Bernie Bierman’s offensive philosophy basically boiled down to the following quote.
"A good running game behind good blocking is the smartest game. I pushed my players to perfect a fundamental game. Passing is a gamblers game, played by fools... I could take a team today, teach it to take the ball away from the other team on defense, control the ball on offense and beat the best of them with their new tangled fancy aerial attacks..."
Here are some numbers that prove how far he was willing to take his run first mentality.
Number of plays, runs and passes by down Minnesota teams 1932-1941
1st down - run 2,000 times, pass 184 pass attempts with a completion percentage 8.4%
2nd down - run 1,540 times, pass 213 attempts with a completion percentage 12.2%
3rd down - run 756 times, pass 230 attempts with a completion percentage 23.3%
* Sixty-six percent of first down running plays were power runs between the tackles, 60% of second down plays were also between the tackles, and 50% of third down plays were more of the same. Reverses were called 10% of the time, with end sweeps being called as frequently.
3rd down play calls Minnesota 1932-1941
Inside Minnesota 20 yard line Punt 85% Pass 1% run 13%
Minnesota 21-30 yard line Punt 58% Pass 4% Run 39%
Minnesota 31-40 yard line Punt 38% Pass 8% Run 48%
As you can see Bernie didn’t even bother to try for a first down if he was backed up near his end zone on 3rd down. And if he did go for it on 3rd down he rarely passed it. Other teams weren’t passing a ton more than Bernie but these numbers do offer up a comparison.
Passing Stats 1932 - 1941
The Gophers passed the ball 691 times for 233 completion (33.7%) for 3730 yards gained.
Other team passing stats:
Total passes 1005 for 371 completions (36.9%) for 5092 yards gained.
Turnovers played a big role in this, during the time period of 1932-1941 pass interference basically didn’t exist, leading to way more interceptions.
Turnovers, Runs, Passes Minnesota 1932-1941
Fumbles Lost 106 or 2.4% of total plays, INT 95 or 13.7% of total plays. Meaning a pass had a 1 in 7 chance at being picked off.
Minnesota only threw the ball if it had to or in years they had a good passer. Pug Lund was that player in 1932 and 1933, and it’s not a coincidence that those were the highest passing years of the Bierman era.