Gopher football sits at 3-3 through six games and they have just six games remaining. Every year we wait a very long time from the bowl game to the opening Thursday night game, hard to believe that it is halfway through the season already.
The team was fortunate to have a bye week after the Michigan dismantling and two weeks to prepare for Iowa. But before we dig into Hate Week, it is time for some midseason grades.
Even with the caveat that your 13-year starting quarterback graduated along with an all-time great running back and 3/5 of your offensive line, this offense has been disappointing. An emphasis was made on being more balanced and improving the passing game in the offseason. There was anticipation and excitement for Athan Kaliakmanis plus the addition of a couple receivers, but through 6 games this offense still runs the ball 64% of the time. Only Iowa has fewer pass attempts.
That ratio wouldn’t really matter if the offense was scoring points. Currently, the Gopher offense ranks 10th in the Big Ten in scoring with 3 games of 13 points or less. Again, fewer points than Iowa.
This unit has struggled to score in the red zone, they struggle in short-yardage situations and the play-calling has been frustrating. If were not for the emergence of Darius Taylor at running back, this grade would be much worse.
Kaliakmanis has been mostly disappointing ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten in most passing categories. Through 6 games, he has had just 2 where he threw more touchdowns than interceptions and it seems as though the staff is trusting him less and less to throw the ball. I started with a higher grade than the D+, but the further I dug into his season, the more dire it appeared.
The talent is there and the mistakes seem to be correctable. It is a learning curve for the young Gopher, but it hasn’t been great sophomore season for Kaliakmanis...yet.
Running Back (B+)
This really could be an A but for the confounding decisions being made by the coaching staff when it comes to who they put on the field. In the week 1 game against Nebraska it was Bryce Williams and Sean Tyler getting 16 of the 17 running back carries. And they were not very successful. Williams was injured for the 2nd game of the season and Darius Taylor was thrust into action. Where he proved that he’s the most talented back on the team and maybe the most exciting freshman running back in the country.
Did he magically improve from week 1 to week 2 or was he being held back for some unknown reason? It makes no sense. And don’t get me started on Zach Evans who was buried on the depth chart until he was absolutely needed and then he was really good as well.
The good news is that Taylor is fantastic. Tyler has very good speed and Evans is also a quality back. The running game, even after the graduation of Ibrahim, is in great shape.
Wide Receiver / Tight End (B-)
Daniel Jackson has already matched his career high in touchdowns and is on pace to easily surpass career highs in receptions and yardage. He has been a play-maker for the Gopher offense.
Corey Crooms Jr. has been a solid addition from the portal as well.
But the rest has been just OK. Chris Autman Bell has either been too injured to be effective or his plethora of career injuries has left him ineffective. Le’Meke Brockington was actually making some key plays before being lost for the season due to a bad injury.
At tight end, Brevyn Span Ford has had a disappointing season. Partly due to his quarterback and partly due to some key drops.
Offensive Line (B)
Up and down for this unit but it's been much better than I anticipated, especially in the running game. Not perfect and it seems as though they have performed best when true freshman Greg Johnson has been at guard in place of Martes Lewis (again with the interesting roster decisions).
This unit isn’t perfect, but it’s been fine.
After the Nebraska and Eastern Michigan games, this unit appeared to be the one side of the ball we could trust. But this side of the ball has really struggled since then. Hemorrhaged big plays to North Carolina, we don’t need to talk about the Northwestern debacle and they really stood no chance against Michigan.
Defensive Line (B)
This group has been a pleasant surprise overall. Kyler Baugh is among the Big Ten leaders in tackles for loss and Danny Striggow is also getting to the quarterback. Deven Eastern and Jalen Logan-Redding have been solid as well.
This group has been an improvement over last year’s group.
A little unfair to judge this group since the unit’s best player hasn’t yet played and his replacement has been a redshirt freshman. Hopefully Cody Lindenberg returns soon but Devon Williams and Maveric Baronowski have been fine. Baronowski has great instincts and a nose for the ball, but it’ll take some time before things become more natural for the freshman.
A few too many missed tackles, but this unit hasn’t been the problem.
So many big plays allowed. Net yards, the Gopher ranks 12th in the Big Ten. But in passing efficiency they are 14th. Thankfully Iowa can’t pass the ball.
Tyler Nubin and Justin Walley were going to be the reliable leaders of the back end of the Gopher defense, and they’ve been...fine. Jack Henderson has had moments of making some plays.
But collectively this group has just not been working very well together.
Special Teams (F)
No comment is necessary.
I still think this is a bowl team, and not just a 5-7 team who makes a bowl because of our stellar APR score. Can they go 3-3 to finish the season, I really hope that stupid Northwestern loss doesn’t hold them back in a significant way.
To be fair, if you could take away that Northwestern debacle, this team is sitting at 4-2 and exactly where most reasonable people thought they would be. But it hasn’t been pretty this year and there are some underlying concerns.
Perhaps the bye week has come at the perfect time for the Gopher staff and team. Five of the remaining 6 games are quite winnable and they may even be favored in 3 of them. I continue to have faith that this staff typically improves their team throughout the season so I fully expect these grades will improve...hopefully.
Let’s start with a win over Iowa!