Monday, October 5, 2015

I Need A Hug

As a Gopher football fan, I’ve quite frequently been in throwing-my-hands-in-the-air mode, as I am sure many have.

There are plays, players, coaches, games and seasons that just cause me to lose the ability to react other than to sort of momentarily give up.

And the question that goes along with the hands being thrown in the air is always “WHY?”

Not as in, why did that player do that, or why did that coach call that, or why are we so terrible. It’s more of larger existential “why.” Like, why do I have to be so invested in this? Why do I have to care so much about THIS team? Why couldn’t I have been born into a _____ family?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

I’m going to be honest with you guys: I hate this season of Gopher football.

I hate it so much.

I hate it worse than the 3-9 season in 2011. I hate it worse than the 1-11 in Brewster’s first year.

I hate it.

I hate it because 5 games into the season, for the first time in Kill’s tenure, I can’t see improvement.

I hate it because for the first time in as long as I can remember, what’s happening on the field actually feels like regression.

Last week I wrote about having perspective. Mostly I was talking about Mitch Leidner, but overall having some perspective about the Gophers.

Well Saturday’s shutout loss to Northwestern has pretty much caused me to lose any kind of positive perspective about this team.

I’ve got College Football Depression (CFD).

The thought of watching this football team on Saturday against Purdue puts a pit in my stomach.

The thought of spending an entire day tailgating and watching them against Nebraska makes me shake my head.

The thought that December could come and we won’t have a bowl game to look forward to makes me nearly catatonic.

In a typical Gopher season, it’s normal for the fans to create a divide between the Twin Cities media and ourselves. Sometimes there are doomsday Gopher fans who side with the TC media, but we tend to ignore them and their foil hats. A similar sect of the fanbase also resides on a certain message board that many of us choose to ignore.

But this season is different.

Sure, Reusse and Zulgad and Scoggins have gone after the Gophers, Coach Kill and Mitch Leidner, and why wouldn’t they? Their job isn’t to come up with original takes or write anything that rational thinkers could relate to. Their job is to appease readers and garner mouse clicks.

But the thing that has me hating this season so much is how bad we’ve gone after each other. You & me. The fans. It’s not fun.

Maybe it’s Twitter’s fault because we now all get an instant opinion and we all get to hide behind a smartphone or a computer.

After the TCU game, while I was waiting to get out of the River Flats lot, I got in a Twitfight with @bighatguy. He was bashing Leidner, I was blaming the offensive line. I don’t really remember what was said, but we disagreed on the larger problem. Two weeks later I met @bighatguy in the tailgating lot and he said something to me about our fight. My response was “oh, that was YOU?”

I was so fired up by the Leidner haters that night that it didn’t even matter who I was fighting with and I didn’t even remember who it was. That’s terrible.

@bighatguy is a really good dude, and he’s a really good Gopher fan and I’m not saying that he and I should agree on everything, but I’m guilty of fighting with my Gopher Football brother over something stupid.

In person, @bighatguy and I, along with a lot of other people, had some really good and thoughtful discussion about the QB situation and the Offensive Line situation, and we had not yet as a fanbase begun complaining about the play-calling quite yet, but I’m certain we would have had rational conversations about it as well.

And what I’m afraid of, and why I hate this season so much, is that I’m not sure we as a fanbase (and believe me, I put myself squarely in this camp as well because I’ve been bipolar about Mitch Leidner and I have lashed out at my fellow fan), have the ability to be rational right now.

We’re lashing out at the quarterback, we’re lashing out at each other, and for the first time I can remember, we’re lashing out at Coach Kill.

In and of themselves, none of those things are irrational, but the way it’s been happening just hasn’t felt characteristic of our fanbase.

The thing I look forward to the most on Saturdays is heading to the St Paul lots, pulling into a parking spot, cracking open a beer way too early in the morning, firing up the grill, and going through our individual Fear Level with Tre, Frothy & MV.

Generally one of us is scared to death, one of us is certain we’re going to see a blowout Gopher win, and the other two fall somewhere in between. The Fear Level typically ebbs and flows throughout the morning depending on how well the beers are going down and how the beanbag toss games are going.

But when I think about what I might possibly be thinking the morning of October 17th when I get to the tailgating lot and we begin discussing our Fear Level, at this moment I can’t imagine feeling anything but apathy.

Think about it. If we lose to Purdue, we’re all going to write this off as a lost season (if we haven’t already). If we beat them in a close game, we won’t feel any better because, well, it’s Purdue and you’re supposed to beat them and it might be our only B1G win of the season. And even if we somehow find a way to blow them out, we’ll be even more confused because “WHERE THE HELL DID THAT COME FROM?!?!”

My wife and I own an RV and in the fall when there isn’t a home Gopher game we like to get out somewhere, but our plans are always fairly dependent on me finding a way to watch the Gopher game as I haven’t been willing (yet) to pony up for dish in the motorhome.

For the CSU game, I was able to watch it in my friend’s RV. On Saturday for Northwestern, I was able to find an internet connection so I could watch it on my tablet. (Which was a horrible decision, by the way. I think the feed was fine, but the internet connection wasn’t stable and that situation added to my angst with the game as much as anything.)

This weekend we are going to be out in our RV again and I again am faced with how I watch the Gopher game. Then this afternoon, a thought came to me: maybe I just won’t watch it.

Folks, I can’t speak for you, but for me… that’s not normal. And I know it’s not normal, and yet, here I am and as I'm typing this I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of not watching the game. 

I KNOW it's not normal for me and yet I've dipped my toe into Lake Abnormal and the water is a little cool, but it seems fine. Now I'm swimming in it, and it feels kind of nice. Refreshing even. My head is still above water. I haven't gotten my hair wet yet, but Saturday is still 5 days away.

That’s how much I hate this season right now. That’s how much perspective I’ve lost.

Am I broken?

Somebody tell me I’m wrong. Somebody talk me down off the ledge. Somebody… hold me.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Perspective. You don't haz it.

I have a friend who has OCD. I mean, not like clinically diagnosed OCD, but OCD like he’s a little nuts when it comes to keeping his house and his yard and his garage a certain way.

So a couple of weeks ago, knowing full well that it would drive him completely crazy, I casually mentioned to him in conversation that I had mowed my front yard. I didn’t explicitly say that I didn’t mow the back yard, and I didn’t make a big point of why I only mowed the front yard. I was just telling him about my day and sandwiched into the things I had done that day I mentioned mowing the front yard.

When I mentioned it, I could see confusion on his face immediately, but I didn’t slow down my story to allow him to ask questions.

As it happened, we both got sidetracked with other conversations at some point and our discussion ended innocently enough.

About an hour later, after I had forgotten the conversation and the landmine I had planted, he comes up to me, and with obvious concern in his voice said: “How come you only mowed your front yard?”

You see, for him, there is no gray area. You don’t just mow the front yard and not take care of the back. You don’t even mow your entire yard unless you also take the time to do all of the trimming. For him, there is one way to do things, one right answer, and one way to go about life.

Now, my friend isn’t much of a Gopher fan. He pays attention, but he doesn’t make a point to watch the games and he doesn’t break down the matchups. If the game is on the radio while he’s working around the yard or in the garage, he’ll listen, but other than that, he mostly just pays attention to whether or not the Gophers win or lose so he has something to chat with me about.

But there are a lot of people like my friend within the family of Gopher fans, and those people apply the same black & white thinking to their fandom.

Either the Gophers are going to the Rose Bowl, or the sky is falling. 

Either Jerry Kill is the Minnesota Bear Bryant, or he’s just another stiff on the sidelines. 

Either the University of Minnesota is completely doomed when it comes to sports, or next year is THE year. #NYITTY

And, would you believe, they take the same approach to how the view Mitch Leidner?

Last Saturday, in the midst of, quite literally, the best passing performance of Mitch Leidner’s career, people were still calling for Demry Croft.

After going 10-12 in the first half, someone to my right screamed “PUT IN DEMRY!” after a Leidner incompletion in the 3rd quarter.

A few rows behind me, someone yelled something similar after Mitch had an incompletion that went through Wolitarsky’s hands.

There was even someone in front of me who screamed after a Mitch completed a pass to Woli because there was somebody open further downfield (I believe it was Carter and to say he was more open, in my opinion, was sketchy at best but I also drink heavily).

Over and over, just a blatant unwillingness to see what is going on before their very eyes and, if even for one afternoon, allow themselves to admit that QB1 is playing a decent game.

And I didn’t even look at Twitter during the game.

But the guy who took the cake was sitting two rows behind me.

(This recollection is completely from memory. I have not re-watched the game, so the details may be a little fuzzy, but the sentiment remains.)

I believe it was in the 3rd Quarter and it was a 2nd or 3rd and long. Mitch drops back to pass, but things began to close in around him pretty quickly, so he stepped up in the pocket. Another couple of seconds goes by and Mitch doesn’t find anyone downfield, so he takes off running.

Mitch makes it back to the line of scrimmage, maybe a little further, and an Ohio player dives at Mitch’s feet to make a shoestring tackle.

And that is when I heard it…


If you want to bash Mitch for his pocket presence, fine.

If you want to complain about him not identifying an open receiver quickly enough, go ahead.

If you are of the opinion that Mitch is a slow and plodding runner, be my guest.

You can have any of those opinions and you could probably find a way to make a case, but if you’ve lost so much perspective on Mitch Leidner, that you are going to yell at him for getting tackled, there is just no hope for you.

So friends, I invite you: live in the gray with me this Saturday.

Seriously, go out and mow half your yard before kickoff on Saturday. And don’t bother trimming.

Go to the grocery store without a list.

Consider the other side of a debate.

Look, I’m not saying Mitch silenced the critics last Saturday. I’m not saying he’s over the hump, and I’m not saying he won’t have another terrible game this season. You know what, he probably will.

But maybe we can allow ourselves to enjoy a moment of reprieve from the dumpster fire of QB play we’ve seen the last… 5 years? And enjoy a nice performance without bias.

Because I’m telling you, if you can’t figure out a way to have some perspective and enjoy the good moments when this rises above our damaged level of expectations, then you are cheering for the wrong football program and you should find another team.

I’m sure there’s still plenty of room in the Fargo Dome.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Celebration of Medill: The Scrote

There's no doubt, this weekend's match between Northwestern and our Gophers is the de facto B1G West division championship game. We find ourselves here yearly against the Wildcats, where the the fate of the conference and College Football Playoff hangs in the balance. An annual game this big deserves more than the credence it gets in the press. It deserves something spectacular. It deserves a trophy.

Thus, what you see here today. Born from recognition of what Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism has contributed to our society, we give you The Scrote. 

Every year the winner of this game will be rewarded with a set if Truck Nutz in a wooden frame, symbolic of  the work of Darren Rovell other Medill alumni.

The Pig, the Axe, the Jug and now The Ol' Swingin' Sack. Let the tradition grow.

5 Reasons Why The Gophers Will Beat Northwestern

Gophers hard at work trying to find the combination for success.

Its been a bumpy ride through the non-conference schedule to say the least.  I've gnashed my teeth as much as anyone over the Gophers throughout these first few games.  However, after last week I feel fairly confident that the Gophers head into Evanston and beat the Wildcats.  Am I insane?  Probably, but that aside, I have 5 reasons why I believe the Gophers win on Saturday:

1.  The coaching staff holds back in non-conference play.  

This old chestnut is one that always comes with the Gophers under the Kill regime.  Even though it is maddening sometimes, they rarely go out of the box in non-conference play.  They keep it vanilla, so when the switcheroos and shifts and other tricks come out they blow your mind!  Look for an explosive play or two that help turn the tide on Saturday.

2.  Simplified running attack now looks great.  

Holy Shannon Brooks.  Rodney Smith and the Talented Mr. Brooks (I combined two movies there I guess) both showed up big on Saturday.  Both were explosive with long runs of 30 and 40 yards, but Brooks really impressed me with his ability to truck, juke and blow by defenders.  And guess what else?  The offensive line looked pretty good too.  Now Ohio is not TCU, nor even Northwestern, so they have a big challenge ahead, but they should come into the game with some confidence that they can move the ball on the ground.

3. NW Frosh QB Clayton Thorson vs Gophers defense.

In order to win, this has to be a match-up that favors the Gophers.  Thorson turned the ball over three times in the first half of a 24-19 win against Ball St last week on two fumbles and an interception.   He finished 18-31 for 256 yards.  He was just 9-23 with two interceptions in their 19-10 win the prior week at Duke.  He has a 53.4 QBR on the season.  He's looked excellent at times, but he's young and the Gophers need to exploit that youth and the potential for mistakes.  Justin Jackson is a stud at running back that will be tough to contain, so the Gophers need to keep the Wildcats as one dimensional as possible.

4.  Speaking of Quarterbacks, have you seen our boy Mitch lately?  

Leidner had his best game of the year and executed another great, late-game drive to get a win.  I've been as hard on him as anyone and I had mentioned to my tailgate P.I.C. @Frothygopher that the Ohio game might be the one that makes or breaks him.  He came up big, and that's great news for the season and this game against Northwestern because as good as a Demry Croft may one day be, starting on the road in the Big Ten season opener would not be a good look.  I was impressed with how much more poise Leidner had in the pocket.  His footwork seemed a lot better to me and it resulted in better passes thrown.  Plus, being able to throw a short comeback to a guy like Isaiah Gentry and have him turn around and blaze up some YAC helps too.

Leidner's QBR by game?  18.5, 36.5, 54.7, 76.0.  Blammo.  @Frothy postulates this trend means he goes 94-98 passing this week.  In fact, he just made a MODEL:

@Frothy's model predicts a 96.6 QBR this week.  For comparison, Utah's Travis Wilson had a 97.4 QBR against Oregon last week.  He went 18-30, 227 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs and ran 6 times for 100 yards and a TD.

5.  The Gophers haven't played a complete game yet. 

The Ohio game featured the strongest offensive effort and they also weren't bad defensively; but massive mistakes on special teams made this game much closer than it could have been.  This forced pressure on both the offense and defense and they both held up their end of the bargain.  Especially on offense, where even when they were punting, they were moving the ball a good chunk down the field before kicking it away.  I have confidence that the special teams will be corrected at Northwestern.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hope, Once Again

Do you all remember the game under the Kill regime where you thought the defense was going to be pretty good? Not when you realized the defense was legit and began enjoying sustained success, which probably happened two years ago; rather, that first series of plays where you had an inkling these coaches might really know what they're doing. That first moment that you hope.

For me, it was against Iowa in 2011. It's a little odd, since, from a defensive perspective, we had just been murderballed in the previous four games (37 points allowed by [REDACTED], 58 to Michigan, 45 to Purdue(!) and 41 to Nebraska) and would proceed to get pisspounded by for most of the rest of the schedule (31 points allowed to Michigan State and 42 to the Fighting Russell Wilsons). Further, it wasn't an incredible defensive performance, since we gave up 472 yards of offense, including 252 to Marcus Coker, who rumbled for an impressive 7.9 yards per carry.

But, and maybe this is benefit of hindsight talking, there was a little something there. We had three sacks in the game, to which you might say, uh, and? But remember, we only had eight sacks for the entire 2010 season (not a typo), so that was a pretty big deal. Recall, also, that we had some grossly inferior and undersized talent playing in the defense that year, particularly in the secondary. That we were able to do anything at all in stopping an opposing team was a testament to the coaches. Yes, Iowa was pretty ordinary that season, but there was still something that seemed different enough to take note.

Of course, it wasn't a straight line to the very-good-to-great defense we have today. It was, at best, stepwise, and there were a number of missteps and regressions along the way. But there was a moment of positivity we hadn't seen in a while. We needed something to be excited about and there it was. Something to tell us that maybe the near future wouldn't be as bad as the recent past.

Well, Saturday's game was the first time I've felt that tickle of hope for the offensive side of the ball since Iowa last year and probably the 2014 Nebraska game before that.

The Gophers offense has been bi-polar through Kill's tenure, with moments of sheer brilliance followed by long, tedious periods of bleh. It's particularly vexing, because you know the coaching staff has the capability to be dynamic and trust the players to execute - you know because they have allowed it to happen and you've seen it. But, like a thief in the night, Limegrover steals your optimism and returns to the offensive morass that could sap the fun from a keg stand.

So, why is it different this time? Why am I allowing myself to love again?

To me, it is because of who the staff counted on to execute. While there were upperclassmen contributing to Saturday's offensive performance, we saw four freshmen, two of which are true freshmen, provide a spark this offense has lacked all season.

Our skill position players for the last several seasons, outside of Cobb and Maxx, could be best described as "workmanlike." Not terrifically flashy, they would try to grind you to dust through hard work, a blue-collar attitude and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team [/end cliche generator].

Saturday, we saw a collection of talent that transcends that. Smith looked like Cobb reborn. Brooks, wearing Cobb's old number, conjured images of both Barber and Maroney, as he alternated between seeking contact against an off-balance defender and exploding into the open field for a 40-yard touchdown. Still and Gentry with their acrobatics, body control and athleticism have been absent from the wide receiver corps for nigh on a decade. Gentry, in particular, accelerates like a tremendous machine (h/t Chic Anderson) which, at 6'4", open up the deep threat potential in ways we haven't seen in some time.

Immense potential. And, for this season, that may be all that we see. Like the defense of four years ago, there will be setbacks and regressions. Youth, in the college game, rarely begets consistency. But in entrusting four freshmen to play a central role in the offense this weekend, particularly in a high-pressure, end-game situation, this staff demonstrated a willingness to take risks that were not part of the previous offensive breakthroughs.

We saw the future of the offense on Saturday. We needed something to be excited about, and there it was. Once again, we had hope.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ask a Non-Season Ticket Holding Fan on Twitter: Ohio Bobcats

As we strive to bring you the best independent Gopher coverage, we've come to recognize that the media landscape has changed. We ditched our weekly paper newsletter last year and now have as many as four people dedicating up to 1% of their time to bring you the best in digital content. Seeing that innovation is now core to what we do, our latest feature utilizes the "social media" platform, "Twitter," to get some perspective from the Gophers' opponent this week: Ask a Non-Season Ticket Holding Fan on Twitter.

The idea is to get a better understanding of our worthy adversaries from the view of someone who might care about and follow the team, but might be equally likely to not know the name of the coach or their record last year. This is the hard-hitting stuff you've come to expect from us.

This week, we face the Ohio Bobcats from Athens, Georgia. We have two respondents this week, which is two more than I thought I could round up for this: @Buddha_Ohio and @NikkiLovesCO. Let's get right to it!

1) Do you refer to yourselves as Athenians? If no, why not?
Wisconsin?! This is what we call an inauspicious start, Buddha. Good gravy. Being an Athenian is better than any Badger affiliation, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt and pretend he said "Yes." What about Nicole?
This makes sense, it being the mascot and such, but it really feels like a missed opportunity. If the original Athens had a college team with a Woodpecker for a mascot, would they call themselves "Woodpeckers?" The ancient Spartans versus the Woodpeckers? No, no they would not.

2) Guessing you're a fan of REM since they're also from Athens. What's your favorite song and why?
How could you be so wrong and so right in the same tweet? Of course Ghostbusters is the best theme song/movie ever, but Ohio University is in Athens, Georgia, birthplace of Michael Stipe and Herschel Walker.

3) For Gopher fans visiting Athens for the game this weekend, where's the best place to grab breakfast and a beer?

There you go, Gopher fans, plenty of options for food and drink tomorrow. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford the flight to Georgia this weekend, so hit it hard in my absence.

4) How offended will your players be if we start a "MOAR LIKE BOBCANTS" chant?

Huh. Fans that are generally successful at life but don't stick around until the end of the game. Seems kind of familiar. Also, sounds like it's safe to mock the players tomorrow!

5) What's the biggest thing Gopher fans should be concerned about?

Last time Solich faced the Gophers, he beat them by about 8,000. So let's get really drunk tonight to pre-forget!
I know of no other kind of drinking but heavy and angry. I'd be more concerned about this if our own fanbase wasn't at Defcon 2 and ready to tear itself apart in rage. We may need the angry, drunk Ohio fans to play the role of UN peacekeepers.

That's it for this week! Thanks again to Buddha and Nicole for getting us into the heads of Ohio fans. Give them a follow on the Twitters.

The Plot Thickens