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Minnesota Football: The Sanford & Simon offense offers a few new wrinkles

Tight end touchdowns, two-back sets, and Trey Potts in space

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Saturday’s season-opening loss to Michigan was the first game of the Sanford & Simon era at Minnesota, and it was an inauspicious start to say the least. But new offensive co-coordinators Mike Sanford Jr. and Matt Simon’s unit was far from the Gophers’ biggest problem, and I’m not sure how fair an assessment you can make considering they were trailing virtually the entire game and under pressure to score on every possession.

Most fans came into the game wondering how Sanford would put his own unique stamp on the Gophers’ offense, and there were a few interesting new wrinkles worth calling attention to.

Welcome to the passing game, Ko Kieft

Everyone knew the tight ends were going to be more involved in the passing game this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected it to be on the Gophers’ second offensive play of the game or that Ko Kieft, specifically, would be the beneficiary.

Kieft is split out on the hash on the wide side of the field and then runs a drag route across the middle of the field, cutting right through the Wolverines’ defensive backfield. Tanner Morgan is running a play-action bootleg and delivers Kieft his first career touchdown. The redshirt senior tight end finished the game with two receptions for 29 yards.

Treyson Potts out of the backfield

Redshirt freshman Treyson Potts seems to have secured the No. 2 running back spot behind Mohamed Ibrahim, although he only saw 13 snaps and drew five carries for 18 yards. But Potts is arguably more lethal in the open field than the backfield, and running backs coach Kenni Burns has confirmed as much, telling Gopher Illustrated earlier this month Potts is “a good route runner” and that he needs “to get Trey in space, as he is very explosive.”

Watch Potts after the play-action fake on this play:

Wide open down the sideline on the wheel route. Tanner Morgan never sees it. The Gophers are in max protection, with tight ends Bryce Witham and Jake Paulson in to block. Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell are running a mesh concept from opposite sides of the field to try and cross up the Michigan defenders and spring one of them free. Bateman is double covered in the back of the end zone. Autman-Bell does have inside leverage on Michigan cornerback Gemon Green, but Morgan feels pressure coming and badly overthrows him.

Mohamed Ibrahim leading the way

One interesting new wrinkle under Sanford was the introduction of a two-back set. Minnesota lined up in a pistol formation, with Potts two yards behind Morgan and Mohamed Ibrahim next to Morgan in the fullback spot. Here, Ibrahim becomes the lead blocker and impedes safety Brad Hawkins just long enough to spring Potts for a nine-yard gain and the first down:

Stop trying to make the jet sweep happen

My least favorite play-calls from Sanford were the jet sweeps to Bateman — which isn’t an entirely new concept for this offense because I recall the Gophers trying it on at least a few occasions with Tyler Johnson last season. Look what happens here on 1st & Goal, after Minnesota has already been backed up to the 7-yard line after a false start penalty:

I will concede that a fake sweep to Bateman earlier in the drive at least opened up Ibrahim for a big gain to set up the Gophers near the goal line, though I would argue that that had more to do with excellent blocking at the second level by the offensive line: