It’s a relief to talk about Gopher football in terms of actual football performance for a change.
Minnesota has released the latest position chart ahead of the Holiday Bowl, and well, it’s a good thing it isn’t officially called a “depth” chart.
There are few surprises here, but unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of good news either.
On the offensive side, Mitch Leidner will get the nod at quarterback, with Conor Rhoda at the #2 spot. Let’s be real though. The real backup is bad!Mitch Leidner who will inevitably and inexplicably show up for at least a few snaps in the second half, and especially if the Gophers have built a halftime lead.
Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks will get the majority of the carries at running back, but the Gophers are without the services of Kobe McCrary. Although McCrary had not played much towards the end of the regular season, not having another running back just to spell Smith and Brooks might be a problem.
The wide receiver corps will be much as it was during the season, with Drew Wolitarsky, Rashad Still and Eric Carter as the starters with Nate Wozniak getting the nod at tight end. Brandon Lingen is not listed on the depth chart, so it’s probably safe to assume the injury that kept him out of the Wisconsin game is still a problem.
The depth chart on the offensive line hasn’t changed much since the Wisconsin game, but a healthy offensive line is not a luxury the Gophers currently enjoy. As Tracy Claeys noted earlier, the line is pretty beat up, and OG Jared Weyler (not currently on the depth chart) is doubtful for the bowl game.
Claeys on the health of his OL: "That's the one place where we weren't real deep...we're still beat up." Couple of GT decisions coming.— Ryan Burns (@RyanBurnsMN) December 26, 2016
Things on the defensive side of the ball are at least slightly worse.
Linebacker Cody Poock is not listed on the depth chart, so the linebacking corps will be just as it was a few weeks ago. Jonathan Celestin, Nick Rallis and Jack Lynn will get the start. This unit has played together enough this season to expect solid performance from them against Washington State.
That’s also true for the defensive line, where starters Steven Richardson, the Ekpe brothers, and Gaelin Elmore all have sufficient experience and ability to make their presence felt. Getting pressure on Cougs’ quarterback Luke Falk is going to be critical in this bowl game. Falk has thrown for over 4000 yards this season, has a 70% completion rate, and an approximate 4:1 TD-to-interception ratio. In short, he’s good and it’s going to take a real effort to stop Washington State’s air attack.
But let’s talk about the secondary. The recent suspensions means starters KiAnte Hardin and Antoine Winfield, Jr. will not be available against Washington State. That’s also true for Ray Buford, Jr. and Antonio Shenault who have been key contributors in the secondary. Although Coney Durr, Kunle Ayinde, and Duke McGhee are serviceable backups, it’s not clear if they have the experience—or frankly, the talent—to make a significant mark against Washington State’s talented receiving corps, although River Cracraft has been sidelined with a knee injury.
Damarius Travis and Jalen Myrick are going to have to carry most of the load in the defensive secondary in this game, and as a testament to the Gophers’ lack of depth, Eric Amoako is the only listed backup at both cornerback positions.
On a positive note, the special teams unit has remained solid through the year, and the depth chart doesn’t reveal any significant kinks. Expect to see a lot of Emmit Carpenter and Ryan Santoso in the Holiday Bowl.
Finally, we’ve been behind the 8-ball a lot this season, both on the field and off. The recent distractions don’t bode well for a great performance in the bowl game. On the other hand, sometimes it takes adversity (whether real or self-inflicted) to rise to the occasion, to surprise opponents and fans alike. Let’s hope that’s true for this edition of the Golden Gophers.