play calling was simple but effective. Mitch Leidner was effective passing the ball, particularly on intermediate throws and passes to the flat. Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith will make a terrifying 1-2 punch for the rest of the season. Brooks's two long runs were near perfection. Smith looks like he's in a video game most of the time. I enjoyed his ability to break out the spin move and use it to maintain acceleration after contact.

The WR corps had a much better day. Outside of some miscommunication on a few deep routes and a drop ball by Wolitarsky, the receivers helped out Leidner. Limegrover's decision to return to quick flat routes followed by deep shots was sound.

I have only two negative comments about the play calling. The first is that the Gophers continue to run the Jet Sweep as a handoff between Leidner and Maye. They need to stop executing that play in that fashion. As West Virginia showed in 2012 (and Bob Stitt still earlier) the Jet Toss is superior in every way. The hand off exchange is fumble prone. Toss the ball to the receiver, and now you have a pass play. It's still possible to fake off the jet toss, but in a much safer manner.

Second, stop throwing fades. Fades are the worst passing play call. Oh, you have a huge receiver playing against a smaller defensive back? Have him run a quick slant and use his body to get position. Are you worried about the timing of the slant? Run a crossing route, or a flood concept. Heck, run a curl. Run any other passing play. The fade continues because the idea of a jump ball is safe and conservative, even though the success percentage is low. Fades demand far more accuracy and touch than is necessary. Remove it from the playbook.

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 five scoring drives, four of which were drives of 50 yards or more. Against Ohio, Minnesota had average to poor starting field position for most drive. The defense and special teams did not play up to their potential. Minnesota had many explosive plays that kept the offense on the field. The majority of these plays were basic screens, power runs, or go routes.

Offensive Variance

This chart looks much better than last week's. Minnesota had the majority of their explosive plays on first and second down. Consider the run part of this graph. The two dots are Shannon Brooks going HAM. As mentioned above, Leidner had a good day throwing the ball. The offensive line gave him more time, and receivers did a better job of breaking free of their coverage.

Like last week, the Gophers rarely pushed tempo, however, there was a greater mixture of plays. Minnesota was comfortable running pass and run plays out of every formation. The next chart looks at the total yardage by personnel.

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. In this game, the Gophers ran a few plays that only sent one wide receiver wide, which I dubbed 23. In reality, I imagine this was a 22 with the the H-back moved to the line. 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.

Unlike last week, the Gophers used a greater variety of formations on all downs. The 10 on first down was the 2 minute drill. Since the TCU game, it has been clear that this is Mitch Leidner's best formation. He is dramatically more comfortable in a HUNH with four wide outs. In addition, Minnesota's ability to run Power or a Read Option out of this formation continues to impress. With the defense spread out, Minnesota can adopt a spread to run offense. The same observation applies to the 11 grouping.

Further contrasting from last week, Minnesota ran Power out of 22 far better against Ohio than Kent State. It is possible that Kent State's run defense is legit, but further video analysis would almost certainly reveal that the Gophers simply executed better against the Bobcats. The line had consistent push, and the backs did a good job of reading the play and moving fast to the second level.

Conclusion

Credit where credit is due. Matt Limegrover called an excellent game this week. For next week, Minnesota needs to get healthy. If they can, there is a formula for success embedded in the last few games. An up tempo offense with formations designed to keep the defense defending the entire width of the field should allow the run game to flourish.