Friday, August 30, 2019

Was Matt Limegrover Calling Plays Last Night? A Look at what Minnesota's Offense Did- and Mostly Didn't Do- vs South Dakota State

Minnesota won it's season opener 28-21 over a very good South Dakota State team last night. I couldn't help but notice the jarring difference in offensive philosophies between the two squads- and despite the loss, how much better SDSU's was compared to Minnesota's. The Jack Rabbits had Gopher defenders moving- and usually in the wrong direction- all night long while Minnesota was basically doing the same thing on every play- a play-action pass or, on about 2/3 of their snaps, the return of the dreaded #RUTM. Watching Minnesota on offense I couldn't shake the feeling we were watching a Matt Limegrover offense from three or four years ago.

The Classic "Limey" formation was a QB in shotgun, a RB beside him, and then one-three TE's. Receivers? Probably one or two of those on the outside, but really none of that mattered because the defense knew exactly what was coming- a "run up the middle" by the running back, or a Mitch Leidner keeper to the outside. And while sure Leidner was a tough runner, he was the furthest thing from fast. Any opposing defense knew the Gophers were going to lineup and run right at them- over and over and over again. And if the QB kept it he wasn't getting more than a few yards. Pass? The few DB's they kept back in the secondary could handle it, and they usually did.

Sound familiar? Because that's about what SDSU saw from Minnesota. OC Kirk Ciarrocca added a bit of pre-snap motion, but the Jacks Rabbit D saw it for what it was- window dressing. They stayed home putting 7 or 8 defenders in the box knowing more often than not that the one RB in the backfield was getting the ball and running between the tackles. And on more than 60% of the plays that's exactly what happened, which is why it seemed like SDSU had multiple defenders waiting at the line of scrimmage to make the tackle. There were no designed runs for the backs outside the tackles, no counter plays that changed the direction after the snap, no quick screens to receivers (can we please take that looooooooooonnnnnnnnnnngggggggg developing wide receiver tunnel screen and throw it in the garbage? It hasn't worked in two years and it fooled no one again last night), no quick slants or hitches, and no RPO's (at least that I could tell).

Most concerning to me though was that despite the obvious struggles of Minnesota's O-line, Ciarrocca did little to help them out. No designed rollouts or bootlegs to give Tanner Morgan more time to throw and actually get SDSU's D moving away from the line of scrimmage and outside the tackle box. Ciarrocca came in with a vanilla game plan and when it was clear to everyone it didn't work instead of trying to mix it up or add in some new wrinkles, in classic Limey fashion he just stubbornly stuck with the same old thing. Was he too stubborn to change- or incapable? We shall see in the coming weeks.

Flip over to when SDSU had the ball and you saw how to run a true spread offense- and I'm sure that sounds ridiculous considering the Jack Rabbits lost, but with an inexperienced freshman QB, on the road against a Big Ten opponent, SDSU was still moving the ball all game long and almost pulled off the upset. Two crucial "freshman" mistakes from their QB killed them- and ended up being the difference in the game- but Minnesota's D was scrambling to keep up and keep track of where the ball was going from the first play.

Unlike the Gophers who were pretty transparent about what they were doing, SDSU used multiple backs in the backfield and had them going in different directions, and with a speedy QB at the helm, any of the three could be getting the ball. When they put just one back beside the QB, they could bring a slot receiver in motion for the jet sweep (and might actually give it to him!), OR sometimes do this crazy thing where they would give the RB the ball to the OUTSIDE! (I know, I told you it was crazy.) Actual runs off tackle or sweeps, which would set up not only a QB keeper the other direction but then also the play-action pass the other way. TE's leaking out, or those same backs that had gone in motion as potential runners were now sprinting downfield as potential pass catchers.

Yes, the Gopher D weren't great last night and looked out of position a lot, but the scheme SDSU ran was consistently forcing them to make decisions and NOT stay home. When you don't know what's coming or where the ball is going, it makes it a lot more difficult for even the most experienced defense to stick to their assignments and stay in position. This will serve as a great learning experience for Minnesota's D, and Joe Rossi and the coaches will have a lot of tape to help prepare for more offenses like this coming up on the schedule.

As for the offense? As bad as they were it's also only one game, and only the first game. The line needs fixing, and they need to figure out better ways to get Tyler Johnson open even when he's being double-covered. Throwing more and more to Bateman will help with that since #13 is going to torch single coverage all season long no matter who is defending him. And throwing more to other receivers will help too- Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas combined for 3 catches for 18 yards. They're both much better than that. After all the hype we heard all off-season about the TE's and how good they are and how involved they'll be the total catches by TE's were zero.

More than that though Ciarrocca and the offensive staff should join Rossi and the defense when they watch game tape, and take as many things from that SDSU offense as they can. Two of Minnesota's best players are RB's Rodney Smith and Mo Ibrahim- can you get them in the backfield together on occasion? The threat and movement of both of them- plus Morgan as a threat to keep it on the run or pass- would give an opposing defense some pre-snap and after-snap motion to actually worry about.

But since we seem hell-bent on nothing but one-back formations who about quick screens and slants, RPO's (from my very primitive and uneducated viewing last night looked non-existent), mixing in veer-options runs that take the RB outside the tackle instead of always #RUTM, and whether your O-line is struggling or not- but ESPECIALLY when your O-line struggles- bootlegs, and rollouts off your option run fakes.

This remains an offense with a ton of skill position talent and what SHOULD be a massive and talented offensive line. Now we'll find out if Ciarrocca and staff are up for fixing the issues and getting more out of them than we saw last night.





Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I Can't Live Without Claeys Love

There's a swath of the Gopher fan base that can't let go of Tracy Claeys. This is what I imagine being part of that group must feel like.

"(Can't Live Without Claeys') Love & Affection*"
*sung to the tune of "(Can't Live Without Your) Love & Affection" by Nelson

Here he comes
Mmmm, just like an angel
Seems like forever that he's been on our mind
Nothing has changed
Cause PJ's a waste of our time

There he goes
Oooh, it's Claeys we're missin'
Hope he sees we'll never give up the fight
We'll do all we can
To fulfill our Tracy desire

We've been on the outside looking in
Don't want to get in the boat, oooohhh
There's nothing on earth
That should keep us & Claeysie apart

TRACY! We can't live without your
Love & Affection
We can't face another damn
"ROW THE BOAT"
We just can't abide
That snake PJ Fleck as our coach
Cause we can't live without your love.
Ooooh, your love.

So we bitch
Cause it's all we've got
And wonder if the snake oil will run out someday
We keep holding on
Can't stand cheering for F.A.M.I.L.Y.

Tracy, We've been on the outside looking in
Don't want to be get in the boat, ooooh
Not even Goldy can make us pretend
Oh yeah

TRACY! We can't live without your
Love & Affection
We can't face another damn
"ROW THE BOAT"
We just can't abide
That snake PJ Fleck as our coach
Cause we can't live without your love.
Ooooh, your love.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Past Performance is not Predictive of Future Results


I get it. I really do.

You hear people like me talking about how good we’re going to be this season, how #TITTY and we’re going to Indy. I know you look at me and think “You poor, stupid tub of gravy. Yeah, the schedule looks good; yeah, we looked amazing at the end of last season. Doesn’t matter. I’ve gone into the season with high hopes before. I’ve died a thousand deaths. Never again. Never again.”

Thursday, January 17, 2019

First Look: Projecting Minnesota's 2019 Offensive Depth Chart

The Athletic is currently running projected 2019 depth charts for all the helmet schools. Sure, the Athletic will never do one for little ol' Minnesota but I'm sure we'll get one any minute now from our friendly Twin Cities media... you're right we should probably just do this ourselves.

Not sure if you've heard but there's quite a bit of excitement surrounding your Golden Gopher football Elite squad for 2019 and it starts here on offense. The U loses a grand total of 2 starters from 2018 and welcomes in some potential new faces that could compete for playing time right away. We're not used to thinking this or dreaming it and certainly never saying it out loud but now is as good of a time as any to start- the Gophs will be loaded on offense for 2019.

Quarterback

Starter: ???
Backup: Zach Annexstad, Soph; Tanner Morgan, R-Soph; Jacob Clark, Fr

Overview: Normally you'd be worried if you didn't have any real confidence who the QB1 was going to be, but not this year. Not with everything else that is coming back and added in. Whichever one of these three starts will be given the keys to an offense with a mammoth and talented O-line and an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. Annexstad is your likely very early leader for the job based on the fact he won the job out of camp last year when he was healthy. Assuming he's finally 100% again to start 2019 he's a better passer than Morgan and has the potential to make some plays with his feet. Of course he got so beat up in his first few starts it was hard to get much of a gauge on his talent and potential, but he just seems to have that "it" factor.

That said, all Morgan did was go 4-2 as a starter and help lead the team to victories over Wisconsin, Purdue and Georgia Tech while completing almost 60% of his passes. He was solid and looks to have room to improve. I think he has the lowest upside of the three, but as he's already proven the offense will run just fine if he wins back the starting job.

Clark has the highest upside, but also the least experience. He's already enrolled and will be there for Spring ball, so he has a real chance to beat out Annexstad and Morgan. Still it's more likely than not he redshirts in 2019.

Running Back

Starter: Rodney Smith, R-Sr (6th yr)
Backup: Mo Ibrahim, R-Soph; Shannon Brooks, R-Sr; Bryce Williams, Soph; Nolan Edmonds, R-Fr, Jonathan Femi-Cole, R-Sr; Cam Wiley, Fr

Overview: With Ibrahim's emergence as a potential star, Minnesota no longer has to pin their hopes for a strong running game on better health for Smith and Brooks. We'll hope it happens, but Ibrahim showed he can carry the load as a true #1 back if need be. Still, by all means, let's hope for good health because if Smith is right again after his season ending injury in 2018, he's still probably your #1 back in the spring with Ibrahim a 1-A. It may be too soon to start evoking the "Barber-Maroney" pairing but then again maybe it isn't. If Smith is back to his all-conference potential self, he and Mo make an awesome RB tandem.

I have no idea what to expect from Brooks. 2018 was such a strange and injury-plagued year for him. Hopefully he's healthy because you can't have too many good running backs, but considering how late in the year he suffered his injury he's probably hoping to be ready for Fall camp instead of spring which will put him behind everyone else. Here's hoping for a return to form for him both on and off the field, but as stated earlier, the Gophers' hopes for a strong running game no longer depend on it.

With the injuries to Smith and Brooks, Femi-Cole had every opportunity to get big playing time in 2018 yet finished with just 6 carries for 25 yards. I would not expect him to be a factor in 2019. After that there's plenty of good, young players who will be fighting for carries. Considering how little Williams was used the second half of the season, I wonder if the coaches will try to red shirt him this season since they couldn't last year with all the injuries? Edmonds was well-regarded as a high school prospect and is someone to watch. Despite all the depth here already, keep an eye on the true freshman Wiley. He's enrolled already in January so he'll be able to jump right in here in the spring, and the recruitnik folks think the Gophers got a steal.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Tyler Johnson, Sr; Rashod Bateman, So; Chris Autman-Bell, R-So
Backups: Demetrius Douglas, R-So; Seth Green, R-Jr; Phillip Howard, R-Jr; Jornell Manns, R-Fr; Nnamdi Adim-Madumere, Fr

Overview: Let the other B1G fans scoff at this all they want, but I firmly believe it and you should too- Johnson and Bateman have a chance to be the best wide receiver duo in the B1G next year. You know about Johnson, but all Bateman did as a true frosh was set school freshman records for catches (51) and yards (704), and was second in TD's with 6. Those numbers were also second on the team by a healthy margin behind Johnson. We have the potential for two 1000 yard receivers next year, and as great as Johnson is, Bateman has a real chance to be just as good.

Autman-Bell was the clear 3rd target last season and will be an important part of the offense again in 2019. While he didn't really play WR that's where the multi-talented Green was listed last year. Could we actually see him at WR a little more running actual routes this fall? I'm all for it and his usage is something to keep an eye on this spring. Douglas only had 9 catches but was on the field a lot- there's room for his talents but he'll need to keep working to carve out more opportunities for himself.

Howard was decent as an injury fill-in in 2017 but had just 2 catches for 5 yards last year. Is a bounce-back year in store? Manns redshirted last year but has some real potential. And with all of these guys in front of him already I expect Adim-Madumere to probably redshirt but he's just a freaking monster at 6'4 230. A border-line 4 star recruit out of Texas with real offers from the likes of  Baylor, A&M, Houston, Mizzou and some school called Bama, don't be surprised if he forces his way into playing time this Fall.

Tight End

Starter: Jake Paulson, R-Soph
Backup: Ko Kieft, R-Jr; Bryce Witham, R-Sr; Colton Beebee, R-Sr; Brevyn Spann-Ford, R-Fr;

Overview: Paulson quietly had a really good year in 2018. While he didn't catch many passes (none of the TE's did), he was an excellent blocker and the more the season went on, the more you saw him on the field, starting in 6 games. Kieft, Beebee and Witham are all solid blocking TEs who won't start but will see plenty of reps here and on special teams. Spann-Ford is the guy to get excited about- the coaches love him, and if he proves he's ready, he could be special. The staff kept his redshirt as he appeared in 4 games last year, including a start vs Illinois, and he may overtake Paulson before long. He's giant for the position at 6'7 and 260, and with that size and a basketball player's athleticism, he's the kind of athlete we haven't had at this position since Maxx Williams.

Tackles

Starters: Daniel Faalele, So; Jason Dickson, R-Jr
Backup: Sam Schlueter, R-Jr; Jack York, R-Fr; Kyle Sassack, R-So; Quinn Oseland, R-Sr; JJ Guedet, Fr

Overview: This should be the best starting offensive line Minnesota has had since the Eslinger/Setterstrom years of Glen Mason's prime in the early 2000's. That's impressive but also tells you how long it's been since the Gophs have had some quality in the trenches. People much smarter than me claim Dickson is the real deal and should be considered Donnell Greene's replacement at tackle. I'm interested to see if they keep Faalele at RT or move him to LT. Either way, once Faalele was inserted into the starting lineup in the 2nd half of the Iowa game, he was everything we hoped he'd be and more. Considering how quickly he developed just in year one, he could be one of the best tackles in the B1G by the end of 2019, and has a chance to be a 1st round pick in the NFL draft in 2021 as an underclassman. Dickson's redshirt was apparently due to academics, as those that saw him in practice this year raved about him. If you've forgotten- and no one would blame you- he was a 2018 JUCO transfer with real P5 offers, so he and Faalele would make quite the pair.

Depth across the entire line is going to be a giant question mark as there's very little in the way of experience after the projected starters. With tackle Quinn Oseland transferring to SJSU for his final season and guard Bronson Dovich electing to graduate with a year of eligibility remaining there is only one returning upper classman as a potential backup, and hoo boy did he struggle last year. Let's hope Schlueter can fix his issues from 2018 because there's no one else with any experience at tackle (or guard for that matter. Or center).

The staff likes York, a former 3 star recruit from TX, so he's got a good shot at one of the backup jobs. Sassack is another former 3 star (from Michigan) who also should compete for a spot on the 2 deep. Both have potential but your guess is as good as mine as to how ready they are to play. Guedet should red shirt but is a name to keep an eye on down the road.

Guards

Starters: Blaise Andries, R-So; Curtis Dunlap, R-Fr
Backup: Austin Beier, R-Fr, Bronson Dovich, R-Sr, John Michael Schmitz, R-So; Nathan Boe, R-Fr, Tyler Cooper, Fr

Overview: If Dickson is as good as advertised that keeps Andries at guard, where he developed into an absolute mauler by the end of the season. If his development continues on this path he's got a chance to not only be all-conference but perhaps has a future playing on Sundays too. Dunlap is a legit high 4-star recruit who the coaches managed to keep the red shirt on last year while also still getting him the full 4 games experience. He looked good in his first start in the bowl game, and should be a lock to start at guard. He's 370 pounds of road-paving awesomeness and is somehow only the second biggest linemen on the team (I know!).

Like at tackle, depth is going to be something to watch as there's no real experienced, obvious answers for the backup jobs right now. Beier was listed on the depth chart all last year but never actually played- that's great since it kept his red shirt intact, but it also means he's yet to get any game experience. Despite that he's still a front-runner for one of the backup jobs to start camp.

And that's it for guys listed on the two-deep at guard last year as 2018's other starter Connor Olson likely moves to center. Speaking of center, whoever loses the backup battle there between John Michael Schmitz and Nathan Boe very likely gets shifted to guard. Both were solid 3 star recruits with good size, so either of them should be fine in the transition.

The Gophs signed 2 guard recruits in the 2019 class from the upper Midwest. Per the team's official website Logan Richter will be moving to DL. Cooper is an unheralded prospect from that state to the east of us, and he made the correct decision to come here instead of Madison. It's very unlikely he plays this year but the coaches and recruiting insiders believe he has a chance to be much better than his recruiting ranking. 

Center

Starters: Connor Olson, R-Jr
Backup: John Michael Schmitz, R-So; Nathan Boe, R-Fr,

Overview: So IF Dickson is as good as projected then Andries stays at guard instead of shifting back to tackle, which pushes Olson to center. He started all 13 at guard last year, and started all 12 games in 2017 while splitting time between guard and center. He'll be a very nice replacement for the criminally underrated departing senior Jared Weyler, and Olson should be up for all-conference honors in 2019.

Schmitz was listed as the backup center all year but played mostly special teams as Weyler barely ever left the field. Both he and Boe were solid 3 star recruits and should be ok backups at least for this season with a chance to develop into something much better down the road.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Desperate Attempt at a Pragmatic Response

Saturday. Yeesh. And effing Purdue, man.

Ok, enough wallowing.

At the risk of being exposed as someone who still believed in the Titanic captain while the ship was ass in the air and Jack and Rose were getting ready to jump, I’ll just say I still like the overall direction of the program. After playing OSU last week, people were bought into the system and could see some good things happening for the rest of the year and, especially, 2019. That doesn’t all go away because of a catastrophe at Nebraska.

Simply put, we’re not as bad as we were on Saturday. Which is good, because that was really, really bad. 2007 bad. Maybe worse, it was Kevin Cosgrove bad. But – and I recognize this “but” is doing some very heavy lifting – a lot of it is super, super fixable. On a few of the (many) big runs, we just lost contain because the LB or CB crashed in, leaving no one on the edge. I know it’s more complicated than this, but, I mean, if you know you’ve got contain, don’t, uh, do that. So much of this is just a matter of gap and discipline – it’s on the coaches to get that drilled this week. In pass defense, we’re just making it way too easy. Martinez threw for 86%(!), mostly because we just give them 5 – 10 yards passes whenever they deigned to pass the ball. Pressing the WRs and, oh, I dunno, throwing in a couple blitzes on occasion, at least makes the other team work for it a bit. Make them out-execute you on lower percentage 15+ yard pass plays. Just get back to basic schemes.

On offense, we’re pretty inconsistent, especially inside the 20, but you can definitely see growth week to week. It was nice to see a screen work and Morgan seems better equipped to manage the offense going forward given his running ability. The OL generally played well and Ty Johnson continues to be a monster. I’d be somewhat surprised if we don’t put up 25-30 points per game over the next four weeks which, assuming even a modicum of defensive improvement will give us a chance to win. The biggest area for concern is our ability to put points on the board in the red zone. It’s easy to chalk this up to youth, but, in my very humble opinion, we need to set the Sethcat formation on fire. If we’re cruising down the field with our base offense, keep that unit in to finish the drive. Save Sethcat for 4th and short or, better yet, launch it into the sun for a week or two to aid my blood pressure.

We’re 3-4. I expected us to either be 3-4 or 4-3 at this point in the season, so if it’s a dumpster fire is at least an expected dumpster fire. Yes, the optics are important: getting pantsed by a bad Nebraska team hurts the insides and isn’t acceptable; but it’s a bit early to declare the Fleck tenure a failure. Let’s swallow the bile, maybe give this one a mulligan, and see where we are over the next four games.

Being a fan of this team isn't easy sometimes. This is certainly one of those times.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Hateweek: Metamorphosis

One morning, when Buck Samsa woke from his troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. Laying on his back, he noticed six spindly legs thrashing about, only realizing after a moment they were his own. His long antennae – that must be what they were – splayed against the headboard and on to his night stand, where the wriggling threatened to knock his iPhone onto the floor.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Deja Vu all Over Again?

Sadly, this is not about that Deja Vu.

Saturday sucked, huh? I had this one penciled in as a loss at the beginning of the season, but after the delicious turtles got raced by something called Temple, I moved it to a toss up. Never again he says to himself again.

It wasn't so much the loss that got to me. I'm pretty used to losing and, with a team comprised mostly of dudes who are no more than 16-months removed from their senior prom playing on the road for the first time, it was not unexpected. The thing that gives me pause is Saturday's performance looked *a lot* like what we saw from our team last year.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

More Young Talent and the New Redshirt Rule Should Help Minnesota Gophers Football in 2018

The 2017 season- aka Year Zero/Season 1 of the PJ Fleck Era- wasn't much fun. The Gophers struggled to a 5-7 season, and to be honest, looking at what was left of the roster by the end of the year, it was almost surprising their record wasn't worse. The team lacked both depth and experienced talent (and at some positions, both), so when things went wrong and/or guys got hurt, Minnesota just didn't have any answers.

The 2018 season is off to a good start with a 48-10 thumping of former Sun Belt Conference (do they allow Aggievision in FCS?)  member New Mexico State. The Gophers may have hopefully/maybe/finally found a quarterback, the offense in general looked much improved, and the defense was solid. Of course, the Aggies might be the worst team Minnesota plays all year, and the Fresno State Bulldogs squad they face this Saturday should be much better. The question this week, and for most of the weeks going forward, is how will this still very young Gophers squad fare against better competition?

While you never want to overreact to week 1 results, something that showed up in the game tape is Minnesota at the very least looks more talented- and deeper- than last year's squad. That in itself should give hope to Gophers fans that while we should expect some struggles and bumps in the road this season (including possibly this Saturday!), at least the talent on the roster (and the new redshirt rule) should give the coaching staff more options and solutions to fix problems than they had a year ago. Last season the only two position groups the Gophs had both depth AND talent at were linebacker and running back. Seriously, that's it. Everywhere else they either had some talent (much of it very young and inexperienced) but zero quality depth or other places, like oh I don't know say QUARTERBACK, they had neither talent nor depth.

Minnesota's QB combination of senior Conor Rhoda and RS Soph Demry Croft was one of the worst in college football last season. Rhoda was a walk-on who, unlike our current starter, just wasn't cut out to be a B1G starting QB. Effort was never a question but two different coaching staffs discovered they were pretty limited with what they could do with him under center (or would it behind center since everyone is out of the shotgun now?). With Croft, talent was never the issue, but availability certainly was. He couldn't get on the field with the Claeys' staff, and last season he couldn't stay out of Fleck's doghouse, and transferred in the off-season.

Neither of this season's QB's on the two deep will be All-B1G this season, but either should be an upgrade on what the Gophs had last year. Annexstad looked more comfortable and confident in his reads and throws than any Minnesota QB since Adam Weber. As a true frosh it's going to get a lot more difficult and the learning curve will be steep- don't surprised to see more possessions like we saw in the first quarter where they have trouble moving the ball- but he showed the tools and the attitude to make improvements and adjustments as the season goes on. Backup Tanner Morgan is only a RS frosh but has been learning and absorbing the offense for more than a year and should at least be productive if he has to play. Again, neither will be world beaters this year, but their talent should allow the offense to do more of what they want to do compared to last season.

Another part of the passing game woes in 2017 were a total lack of receiving options. Tyler Johnson had a breakout year but that was pretty much it. They desperately needed a talented vet like Rashad Still or a host of juniors to step up and make plays but none of them did. All of them barely saw the field and, like Croft, transferred out in the off-season. The rest of the guys were just SO young and inexperienced they couldn't do much to scare defenses. Once Johnson went out late in the year he took the passing game with him.

This season the two deep is still pretty young but we saw already in the NMSU game they should be much improved. Johnson remains an All-B1G caliber wideout and he'll be the bellcow of the passing game. But it was encouraging to see more guys than just him make plays- true frosh Rashod Bateman is the kind of wideout that we haven't had here since...I don't even know. He's a true blue-chip talent that's starting from day 1 and should only get better as the season progresses. Both Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas looked good coming back from injuries, Philip Howard was solid last year as a RS frosh and should contribute this year, and Seth Green remains an intriguing guy at "pass catcher". Tight ends remain a total wildcard, but considering how little they got out of the position last year and how much better the receiver talent and depth looks to be this season, that's a position they can figure out as they go.

The third big issue with both the passing game and offense in general from a season ago was the depth and talent on the offensive line. Wait, check that- that's generally been an issue for this program since Glen Mason was fired in 2006, but last year was especially difficult. The starting 5 they trotted out in week 1 and that two deep in general to start the year wasn't bad, but by November they were struggling just to put a starting five on the field, let alone fill out a depth chart.

As mentioned, health and talent on the O-line have been an issue for this program under multiple coaching staffs for far too long, but there's at least potential for this season to be the year it changes. And not just because of an uptick in recruiting better O-linemen; the NCAA's new rule allowing players to play up to 4 games in a season and not have it count as a year of eligibility will help every school with depth or injury issues at every position, but it would seem to be especially helpful for the Gophers and their O-line. Last season the staff rightfully did everything possible to keep the redshirt on true frosh behemouth Blaise Andries, which took some kind of combination of hope and luck as by year end Andries was often the 7th or 8th O-linemen on the depth chart. It worked as he'll have four years of eligibility to play.

This year, at least availability of able bodies won't be an issue- if the Gophers run into injury issues yet again, they'll be able to rotate in a deep stable of true freshmen without hurting their eligibility. It's never ideal to play true freshmen- especially on the line- but if the situation requires them only to dress or even take a few snaps for a few games (as was the case last year when they couldn't do it), they'll be able to.

That said, the quality and talent available SHOULD be better too. The left side has three experienced starters in seniors Donnell Greene (T) and Jared Weyler (C), and RS soph Connor Olson (G). Behind them are seasoned juniors Quinn Oseland and Bronson Dovich. The right side...ok yeah they get REALLY young really fast: Starting RT Sam Schlueter played in 10 games and started the final six last year as a freshman and the aforementioned Andries has been shifted inside to start at guard. Behind them, as well as at center, it's nothing but true and redshirt freshmen.

Sure, that's not ideal, but if the recruiting rankings are to be believed they should be a talent upgrade on some of the guys they've had to throw into the mix in desperation in years past. Two especially intriguing options are the IMG kids G Curtis Dunlap (6'5 and 370 pounds!) and T Daniel Faalele (roughly 700 feet tall and weighing 3 tons). It may be more of a question of when not if those two receive more and more regular playing time, but here's at least hoping the line gets better health luck than past years so they can play Dunlap, Faalele and any of the other younger because they're ready, not because they have to.

Ok this got wordier than I planned, so on defense, let's just say the same things apply. Minnesota won't be better at DT than last season but at least they'll potentially have more depth, and they returned everybody at DE. The LB's continue to be the strength of the team, and while the depth behind them are senior Julian Huff then a bunch of freshmen, again that new redshirt rule can help with any potential depth issues. The secondary... let's just hope everybody stays healthy.

The week one demolishing of NMSU was great and fun and SO needed for this fan base. And while there's going to be struggles in the week to come, that week one win showed us that the staff should have more talented options- and hopefully solutions- to combat the issues that will inevitably rise with a young team. At the very least if Minnesota runs into injury issues again this season, they'll have more able and ready bodies available, which will hopefully lead to an improved year 1/season 2 under PJ Fleck.

SKI-U-MAH and #RTB. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

AnnexSTATS!

Hola, amigos. Two posts in a week is the current record for 2018 posting volume. Setting the over at most posts in a week for the season at 2.5. If you win, you’ll get a third or fourth post that week. It’s like free methadone day at the clinic around here. Or a Badger press conference where Jeff Potrykus is your only inquisitor.


Monday, August 20, 2018

BuckyWorld


I tried again for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Okay, Bernard, so the player announces he’s leaving when he finds out charges are going to be filed.”
“Right.”
 “And athletic department policy basically says no action is to be taken by the school before charges are filed, yes?”
“That’s the policy,” he nodded.
“Doesn’t that kind of look like maybe the school is pushing the player out to keep the program clean and free of having to conduct any investigation of their own?”
“It doesn’t look like anything at all to me,” he said.
I shook my head, “You keep saying that. What does that even mean?”
“The policy was written a long time ago. Most of the time, criminal investigations don’t lead to charges so the school doesn’t take any action until those charges are made. It’s done to protect the players. That’s the policy.”

“I’m totally on board with protecting the players, sure; but are you comfortable with the school basically absolving themselves of any responsibility here? It’s like allowing someone to quit before a company fires him for embezzling funds or something.”

“The policy was written a long time ago,” he responded.

“What does that have to do with anything? You’re a member of the media. Shouldn’t you be asking about this or at least whether this policy still makes sense?”

His looked up at me, his eyes growing distant. “These passive inquiries have passive ends.”

With a bang, the door to the room swung open. Anthony Hopkins strode in, a red windbreaker tightly wrapped around his torso like a sausage casing. “Bernard, freeze all motor functions.” Bernard went limp.

I backed quickly away from Bernard and Anthony Hopkins and pressed myself against the wall. “What the shit, man?!” I yelled, incredulous.

“Please, call me Barry,” Anthony Hopkins said, smiling.

“What the fuck did you do to him? And why are you here? And why are you wearing a Wisconsin jacket?”

“Oh, Bernard is quite well. He serves a purpose. But he is not equipped to answer the questions you posed to him. They fall,” he paused, looking down and putting a hand on Bernard’s unmoving shoulder, “outside of his narrative.”

“His what?” I stammered out, my mind reeling from what I was seeing.

“His narrative,” Anthony Hopkins/Barry said looking back at me with a subtle, knowing grin. He folded his arms and began walking around the room. “You see, everyone here has a role to play. Coaches, players, equipment managers, trainers, professors, parents, fans. And the local media. Especially the local media. They are how we tell our story. Through them we can emotionally connect with the fans, foster a strong sense of pride and  ensure our reputation remains positive with the state and the broader college football community. So you’ll understand that we can’t leave something of that import to chance.”

“I…I’m not sure I follow,” I whispered as my head involuntarily ticced.

Anthony Hopkins/Barry turned and gestured at the still-motionless Bernard, “Bernard, analysis mode.”

Bernard sat up in his chair, straight as a pencil. “What in…” I breathed, trying harder to push myself through the wall and away from whatever was happening.

Anthony Hopkins/Barry continued, “Bernard, what is your narrative.”

“To first, do no harm to the program. To tell the story of athletics in a positive way. To ask questions in a way that facilitates the best possible outcome for the program. To encourage goodwill with media consumers vis-à-vis the program.”

“Good, thank you, Bernard” Anthony Hopkins/Barry said. Looking back at me, he went on, “We created Bernard and his peers in the local media to remove the obstacle that media has created for other programs. It is mutually beneficial: we get uniformly positive coverage with no questions asked when there is an ethical or legal issue; they get to sell more advertising and subscriptions by leveraging our successful brand.”

My brain was melting down. “You…You created him?! Like, he’s not real?! And neither is anyone else in the media?!”

“Oh, just the local meda, my friend. The national media doesn’t have the resources or interest to ask too many questions. With our local media telling our story, the national media only need pop in when they need a feel-good piece on hardworking, plucky Midwesterners. You see, we give the people what they’re looking for. People here want a winner. One that punches above its weight. Too much digging around jeopardizes that. Tell me, who loses in this situation?”

“Oh, I don’t know! The people! The truth! Humanity if your robot army decides to stop writing puff pieces and take over the world!” I shouted.

Anthony Hopkins/Barry laughed, “But what is the truth, my fellow? The truth may be objective were we to know everything. But we cannot. So the truth we accept is that which is told to us, which is entirely subjective. And, really, if everyone remains happy and well paid, does it matter whether the subjective truth is given to you by a human being or our friend Bernard, here?”

“It’s unethical and these robots are an abomination to natural law!” I growled.

“Are you happy with the Twin Cities media?” Anthony Hopkins/Barry asked rhetorically. “I suspect not. They do everything our local media doesn’t, by investigating, asking questions and reporting every misstep by your program, large or small. They, the media, certainly benefit, but do the people of Minnesota? The program certainly doesn’t. No, I think our version of the truth is much better for everyone involved. And things like Bernard are the best way for us to achieve that truth. Anyway, come now, it’s time to get you home.”

I felt a sharp pain in my leg, looked down and saw a small dart stuck in me. “What? No!” I groaned.

I immediately started feeling dizzy and things began to go dark. “Barry,” I croaked. “Please, tell me. Is Reusse a robot?”

Anthony Hopkins/Barry laughed, “No, friend, no he’s not. Reusse is a shitposter.”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Practice Report | 8/4/18


The roster turnover Fleck has accomplished in just a year and a half looks absurd on paper. How can
anyone expect a team this young, 127th out of 130 in experience, expect to compete anytime soon?
Well... go to practice. I’ve been going to practices since Time Brewster took over so have seen a number
of roster changes now; nothing compares to this. I’ve bought in to past hype, hook line and sinker.
I’ve finally adopted a prove it attitude before I start predicting imminent B1G Titles, but physically,
this Gophers team is different. This is easily the biggest, fastest, strongest roster I’ve seen. They have
a lot to prove on the field, but this team has a very high ceiling for years to come. But enough about
vague state of the program messages though, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

QB - Zack Annexstad. If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you know his story. Story aside, I’m
pulling for this kid to get the job. His arm talent is great. Pocket presence a very welcome upgrade from
what we’ve seen, and he has a bit more size and speed than Morgan that make him a bit more of a run
threat. All of that said, Morgan is currently likely 1A to Annexstad’s 1B. This is a battle I expect to go into
the season as both guys looked good in practice today. If, god forbid, both guys go down, this is going to
be a very long year. The walk ons behind these two look like, well, walk ons.

Running Back - Rodney Smith appears like he will be a much bigger threat in the pass game this year.
I was very impressed with his routes and hands at today’s practice and wouldn’t be surprised to see him
mixed in on the outside every now and then. Behind him, it seems to be a two back race between Mo
Ibrahim and Nolan Edmonds. Edmonds was a bit smaller than I expected him to be at 5’11” 200lbs but
he very much looks ready to play. He and Mo split time with the 2s today and I wouldn’t be surprised to
see both in the rotation this fall but would love to see Edmonds redshirt while playing the 4 games
allowed with the new redshirt rules. Of the other backs the only one to stand out was Femi-Cole who’s
size and physique are as impressive as ever. I don’t foresee him being a factor this fall though as his
pad level has always been problematic.

TE - Oh boy oh boy. Seth Green. This guy is going to be a dude. He reminds me a lot of Marqueis Gray
physically; he has similar size and athleticism. We didn’t see a ton of the TEs today but I expect Green
to be a threat in the passing game and by the time he’s done at the U I think he gets drafted as a TE.
Outside of Green I thought Kieft looked good in Pass Pro and Paulson solid as a Receiving threat.
Nate Bursch strikes me as a likely transfer candidate. His feet are just too slow for the B1G in my
opinion.

WR - When I say the sky is the ceiling for these guys I’m not only referring to their potential but also
how high some of these guys can jump. Roshod Bateman is absolutely a day 1 player, he has it all.
Ty Johnson has improved off of a season where he was our only threat. Chris Autman-Bell will be a
threat this year and can do it all. We saw flashes of what Demetrious Douglas can do last year and he
is now healthy and could start in the slot. Outside of these 4 there’s a bit of a gap. Manns is hurt but
could very well factor in on the inside. Other than him it’s wide open. I’ve been a fan of Morse in the
past but he looked rough today. Harry Van Dyne needs some time still in my opinion. Brock Annexstad
had some solid plays but I don’t know if he has the athleticism to earn time. Fleck’s WMU teams spread
the ball around but some guys are going to have to step up outside of TJ, Bateman, Bell, & Douglas
for that to be true for this team.

OL - I’m going to start with a disclaimer here: the team was not in full pads today so it’s tough to judge
this group. That said, this may remain a relative weakness for another year. We know Greene and
Weyler are good while Olson has shown some flashes. This likely leaves the right side of the line open
for competition. Today, there were a lot of coachable moments on the OL, especially on the right side.
What that means is really not something that can be known at this point. My guess for RG would be
Andries with Falaale at RT but that may not come to fruition week one as both guys are young and have
a lot to learn. Expect some growing pains here as young guys learn.

DL - So umm yeah, the reason Kill, Claeys, & Sawvel were moving to a 3-4 wasn’t because you can’t
recruit DLs to MN; it was because they couldn’t. This is the most physically impressive DL group we
have had in years. I’m not yet sold on OJ Smith being a run stuffing god but he is definitely in better
shape this fall than last. Elijah Teague is a man and I expect him to play this fall. Osezi Otomewo is the
real deal and I can’t wait to see him on the field this fall. Winston Delattiboudre (not that hard to spell Mr
“Alphabet Soup”) looks ready to go and looks to be a leader on the sidelines. Jerry Gibson looks
ready to put his athleticism to work finally. Hickox, Riegelspieger, Umlor, Robinson, and Silver all
look the part but Mayan and Abi really stood out physically, especially for their age.

LB - I’m going to include Coughlin in this group as I’m hoping he can spend more time at LB than DE.
If he can do this, the best unit on the team will be even better. The unit isn’t perfect though as no LB
really looked good in pass protection today. This is particularly apparent with Barber but is noticeable
even with more athletic guys like Martin and Cashman. I’m hoping Smith can make this impact minimal
via scheme as none of these guys are going to be elite 1-1 with a WR or RB. Outside of the names we
know I was blown away with Oliver and Rush’s size as true freshman. I didn’t see Mariano which I am
Sori about.

DB - I’m about as worried about DB as I am OL. There are some known pieces like on OL with Winfield
and Huff but there are some guys who haven’t shown their worth yet like Shenault, Williamson, &
Thomas. The freshman safeties looked like deer in headlights today as Aune and CJ Smith struggled
and Sapp was in and out with an orange jersey. Terrell Smith looked solid and I expect he won’t redshirt
if he can keep it up but overall this unit has a lot of questions to overcome for the Goohers to beat pass
happy teams like Fresno, Purdue, and Indiana.

Special Teams - Didn’t see enough to talk about anyone.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Non-Gopher Topic: Breaking Down Ryan Redington's Victory in the 2018 Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

Each year I volunteer, with members of my family, at the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Northern Minnesota. My cousin is the coordinator for the Sawbill Checkpoint. In addition to helping work the checkpoint, I enjoy following the race and sort of “armchair mushing” the strategies.

This year’s Marathon was roughly ~370 miles and began with 10 mushers. Each team can begin the race with 14 dogs. The ten teams included 8 very experienced and strong mushers, along with two first timers.

Nathan Schroeder and Ryan Anderson have combined to win the previous 7 Beargrease Marathon’s (4 for Nathan, 3 for Ryan), with Ryan Anderson being the defending champ. Blake Freking and Keith Aili are also past Beargrease Champions. Perennial contenders Colleen Wallin and Denis Tremblay were in the mix, along with up and coming North Shore musher Matt Schmidt and last year’s Runner Up, Ryan Redington who is originally from Alaska, but currently lives in the UP of Michigan.

Two rookies rounded out the field of ten. Kevin Mathis of Iowa, and Blair Braverman of Michigan. Both had competed in, and completed the Beargrease Mid-Distance race (roughly 150 miles) in the past.

Unfortunately the two rookies ended up scratching from the race. Kevin scratched before the midway point after a rough start. There was word that his team got in a bit of a tussle before the start of the race, which lead to some early trouble.

Blair had a steady race, but ultimately ended up scratching about three-quarters into the race. I think there were two reasons Blair struggled and neither was in her control. One, the Beargrease trail is difficult. That is an absolute fact and as such, rookie mushers often don't fare well. Second, in comparison to the 8 other teams on the trail, it would be very difficult for a rookie team and musher to keep up.

In many years, with more teams on the trail, often consisting of other rookies or mushers running younger/puppy teams, Blair would have likely been in the mix in the second half of the pack, but that was not the case this year with a relatively small field of competitors. 

A note on the difficulty of the race. The Beargrease trail winds from Duluth up the North Shore of Lake Superior, then back down. While the race doesn’t have some of the long climbs and descents that the long famous races of Alaska have, or other races in the Western Lower 48 states, what makes Beargrease so difficult is the number of short steep hills, often in rapid succession.  There are a lot of quick ups and downs, which is both unusual and unfamiliar for most dog teams. Mushers from Alaska have commented on how difficult the trail is, saying things like “the hills just keep on coming.”

There are a total of 8 checkpoints between the start and finish of the Beargrease Marathon and teams must take at least 30 hours of rest in those checkpoints throughout the race.

There are two mandatory rest spots: 8 hours at Grand Portage (the halfway point of the race) and 4 hours at Highway 2 (the final checkpoint before the finish of the race), meaning teams must take 18 hours of rest throughout the other 6 checkpoints, averaging out to 3 hours/checkpoint.

There are basically two strategies to winning a distance dogsled race. Go faster than all of the other teams, or take less rest than all of the other teams. Obviously it’s slightly more complicated than that, and mushers have to assess the strengths and condition of their teams, but in general, those are the main winning strategies.

With Beargrease having a mandatory amount of rest, the strategy of cutting rest isn’t really available. Sub strategies exist. For example, some teams may rest early in the race, conserving their team's energy for later in the race. Some may take less rest early so that they can get ahead of their competition, perhaps causing them to make a mistake or deviate from their race plan due to being behind. There are no doubt countless other ways of thinking about it, but I am not a musher myself, so this is just my observation.

Regardless of the strategy, for the Beargrease Marathon, one thing is consistent: the top teams will have taken exactly 30 hours of rest (plus their time differential from the start of the race), and not a second more.

This year, Freking & Tremblay essentially “blew through” (stopped only for a couple of minutes) the first checkpoint at Finland, stopping only to give their dogs a snack, then moved on to tackle the run to the Sawbill checkpoint. Redington took a longer, but still short, 1 hour break. Those three mushers arrived at Sawbill 1-2-3 as expected, followed steadily by the other 5 seasoned competitors.

The next two checkpoints at Sawbill and Trail Center are where Ryan Redington essentially called his shot. First, he left the Sawbill checkpoint about 45 minutes before any other team, meaning he took shorter rest than anticipated, and then he posted the fastest time (5 hours, 1 minute, 8 seconds) to make the run. Other competitors were close in run time, but Redington did it on less rest.

At this point, the wisdom was that yes, Redington was out in front, but he was well behind other competitors in amount of rest taken. The concern at this point becomes burning out your team. If you go too fast and/or with too little rest, dog teams can shut down and refuse to run.

Next, continuing the trend, Redington took the least amount of rest at Trail Center, then posted the 2nd fastest run time to the halfway point at Grand Portage. He had taken about two hours less rest than the other competitors, but was running as fast as anyone, and still had a strong team of 11 dogs.

The other 7 main competitors stayed pretty bunched up behind Redington, seemingly employing a similar strategy to each other. They arrived to Grand Portage within 30 minutes of each other, but about 3 hours after Redington.

The race plan that these 7 mushers were employing had been a winning one in the past, but Redington had essentially turned that on its ear.

After an 8 hour & 18 minute rest (the mandatory 8 hour rest plus his time differential from the start of the race) at Grand Portage, Redington hit the trail on the way to Skyport. This is where, in my opinion, Redington really won the race. Leaving 3 hours ahead of his competitors, he made the 53 mile run 20 minutes faster than the next fastest team. He then left Skyport just an hour after his closest competition, who at that point of the race was Ryan Anderson, arrived to the checkpoint.

He was still 90 minutes behind the other teams in rest, but the speeds he was posting and just the psychology of the first place team already leaving a checkpoint shortly after you have arrived, may have been demoralizing for the other teams. 

If it wasn't already, it was now Redington's race to lose.

This is probably a good time to mention that Redington comes from a lineage of mushing royalty. Redington’s grandfather, Joe Redington Sr was one of the founders of the Iditarod in the early 70’s, and his entire family are dog people. Ryan himself won the Junior Iditarod in 1999, has competed in 9 Iditarod’s, completing the race five times with a personal best finish of 14th in 2017.

At 35 years old, Redington literally has a lifetime of experience with dog mushing.

The run from Skyport to Sawbill was more of the same. Redington posted the fasted time, besting Anderson by about 12 minutes and still posting an average speed of over 9mph, while other teams were closer to 8.5mph and under.

Redington took a relatively short rest at Sawbill of about 2 hours, which lead to him being able to take over 3 hours rest at Finland. None of the other mushers would have this luxury. 

All that was left for Redington was the run to Highway 2, his mandatory 4 hour rest at the race's final checkpoint, then the 35 mile run to the finish at Billy’s Bar in Duluth. As it turns out, that was a run that he was able to leave for nearly 2 and a half hours before his closest competitor, which was defending champ Ryan Anderson. Continuing the trend, Redington did the final stretch 24 minutes faster than Anderson.

This was a bit of a statement race, in my opinion, for Redington. He shot out of the gate in 2017’s Beargrease like a streak of fire, but his team speed suffered late in the race. Presumably his team burnt out on the hills because he ended up finishing the race with just 7 dogs. This year his strategy was similar, but perhaps a bit more conservative early. Additionally, his team was likely better conditioned to maintain the pace.

[UPDATE: Redington confirmed in the Duluth News Tribune that he was indeed more conservative early, and that his team had more training this year than last.]

It’s possible that Redington’s win this year was a Beargrease record. Unfortunately, due to snow and trail conditions over the years, the Beargrease route has undergone several changes, so maintaining any kind of official record isn’t really possible. But from a pure time standpoint, Redington’s finish (32 hours, 20 minutes of trail time) is 40 minutes faster than Nathan Schroeder’s record from 2016.

With Redington now residing in the UP of Michigan, it’s possible he will become a perennial competitor in the Beargrease Marathon. While other mushers continue to improve and push their teams, if Redington is going to be a yearly foe, teams are clearly going to need to step up their speed. A daunting task.

The stranglehold that Anderson and Schroeder had on the Beargrease Championship is over for the moment, but those two aren’t going anywhere and are fierce competitors who will continue to improve.

Keith Aili is a wild card who always puts together fast teams, and Denis Tremblay and Colleen Wallin have shown steady improvement for many years.

Matt Schmidt and his wife Erin Altemus have built a very good team. They share the family mushing duties and are just getting started in competitive races.

Blake Freking and his steady team of Siberian Huskies is always in the mix, particularly any year that the temperatures are especially cold.

Next for Redington is the 2018 Iditarod. There’s really no corollary between Beargrease performance and Iditarod performance, as far as I can tell, but Redington's team appears to be in top shape.

In a typical year the Iditarod begins in Willow, Alaska and ends in Nome, but last year’s Iditarod was run on a non-traditional route between Fairbanks and Nome due to a lack of snow on the traditional trail. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate that the Fairbanks route is faster, as the first half of the race is run primarily on flat, frozen rivers.


There is no doubt Redington has a strong team that is built for speed, even on short rest, and his strong finish on last year’s flatter Iditarod trail is evidence of that. It will be interesting to see how he and his athletes are able to handle the traditional Iditarod trail after an impressive Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon victory.