Sunday, September 14, 2014

Catharsis: Post-TCU

Well, that certainly wasn’t the game we were all hoping for. I figured we'd probably lose, but I was really surprised with the way it all went down. Maybe that’s a mistake on my part, certainly the first two games offered no indication that we would have any semblance of a balanced offense. But, I figured it given the inferior opposition we were up against in Eastern Illinois and Middle Tennessee State there was at least a chance, maybe a good chance, that we were holding the bulk of our playbook back. As I had been saying all week, one of two things was going to happen: either we had some pretty decent cards and were holding them uber close to the vest going into the TCU game or we were spectacularly limited with respect to offensive diversity and would explode in a blinding hot flash of ineptitude. Pretty safe to say the latter came to pass yesterday.

It wasn’t that we lost, it was the way that we lost. I certainly fall on the optimistic side of the spectrum, and even I didn’t hold out a great deal of hope that we were going to win the game yesterday. Despite TCU’s 4-8 record last season, I think they’re pretty good team. They’re loaded with upperclassman on defense, talented upperclassman too, and in today’s college football world that’s going to win you a lot of games by itself. They were limited offensively, but given our complete inability to move the ball their offense really didn’t need to do too much. In the instances where they weren’t given a short field, our defense was typically able to keep them off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, through turnovers and poor special teams play, that wasn’t the case very often.

I just didn’t expect in year four of Jerry Kill’s program we’d lose games in the manner in which we lost this one. Through the first half of the game there were literally no positives to take away. Our offensive line failed to generate any meaningful push, our quarterback play was beyond terrible, we couldn’t hold onto the ball, our special teams was poor and our play calling, at least on the offensive side, was remarkably uninspired. In short, this was Iowa 2013 revisited. (It’s all a little hazy, but if my memory serves me right, I pretty much quit the team after that loss. There’s no danger of that happening right now, though it may be better for my psychological health. I’m upset, but I’m not irate.) Following that loss, the collective Gopher spirit was as broken as it had been since Tim Brewster was canned. Many, including myself, were having a great deal of difficulty finding another win on the schedule. I don’t believe we’re quite at those levels of despair right now, but I definitely have my concerned pants on.

This was a bad loss, a really bad loss. But I don’t think we’ll know quite how bad it was until we’ve seen TCU play a few more games. If TCU’s defense plays as well over the coming weeks as they played against us, they may legitimately be a very good team. By with what they showed yesterday their defensive line and linebackers are more than capable of stopping the run. They are fast, make good reads, and don’t commit a lot of errors. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, that TCU’s defense will be the best we’ll see all season. Certainly, Ohio State will have something to say about that, but I haven’t seen much from our Big Ten competition to suggest that any are defensively elite. If TCU competes for the Big 12 title, or is at least in the conversation a few weeks into the conference slate, then we can conclude that this loss, maybe, wasn’t as bad as it feels today. We may find that we are a decent to good team, and TCU is a good to great team.

This is certainly grabbing at the most optimistic of straws. We will have had a chance to see our Gophers play a few times before we know whether TCU is an elite team. If we lose to San Jose State next weekend, get smoked by Michigan the following week or lose either of the next two games after Michigan (Northwestern and Purdue, both at home), we’ll know that we’re probably not even decent team. Frankly, we just have to hope that yesterday was an aberration. If we are truly as limited as we saw yesterday with respect to passing the ball, it’s tough to see us getting to six wins this season. Yes, TCU may have an elite defense; but we weren’t even close to producing anything through the air. Elite defenses don’t make you consistently throw the ball a full three feet from where you should be placing it (sure, a quarterback will be pressured and under that pressure miss his spot; but there weren’t more than three or four passes in the entire day yesterday that were on target - that’s more on the quarterback’s abilities then it is the quality of the defense). Further, there were at least two instances yesterday were one of our wide receivers was left wide open and the quarterback failed to identify him. If that’s going to be the modus operandi of our quarterbacks, then let’s just wander collectively up to Duluth and be consumed by the cold depths of Lake Superior.

For those who keep track of such things, yes, I was wrong. I genuinely thought that the Gophers had figured out a way to cure the offensive diseases they had last year. I watched Leidner in the open practices and it really looked like he knew what he was doing. He was poised, he checked down on occasion, he made the appropriate reads. I thought he played well at times last season, and with those incremental improvements he would be a middle of the pack Big Ten quarterback. While that still may be the case, we have seen absolutely nothing to suggest that’s what will happen. And today we learned that he now has a broken foot and his availability over the next few weeks is in question.
Now it’s up to Chris Streveler. I saw him in practice too, and he didn’t look as good as Mitch. While he appears to be super athletic I didn’t get the sense that he had a firm grasp of the offense at this point. No shame in that, he’s only been in the program for one season. About all that we can hope for, is that he’s a gamer whose best doesn’t come out in the practice environment (cue Allen Iverson). He’s certainly fast, so when he pulls the ball down and runs his speed can be a difference maker.

But we don’t run the triple option, we need our quarterbacks to throw the ball, preferably on target. Even yesterday, he would take his drop, look for a second or two, pull the ball down and run. Basically meaning that if his first receiver wasn’t open he wasn’t going to hang around and check down. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, though it obviously isn’t ideal – again, we need our quarterbacks to actually throw the ball. But the next option on the bench is probably Jacques Perra, a walk-on true freshman. If Streveler is consistently running with the ball, it’s only a matter of time until he gets hurt. I don’t know about you, but I’m not the slightest bit comfortable with trusting the offense to a true freshman quarterback. He might be the greatest quarterback in the Big Ten, who knows? But he’s had all of about seven weeks of the program, and almost certainly is limited in terms of his understanding of the offense.

So, there we are. We got our first loss out of the way in the typical Gophers nuclear holocaust style. I’d say our chances of winning the national championship, or even qualifying for the playoffs, are probably pretty limited right now. But we already knew that. We’re now back in the business of buying hope. Hoping that we see an offensive of renaissance similar to what we saw against Nebraska last year. Hoping that the true and redshirt freshman who now, frighteningly, comprise a fairly significant percentage of our two deeps, can stay fit and healthy and relatively free of mental breakdowns. Hoping that somehow, some way, we can take advantage of this historically bad Big Ten conference, and make some noise until late November.

This was one game. A bad, bad game, but only one game. It shouldn’t define the rest of the season. Here’s to hoping it won’t.

(Frothy's starting word count: 20,313; Finishing word count: 21,771)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Night Descent to the Fiery Depths of Despair: Pre-TCU

So, how about all those freshmen players this season, eh? We’re two weeks into the 2014 campaign, so it’s time to check back on how accurate our crystal ball is with respect to predicting the playing time given to true freshmen. Now, typically, we might wait a little later in the season to bust this feature out. But since the gods of the anterior cruciate have taken it upon themselves to remove half the ligaments from our team, our fresh-faced 18-year-old friends have been getting some pretty significant minutes. While I’m not sure if this is something that should concern us greatly at this point, my recommendation is to drink until it’s not numb anyway.

My gut feeling is that if a player hasn’t logged any minutes prior to the start of the B1G campaign, he probably won’t get in. Now while that’s certainly subject to change based on injuries and such, it seems to be a pretty good rule of thumb. Of course, I recognize that one could point to Philip Nelson (this is the second post in a row where I’ve mentioned Nelson, I really need to and that streak now) who got his first start against Wisconsin, at Camp Randall, two years ago. So, yeah, it certainly is beyond the realm of possibility. However, I think it’s pretty unlikely.

When I wrote my freshman players intro for the season, I predicted nine true freshmen would see the field this year. Eight have played thus far (/flexes), though I may have been off in terms of who those players were (/sad trombone). I had Gaelin Elmore and Steven Richardson playing along the defensive line getting some time with that group; I figured Melvin Holland and Isaiah gentry were shoo-ins to get some time at wide receiver this season; and, as a freshman defensive back, Craig James was essentially assured of getting on the field in some capacity. Additionally, I had four players who I expected would get some time on special teams is true freshmen: Andrew Stelter, Brandon Lingen, and linebackers Jonathan Celestine and Everett Williams. I thought it was possible that any of these four could have gotten some time at their positions, particularly in mop up duty in games where we were winning big; but with the depth in front of them, 

So, how did we do? Well we were right with Gaelin Elmore and Stephen Richardson. With the Scott Ekpe injury Stephen Richardson is taking over the starting role which, while surprising, wasn’t totally unexpected (and I might have said that he would get a start toward the end of the season, so I’m claiming it as a win). Craig James is logging quality minutes at cornerback, so I’ll take that as a win as well. As regards the wide receivers not so much: neither Melvin Holland nor Isaiah Gentry have played which, to me, is particularly surprising given the absence of Drew Wolitarsky. I figured it was a foregone conclusion that one, probably Holland, would have played when it was revealed that Drew would be out for the first game. That he hasn’t, suggests either the coaches see a lot more in practice from the incumbent wide receivers than we do (shocker) and that neither of the freshmen are ready to go. In recent days, Kill has intimated that perhaps one or two of the frosh wide receivers may get some playing time in the coming games.

And the four who I predicted would get some time on special teams? Well, they may very well have gotten some special teams play, but they’re also playing their positions on a regular or semi-regular basis. Stelter’s worked his way into the regular two deeps working at defensive end and defensive tackle. Lincoln is also in there fairly regularly as a Celestin. Everett Williams is the most recent player to have his redshirt taken as he subbed in on special teams after Nick Rallis went down, and got some mop up duty at middle linebacker toward the end of the MTSU game. Of those it seems like the only one that wasn’t planned in some capacity this Everett Williams; the other three got time in the first game before there were any injuries. Everett, on the other hand only came in once Rallis’ ACL got sniped by a vengeful god.

The instance that crushed my tiny, insignificant mind the most was when defensive tackle Gary Moore got in the game last week. When I saw number nineteen on the field midway through the second half of the MTSU game, the blood and brain matter sprayed forth from my ear. “How?” I thought, as my mind deposited itself, liquefied, on my shoulder. I saw Gary Moore play in the open practices, and while he was giant he played with the sort of consistency you would expect to see from someone getting playing time two seasons from now. He might look great on one play and then stand straight up for the next four and get exploded off the line. Lots of potential, making the “Baby Ra’Shede” nickname was applicable in that ‘Shede suffered from some of the same issues his first two years on the defensive line. Nevertheless he’s out there, his redshirt is been taken and we should now expect to see him going forward. For him to not receive significant playing time this year would vex me, as he’s going to grow and develop into the sort of dude who will be an effing monster in four years,

So, great, some freshmen are playing. So what? Well, of the 14 players in the two deeps of our front seven, six are freshmen, five of which are true freshmen. In my many years of drunken, agonizing Gopher fandom, I can never recall our defense being so young. Is it the end of the world? Probably not, it might be, who knows? (/gulps bourbon). I guess if you’re going to go out, go out in a flaming, relativistic jet of youth. That might be where we’re headed. Or maybe our recruiting game has just stepped up so much that the players were bringing now are materially better than the players we’ve had over the last few seasons. If you believe that the freshmen, the 18-year-olds kids, fresh out of their high school proms, which we’re bringing into the program are stronger, more athletic, faster, and more talented than players who have been in this program for the last three or four seasons, then great we’re in good shape. I’m skeptical, but I feel like that’s probably pretty natural. The TCU game tomorrow is really the first opportunity to see whether the freshmen who now comprise roughly half of our two deep in the front seven will stand up to a quality opponent.  

*     *     *

So, I got that Dragon speech recognition software and we’re going to give it a shot here to see how it goes. Straight up stream of consciousness yell crying at my computer right now….

Honestly, what the Christ is wrong with our fan base? I’m a pretty regular purveyor of the Gopher innertronz, so I read pretty much everything is out there that’s not on Gopherhole. (As desperate as I am for Gopher chatter, that polonium farm is too much even for me.) Over the last two weeks, I have seen more scathing hot takes concerning Kills’ poor management of the team, Limegrovers’ ineptitude or just general failures among the coaching staff with respect to the offense. I talked about this in my piece earlier this week, referencing that one of two things is happening: either we have been playing opposition that is inferior to us and consequently haven’t done anything imaginative on the offense or we have absolutely no plan whatsoever and it’s going to be run the ball until we’re consumed by fire.

Now, it’s possible the latter is the answer; but understand that would run counter to the entirety of Jerry Kill’s coaching history. Dynamic, multiple offenses the show myriad looks and are what has defined his philosophy. Do we genuinely believe that we have reached a point where they have entirely abandoned that and are now run at all costs? Just a big ol’ eff it, guys, to hell with our bread and butter? Certainly Limegrover’s commentary after last year’s Iowa game should give us pause. However it’s absurd to believe that they would away from everything that’s served them well throughout their professional lives. Overly stubborn, sometimes? Sure. Incompetently mulish? Nope, no way.

My concern going into tomorrow’s game is all about TCU’s defense, loaded with upperclassman and proven effective at stopping the run. Consequently that means were going to have to pass the ball to be successful and open things up a little (ANALYSIS). However, if we’re unable to do that against TCU, I don’t necessarily believe that that means that there is some deficiency with Kill or Limegrover. We won eight games last year. We have a tough schedule this year we may not win eight games this year; but I feel like we’re going to win somewhere between six and eight games and have a competent squad. I’ll knife fight anyone who claims that recognition of things taking a bit longer to get going offensively is some lame acceptance of mediocrity. We all want a quick fix, to score a million points and rack up 500 yards passing. We’re not there yet, not by any stretch. That doesn’t mean that all hope was lost or we need to fire our offense of coordinator or move Jerry Kill back up to the press box because the offense is much more effective without him there. It just means that maybe, gasp, maybe we just need to exercise a little bit of patience.

If things don’t go well tomorrow, and they very well might not, TCU is a quality team, some will conclude that we’re not going to win a single conference game, that Leidner has hooved feet, horns and lives in a lake of fire, that our wide receivers will rue the day they committed to Minnesota, that Limegrover should quit and open a Five Guys franchise and that Kill should coach from a La Z Boy in Yellowknife because his pernicious meddling is killing the program. I counter that if we perform well tomorrow, then we may have arrived. And if not, our course is true but there’s further to travel. I’m sure to some of you, that sounds like I’m acquiescing to the fact that we’re always going to be a meh program. So be it, I guess.

As I said in Tre’s piece previewing this week’s game, I think we’ll come out and move the ball much more effectively than people think we will. I think we’ll run as much as ever, but a modicum of success passing the ball will alleviate people’s concerns to some extent. We’ll just have trouble getting it in the end zone and that will be the difference in the game.

I hope this is the case. I hope that our offense effectively moves the ball. I hope that, win or lose, at least the offense demonstrates some ability to be productive. Because if we lose and the offense is a flaccid wreck, the outcry on Gopher boards over the coming week is going to be cause for taking a spoonful of Drano, heating that bitch up over a lighter and shooting that sweet rocket to see if I still feel. Should we be concerned? Yeah probably. Should we be demanding people’s heads on pikes on the Mall or burning them in effigy in the tailgate lots next weekend? Nah.

(Frothy's starting word count: 18,362; Finishing word count: 20,313)

Know Your Enemy Week 3: TCU Horned Frogs

In 2013, the Horned Frogs were ranked to start the season.  A closely fought week one loss against LSU and a week 3 loss at Texas Tech pretty much killed all of that noise early and it only went downhill from there.  They finished 4-8 with 4 of those losses coming by 3 points or less.

Coach Gary Patterson enters his 14th year as head coach at Texas Christian.  His Frogs are 1-0 after whipping Samford (no sign of son) 48-14.  This matchup is a big step on TCU's road to get back in the spotlight after a disappointing 2013.

TCU has always been good at stopping the run under Patterson.  They return a gang of starters on both offense and defense.  At quarterback, Trevone Boykin seems to be the man, although prior to the year Patterson stated that he wouldn't know who the QB was between Boykin and A&M transfer Matt Joeckel.  Boykin played well enough against Samford that he appears to be the man for now.  They have a new, high pace offense that was installed with new offensive co-coordinator Doug Meachem and Sonny Cumbie.  They got off a play every 20.2 seconds in the first week, yikes.

So how screwed are we here?

At, Ryan Gerbosi has a 34-10 win for the Frogs.  He also says David Cobb leads the SEC in rushing though.

Mitch Leidner is apparently going to start the game despite suffering an MCL injury last week.  This is good news despite the fact that he has about 12 passing yards thus far.  He's just going to be less prone to making mistakes than the Blues Streveler would be in his first start ever in a hostile environment.

As Frothy had mentioned earlier in the week the question is are the Gophers playing vanilla football or is there delicious fudge and perhaps toffee under that vanilla.  And if you don't understand ice cream logic, what we mean by that is are we just going to continue to run-run-run with the occasional ineffective short pass or is there more to this offense?  If TCU stops the run early, can we adjust the plan or will we stubbornly continue to force the issue in the hopes of breaking free?  If we're down a couple of score, do we open it up or do we lay on our collective backs and give up the belly so TCU can tear it out like Michigan did last year?

Please don't let this be us.

TCU All-Namers

George Baltimore, S - Should have played for Maryland.  I do hope peeps call him Bodymore.
Ranthony Texada, CB - See, this guy at least picked a Texas school.
Travoskey Garrett, CB - Also a Trevorris on the team.
Femi Awe, DE - AWE YEAH
Frank Kee, OG - Never goes by Frankie
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OT - I call him Hal

Team apostrophe count: 3


TRE:  I am heartened by the non-death of Leidner, although it could be one of those deals where he doesn't make it through the game.  Even still, I think Streveler will be better just seeing Mitch start.  I also think there is opportunity to catch TCU sleeping here.  Sure they traditionally can stop the run, but they didn't play last week and they laid the wood to Samford the week before.  Can they really be ready for D-Cobb and friends ramming it down their throats?  I say no.  Likewise, are we suddenly supposed to believe Boykin is an accomplished QB after one game?  He certainly wasn't when he shared time with Pachall last season. (59%, 7 TD, 7 INT)  Perhaps our defense can force some turnovers.  They've shown big play potential already this year.  I think the +16 line is just too much, but I do think TCU wins 37-30.

I've had the fear poos all week for this one. I go back to when they played against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl a few years back (when I was the biggest Horn Frog fan in the country, god bless). If 'Sconnie had just kept running the ball, they would have pounded TCU to dust. Fortunately, they passed and lost. Now, we're not Wisconsin; but the Frogs aren't the same team from a few years back. I expect us to run a more dynamic offense than the past few weeks (which is saying approximately nothing) and move the ball more effectively than many are anticipating. That and a relatively shaky offensive performance from TCU will lead to a pretty tight affair, which the Gophers will, sadly, lose: 24 - 17. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

B1G Recap Week 2

In Summary

Western Kentucky 34, Illinois 42

Illinois scores 21 in the 4th quarter led behind Wes Hunt's 456 yards passing to come back and win at home against the Hilltoppers.  More importantly, not only does WKU have a corner named Wonderful Terry; he actually scored on a 95 yard fumble return.  Lunt now has 741 yards passing and 7 TDs on the season, which are numbers Mitch Leidner might get to in December. 

Favorite fan comment:
Sunshine Melissa Payne
Illinois should abandoned sports
Sunshine abandon class when they discussed past and present tense.

This week: @Washington
Prediction: Pain


McNeese St 24, #19 Nebraska 31

Nebraska needed a score in the last minute to defeat the mighty Cowboys of McNeese State.  Ameer Abdullah caught a short pass and went HAM on everyone for 58 yards to joel stave off disaster.  Tommy Armstrong didn't let his pesky 50% passing rate get in the way of him slinging it bunch, but he was much more effective on the ground, rushing for 131 yards.

Favorite fan comment:
Paul Sutton
McDeusch St doesn't stand a chance in hell and will get completely blown out. GO BIG RED!!
This week: @Fresno St
Prediction: Lucky that Carr is gone.


Akron 3, Penn State 21


It was a good week for the Nittany Lions as not only did they win semi-convincingly, but they were allowed to play in the post-season this year.  Penn State took to the skies with Christian Hackenburg again this week to the tune of 319 yards.  However, PSU did have a couple of INTs and a fumble that kept the game a little closer early.  Hackenburg has thrown for 774 yards this year, but has 4 INTs against 4 TDs.

Favorite fan comment:
Joshua: The Big 10 (B1G/14) is looking strong this weekend. The FCS is looking stronger though

This week: @Rutgers
Prediction: PSU is -4, should be a good game.


Howard 25, Rutgers 38

Very interested in the TX BBQ Thickburger
Howard, who appears to have stolen the Buffalo Bills' logo, falls despite out-gaining Rutgers.  This game was all Rutgers, though.  The Bison scored twice in the 4th when hope was broken and bloody in the gutter.  Champagne Super Nova was on point, going 15-19 for 4 TDs.  RB Paul James followed his 173 yards rushing from week one by gaining 43 on the ground and 100 through the air on two TD receptions.  He had 3 total touchdowns.

Favorite fan comment:
Dave: Howard? I guess the McCann School of Business wasn't available?

This week: PSU
Prediction: Nova vs Hackenburg, one on one for your Nintendo


Central Michigan 38, Purdon't 17

Punter KTFO

Lucky for Purdue they weren't the only B1G embarrassment this week. CMU has a RB named Rawls, but sadly not Bill or even Lou.  Anyway, Rawls rumbled for 155 on the ground and QB Cooper Rush only needed 16 throws to rack up 172 through the air.  Nice defense, Purue. 

Purdue QB Danny Etling was a horrid 17-32 for 126 yards.  That's 3.9 yards per attempt.  RB Raheem Mostert had 19 carries for just 53 yards, so that didn't really work either.

Favorite Fan Comment:
Steve: A team that went 1-11 in 2013 NEVER overlooks anybody BOILER UP!
This week: @ #11 ND or fold the program
Prediction: No pots of gold for Purdue


Western Illinois 3, #18 Wisconsin 37

I love how he's so calm about it.

Maybe WIU was stacking the line against the run, because Melvin Gordon didn't do well on the ground, but the Badgers had a great passing game going, especially in the second half.  Tanner McEvoy went 23-28 for 283 yards and 3 TDs.  McEvoy also had 55 yards and a score on the ground. 

Favorite Fan Comment:
william:  McEvoy looks really terrible. Anderson needs to find a real QB and soon.
william:  I said earlier that the badgers needed a QB, boy did I ever screw up, McEvoy looks like a different person so far

Keep us posted, William.

This week: Take a week off guys, you earned it.
Prediction: State Street drunk-fest.


Ball St 13, Iowa 17

Iowa out-gained Ball St 455-219, but needed two TDs in the last four minutes to get the win.  Jake Rudock's 322 yards passing was a career high.  Too much butter on the delicious Iowa sweet corn caused two fumbles lost, one for a score.  They also missed three FG attempts.   Ball State's RB Jawhan Edwards ran for 81 yards and I really hope he's related to Jewhan.  Ball State won like 10 games (too lazy to check) last year, so they're not a cupcake, but that's two tight turkeys in a row for Iowa.

Favorite Fan Comment:
left hook: wiesman----222 YARDS
 Or, you know, 13.

This week: vs 0-2 Iowa State
Prediction: Kevin Costner in a corn field.


Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15


Northwestern drops to 0-2 following a second tough match-up; this time against the NIU Huskies.  The internet tells me the Huskies now have 16 straight road wins, which seems hard to do.  Trevor Siemian is apparently ok, after getting folded up like a pretzel with 3 minutes left.  Super subbie Zach Oliver did come in and throw a 54 yard TD pass to close the gap, but it was too little, too late.

Favorite Fan Comment:
Extant: As an ex player for a perennial losing NIU squad (97-98)... Gotta say We whooppin big ten #$%$!!!!

This week: Bye week
Prediction: More time to study!


Maryland 24, South Flo Rida 17

Maryland fumbled 7 times and lost 4, and threw two interceptions, yet still had enough to beat USF.  QB CJ Brown connected with WR Marcus Leak on a pair of scores and Avery Thompson scored on a blocked punt for Maryland. 

Favorite Fan Comment:
Travis Callis:  Maryland should dominate USF, with that said, turning it over 6 times and still winning is dominating a team. MD needs to clean it up now, WVU isn't nearly as bad as they were last season when we beat them 37-0
This week: vs WVU
Prediction: Fear the 3-0 Turtle


#7 Sparty 27, #3 Oregon 46

At least this happened.

Sparty, no.  If games were 35 minutes long, MSU would have had this one in the bag.  They're not though and Oregon reeled off 4 unanswered touchdowns to prove it.

Favorite fan comment:

---: As an Ohio State fan, I have finally come to terms that the Big Ten indeed sucks.
We're right there in the muck and slime with the rest of them.
Is the slime primordial though?

This week: Bye week
Prediction: Licking wounds.


Michigan 0, Notre Dame 31

The beatings will continue.  The Wolverines were ineffective and over-matched in the "final" edition of this rivalry.  Devin Gardner became a turnover machine in the second half, giving the ball up 4 times en route to the worst loss for Michigan in this long early season rivalry game. 

Favorite fan comment:
Harley Guy: Time for Brandon and Hoke to move on. They don't have a clue. Nor did the search committee that hired them, and Hoke's predecessor, Rich Rod. One of the storied football programs in history continuing to slide and everybody but UM administrators are able to see it
This week: vs Miami OH
Prediction: Wally Szczerbiak trips in the stands and hurts his ankle.


Virginia Tech 35, #8 Ohio State 21

Excited to spend time with family.
Yep, so the "powers" of the conference pretty much all poo'd themselves. This could have been a 40 word blog post, but who's counting?

JT Barret was 9/29 for 219 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions.  The last interception was a 63 yard pick-6 that came with :46 remaining with tOSU down a touchdown.  Yuck.  The offensive line wasn't doing any favors either as he was sacked 7 times.  VaTech might actually be good again.

Favorite fan comment:
John: If this continues at OSU, Urban Meyer will quit to spend time with his family.
This week: vs Kent St
Prediction: Golden Flashers?  One can hope...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Saturday's Talkers on Monday or Tuesday: Post-MTSU

So, that first half on Saturday was fun, wasn’t it? That's among some of the best football the Gophers have played in the last ten years: the offense was clicking, mostly on the ground, but Leidner went 5/8 to start the game and that’s pretty good; Cobb was doing what Cobb does, finessing his way through the creases in the line. Defensively, we were fantastic as well – the previous week MTSU had scored 61 against Savanah State, sure, they’re a historically bad program, but 61 points demonstrates some measure of competence, right? We came out, stopped the run and kept them from stringing anything of significance together through the air. Add in a pick six from Jalen Myrick and an interception from our tackling machine and you can start to smell the exorcism of that fateful 2003 team.

And then we got to the second half. For reasons that, as far as I can tell, are unknown to players, coaches, fans and maybe Jo’bu himself, the second half just didn’t go the Gophers way. After halftime, the defensive intensity was lost, our rock solid secondary started taking bad angles in pursuit, Eric Murray looked mortal and our offense violated Newtonian physics by becoming even more one dimensional. Sure, we ended up with 300 yards rushing so it’s not like we were totally at the hind teat. And yeah, our defensive backs fell victim to the BACK SHOULDER THROW JUMP BALLS and some, uh, generous non-calls for offensive pass interference on their receivers. But when we were up 28-nil, I wanted more. I longed to see the Blue Raiders mascot turned to red mist before my eyes. I wanted 60 or 70 points, a beating typically reserved for schools that have a hyphen in their name.

I compared the EIU game to the 2013 UNLV, where we started slow offensively and ended up winning comfortably through killer special teams and opportunistic defense. What we ended up with against MTSU was something closer to the 2012 Purdue game, albeit for slightly different reasons. In that game, Philip Nelson and the Gophers exploded for 34 first-half points, heading into halftime with a 34-7 lead. The second half was a much tighter affair as the offense went uber conservative and the Gophers hung on for a 44-28 victory.

I remember being at that game and watching half the crowd leave at halftime. They had just witnessed aerial blood sport, as the hapless Purdues were torched by AJ Barker and the Boilers seemed utterly toothless as they went into the intermission. No reason to stay until the end of this one - why not get a beat on traffic or do some celebratory shots at Sterb’s? Well, I stuck around and, while I was never nervous exactly, I do recall looking up at the game clock, silently willing it to move faster. Purdue looked much better in the second half and we looked, well, vanilla. The aggression was gone. We had shot the proverbial wad and were just killing time.

If you attended the game against MTSU game, you know exactly what I mean. Euphoria that first half, wet fart the second half. We can’t really conclude anything from it – nor should we try: the game was in hand, nothing positive would come from opening up the playbook and/or potentially getting some [more] of our key players hurt. We turtled up, took the win and moved on. It failed to satisfy my bloodlust and I’m sure the coaches were less than pleased with some of the missed tackles and bad angles. But I don’t think it’s a harbinger of poor play to come.

Now, on to the talkers from Saturday! Remember, we’re exploring the main talkers that came out of the last game now that we’ve had a day or two for perspective. We’ll also opine as to whether the issue has been overplayed, underplayed or is flexin’ in the Goldilocks zone.

Leidner’s play hurt the team and will hold us back this yearOverplayed

Hey, we’ve been at this two weeks and we’ve already got our first repeat. Hu-effing-zah. Without any doubt whatsoever, the biggest talker following Saturday’s game was the passing game in general, but Leidner’s performance more specifically. I’m sure it was a minority, but holy hell were they vocal. Leidner finished 5/11 for 67 yards. That’s pretty poor by any measure; but, as I stated last week, I’m not really sure we can read into Leidner’s performance at this point. When you only throw eleven times, almost by definition, you’re not being asked to do very much. In my opinion, most of the games Leidner played in last year are a better measure of what to expect from him than what we’ve seen this year. The bowl game on the good side, Northwestern to the bad and everything else sort of meh. He might be amazing, he might be horrific, more likely he continues a slow progression along the meh axis. Bu I, like all of you, will have no idea what sort of QB he will be until the offense opens up a little bit. Which brings us to our next talker….

The play calling, I mean, woof – Goldilocks

MV and I had a good conversation via the Twitterz following the game where we discussed the play calling. He used a metaphor which I will now steal – but that’s okay, since he stole a metaphor from me on the BHGP podcast a few years ago. There’s nothing Steven like even. At any rate, MV said he wasn’t sure whether the coaches were holding their cards close to the vest, or they were just making it look like that since they actually didn’t have any cards to play. And there is the fundamental question of the pre-season thus far: Are the coaches holding the playbook in reserve, not showing too much to inferior opponents? Or are we going full bore into all running, all the time, consequences be damned?

I suspect it’s the former, but there’s precedent for the latter: See 13, 20. We stormed through the non-conference schedule, running roughshod over everyone. We didn’t have much of a passing game, but that was okay, because we didn’t need one. Why pass against inferior opponents? we told ourselves. The we got to the Iowa game, couldn’t run the ball and were totally up the creek. Limegrover effectively admitted as much by stating that he was too bull headed to adjust the offense when we were unable to move the ball. We muddled through the next two games, losing one and winning the other before the offense really opened up against Nebraska.

Given that context, the questions are many: have Limegrover and the rest of the staff learn from last season? Are we a run-at-all-costs offense irrespective of the looks provided by the opposing defense? Are we holding the passing plays in reserve for when they are needed?

All of these questions are legitimate, though I tend to believe there are many plays still in the fold. For example, we haven’t seen any plays out of the inverted wishbone yet this season, and that was used pretty extensively last year. We should know soon enough, though, as I suspect we won’t get much offensive quarter from TCU this weekend.

We’re doomed if Leidner missed time - ¯\_()_/¯

This is a fun one, particularly when juxtaposed with the ‘Leidner sux’ talker.

There’s two ways to go with this. If the coaches are holding plays back for tougher competition, then we may very well be in trouble with Leidner out. I saw Leidner in practice and, genuinely, he looked good. Made smart decisions, threw nice balls at varying distances, hit receivers in stride, ran through progressions. That wasn’t necessarily the case with QBs two through six. If there is a secret cabal of mystery plays, we’ll need the most competent quarterback to execute them. From everything I’ve seen, that’s Leidner and if he’s out, we may very well be doomed.

If, on the other hand, the Gopher Illuminati playbook is a figment of my maroon tin-hatted imagination, then it really makes no difference who the quarterback is. We’re going to be a run-first offense and, frankly, Streveler may be the better runner. Hell, it could be an advantage to have him in there.

Pretty sure Twitter and message boards were designed so that histrionic fans could talk themselves into circles. Congratulations, Internet gods.

Kill and staff blew it by not recruiting some JUCOs for depth this yearUnderplayed

Underplayed not because I believe it, but that I think it’s an interesting talker that hasn’t been discussed much

One could pretty justifiably argue that we were precariously young at quarterback, linebacker and defensive tackle. Should the staff have done more to solidify those positions with JUCO players? With the benefit of hindsight, the answer may be yes; but it’s more nuanced than that.
JUCOs come in expecting to play right away. In which of those three positions could a player earn immediate playing time? The obvious answer is defensive tackle. We had Scott Ekpe and Botticelli as the starters, then Peppers, Legania, Timms, and Richardson as the principal backups. With the rotation of players Clayes employs, and the disappearance of Peppers so far this season, it’s certainly possible a JUCO transfer could have earned some immediate play. Great, right? Well, athletic 290lb dudes aren’t sprouting out of the woodwork around there parts. The scheme we use requires defensive tackles to penetrate and pursue – we don’t have much use for 320lbs fire plugs. Guys who do fit what we’re trying to do have offers to more prominent programs, making it pretty tough to land them. So I wouldn’t be surprised to hear we pursued a few JUCO DTs, but were unable to pique the interest of anyone who fit our criteria.

How about quarterback and linebacker? Nope. The staff was doing everything but blowing the horn of plenty building Leidner up as the starting quarterback and leader of the program. While the staff may have wanted to bring in a security blanket in the event Leidner got hurt, it isn’t exactly an easy sell to get a quality dude with pro aspirations to come to a program with a defined starter at his position.

And linebacker? What did we have, six linebackers in the 2013 recruiting class? It would have been nice to get a JUCO LB in to balance out the classes a little bit, but we don’t do a lot of rotation at the position and it’s hard to believe he would have unseated Wilson, Campbell or Lynn for a starting gig. Again, it wouldn’t shock me if they investigated some options and there was no mutual interest.

[EDIT: of course, a decent writer would have double checked all of the commits for this year's class and seen that Cody Poock was, in fact, a JUCO LB. So they did get someone; he's just injured too. My humble apologies to Familia de Poock and my esteemed readers. Hat tip to Twitter warrior Jake Kleiner for correcting what is probably the third of 2 million egregious mistakes I'll make here.]

Who knows? With a little luck, we’ve made our sacrifice to Lord Anterior Cruciate and he will require the souls no further virgin ligaments this year.

(Frothy's starting word count: 16,411; Finishing word count: 18,235)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Night Descent to the Fiery Depths of Despair

Ok, so we’re starting a new tradition on Still Got Hope. And by tradition, of course, I mean likely to fail after exactly one go ‘round. We’re at something like four straight weeks of content here and still going strong. I think we’re in good shape until we lose. Once that happens, we’ll either open our veins and spew articles about the shame, despair and hopelessness of Gopherdom or withdraw into spider holes until we win again or we announce our Caring Bridge site to raise funds for liver transplants. We’ll hope for the former while knowing full well we’re destined for the latter.

At any rate, it occurs to me that I spend most Friday nights before games watching college football, have a few cocktails and whiling away the hours watching TweetDeck scroll by. Filled with anxiety and dread. Lots and lots of that. So I figured as long as I’m here, chewing the tattered remnants of my fingernails and self-medicating with benzos (not really) and bourbon (really) to find the sweet, cold embrace of sleep, I may as well do something marginally productive. And thus begins the Friday Night Descent to the Fiery Depths of Despair.

Basically, the shtick here is to type whatever comes into my head between 9.00 and 11.00 PM on Friday nights. Like I said, it’s probably doomed to fail.

*     *     *

Fear Level: 4

I feel pretty good going into the MTSU game and I’m not sure why. We were hardly world beaters last week but we still pretty soundly defeated what I believe to be a pretty decent team. As I said in the Saturday's Talkers piece, it’s the sort of game you expect to see in the first week. We were sloppy, but the depth from 22 extra scholarships in FBS (notwithstanding all of the partial scholarship rules in FCS which I’m going to totally ignore for the sake of expediency) became evident fairly early in the second half. But there were enough issues where I feel like I should be more concerned than I am: flaccid passing game, missed blocking assignments by the line and TEs/FBs and a swath of defensive linemen scythed down. Coupled with MTSU’s high-octane, 61-point performance last week (yes, it was against something called Savannah State, but 61 points is 61 points), I feel like there should be some dyspepsia in play.

Nevertheless, here we are, smokin’ butts and flexin’ nuts. I mean, a Fear Level of four is about as low as it gets for me. By way of comparison, I was a six prior to last week’s game. Against an FCS opponent. I don’t know. If I made sense, I wouldn't be so damaged. I think what it comes down to is this is the sort of game that Jerry Kill has no history of losing. Sure, there was New Mexico State and North Dakota State (/shakes fist while yell crying), but that was in his first year. Throughout his career, he’s been pretty consistent in winning the games he’s supposed to win once he’s established his system. And we’re pretty close to having a concrete foundation – no sand! – for the program now. Aggressive defense? Check. Commitment to running the ball? Check. Solid fundamentals and few mistakes? Check. We’re still missing the dynamic offense he built at NIU and, despite our performance against Wisconsin and Michigan State last year, there are still some questions about our ability to defend power running teams.

Still, it would seem we have the pieces to match up pretty well against MTSU. They’re a spread offense and our strength is the secondary. Our ball control offense against their relatively undersized defense should work in our favor. Yes, we are young and undersized along the defensive line, but the speed provided by the lack of size may work in our favor as long as gap discipline is maintained. While that’s a concern with a bunch of dudes who were at prom three months ago, we have no choice but to trust the coaches. I’ll quietly repeat that to myself while fighting off the room spins later tonight.

*     *     *

I probably shouldn't take as much joy in Wisconsin losing as I do but, again, I’m damaged. Outside of family and all of the really important stuff, I care the most about the Gopher football team. It’s important to me that they do well and, right or wrong, between September and January, my personal satisfaction depends quite a bit on the performance of the team. A not-too-distant third or fourth in the rankings of my rooting interests, though, is whichever team is playing Wisconsin.

I’m not a big UNIT, CORPS, GOD, FOOTBALL CONFERENCE guy, but generally speaking, I’ll root for the B1G over most teams from other conferences. Never, ever Wisconsin, though. I grudgingly, and halfheartedly, supported Iowa against LSU last New Year’s Day (and mocked them when they lost – it’s a win/win in that sense). I was an LSU fan in full throat this past Saturday, though. It’s remarkably shallow to derive satisfaction from the failure of something you don’t like. On a rational level, I understand that completely. But with Wisconsin, it just doesn’t matter.

The Decade of Despair certainly has something to do with it. You don’t lose ten consecutive games to your most hated rival without some psychological wreckage.  And beyond that, they’ve repeatedly achieved things in the last 20 years that I’d be happy doing once: Big Ten Championship Game, Rose Bowl and, during that God-forsaken Russell Wilson season, a legitimate (and aborted, thank Jo’bu) run at a national championship. So, yeah, there’s probably some insecurity and bitterness there. But fuck Wisconsin.

Anyway, I bring this whole thing up because it’s been fascinating watching the chaos following their loss to LSU. Melvin Gordon allegedly had a hamstring injury, then he allegedly had a confrontation with Gary Anderson, then he allegedly had a hip flexor problem. Joel Stave was allegedly injured, then he was allegedly fine, then he, apparently really, had the yips. It’s the sort of madness that happens occasionally in the sports world, but the Badgers have avoided since the 2001 Shoe Box Affair. Some, even Badger fans, have speculated that this is evidence Anderson is in over his head. It certainly was a series of pretty egregious PR snafus, but it’s hard for me to believe it’s going to come off the rails like this. Wisconsin has certainly had a remarkable run of success and I’m hoping as much as anyone that it ends with the thud of a planetoid strike on earth. Let’s just enjoy the current chaos and optimistic it will eventually turn the tide in our favor.

*     *     *

Well, we’re rapidly approaching posting time so, by rule, I’m required to wrap this up. I think we’ll get off to a slow start tomorrow, but I’m not going to panic. For whatever reason, we just aren’t very good getting the offense going at the start of the game. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we go down early and, potentially, be losing at halftime. We’ve been a very solid second half team so try to mitigate the compulsion to shotgun beers at the sweet, sweet beer vendors throughout our stadium.

I love you all. Stop by our tailgate tomorrow and we can hug it out.

(Frothy's starting word count: 15,182; Finishing word count: 16,411)

Know Your Enemy Week 2: MTSU Blue Raiders


Actual instant messenger conversation after seeing the image above:

TRE:  Its just a mess.
Frothy: Minneapolis isn't Raider City though.
T: I'm completely confused.
F: Is the storm coming to Minneapolis?
T: Will they rename the city after they storm us?
F: What is their mascot?
T: Blue Raiders
F: What does that have to do with storms and lightning?
T: Not sure.  Mascot is named Lightning.
F: Is it a horse?
T: Sort of.  Anthropomorphic horse-guy.
T: Do they only raid when it storms?
F: I kind of dig it.  Like an inverse centaur.
T: Yes.
F: Like a minotaur, but a horse.
F: Oh wait, he has wings.
T: WHAT?  Like a pegasus-man?
F: Pretty badass mascot, imo.
T: My Little Pony
F: Yeah, some brony at work there.
F: Whoa.  From wiki:

MTSU's original mascot was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General and the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Because of Forrest's ties to the Ku Klux Klan, the mascot was later changed to a blue-colored scent hound dog named "Ole Blue" in the 1970s.

MTSU's current mascot is a blue winged horse named "Lightning," adopted as the mascot in 1998, when the athletics department updated its image in preparation for the 1999 upgrade to Division I-A football and subsequent transfer to the Sun Belt Conference.[8] "Lightning" symbolizes the university's aerospace and horse science programs and the region's heritage in the walking horse industry.[9]

T: WHAT? Horse science has evolved.
F: Moar like pegasus science.
T: Put effing wings on horses now.


They're a freaking Klan school that partakes in some sort of Island of Dr. Moreau shit on horses.

That's MTSU on the left.


Oh, you're still here?  I suppose I could at mention something about the football.

MTSU cruised to a 61-7 win over lowly Savannah State last week.  Their QB went 15-17, they scored a million TDs on the ground, and they dominated on special teams as well.

Against Savannah State.

Savannah state went 1-11 (0-8) in 2013 playing in the MEAC, whatever that is.  So, unless you think Minnesota is akin to Morgan State, there isn't a lot to take from this big win.

MTSU is coming off of an 8 win season, but no longer has QB Logan Kilgore or the top two receivers from last year.  Both guards and the center are new this year as well.  So, hopefully the new Gopher starter at NT Steven Richardson is ready do some damage.  They do return a stable of running backs and new QB Austin Grammer can also run it.

The MTSU defense is filled with a number of veterans and they are strong up the middle defensively.  Junior T.T. Barber is the weak side linebacker and the one to watch on defense.  He led the team in tackles with 98 last year and sprinkled in some sacks and passes defensed as well.  Leighton Gasque is on the other side at linebacker and is a frequent blitzer, recording 5 sacks last season.  Kevin Byard at safety is another standout. 

MTSU All-Namers

Keemem Berry, CB - Like Mushmouth saying Keenan.
Canon Rooker, PK - Should have been a priest or a quarterback.
Quay Watt, LB - "Quay Watt? I can't hear you"
Chase Pennycuff, FB - Wears a monocle.
Ed'Marques Batties, WR - just awesome
Sir Patrick Stewart, DT - Picard!
O'Shae Bridges, DT - 239 lb leprechaun

MTSU Team Apostrophe count: 3

Prediction Time!

TRE thinks the Gophers passing game is helped by the return of Wolitarsky and that storm is not in fact coming to Minneapolis.  Gophers 41, Pegasus-Men 24.

Frothy says he thinks the Gophers are down at the half but rally to win, 35-21And adds, "Deez nuts".