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)

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