Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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

We covered a lot of what I would typically say in our Saturday’s Talkers on Monday or Tuesday piece in the “Catharsis” blog on Sunday. Nevertheless, there’s been a great deal of chatter about the Gophers over the last few days. That’s not the slightest bit surprising, since their performance didn’t exactly engender a lot of goodwill. Frankly, I’m still not sure what to make up Saturday’s game. There was an awful lot that went wrong, not a lot that went right and I, like many of you, are kind of stuck in a swirl of negativity.

I guess two related things stand out for me. First, as I said in the Sunday piece, I really think TCU’s defense is pretty good. If we work under that assumption, that TCU’s defense is say, ranked in the top ten or 15 in the country, then a lot of our anxiety associated with our offense of performance is mitigated. We’re a good team, certainly better than a couple of years ago, maybe or maybe not better than last year, but we’re not yet good enough to compete with a top 10 defense. We saw it last year against Wisconsin and Michigan State: we just don’t yet have the power up front to run the ball against elite defenses and our passing game is too unrefined to crack that nut yet. I thought we’d be improved this season, meaning we’d have a better chance to move the ball against an elite defense, but that clearly wasn’t the case on Saturday.

Now, I think it’s totally fair question to ask whether that’s appropriate in year four of the Kill regime, and that’s the second thing that stood out to me: the total lack of imagination on offense. As we come to expect over the last three seasons, about 70% of our offense is runs up the middle (#RUTM). That’s fine, it’s irritating, highly, highly irritating, but I get it. Our bread and butter is going to be exerting our will on opposing defenses, and the most effective way to do that is to piss pound the other team through the A gaps. But, in instances like Saturday, where we have absolutely no success doing that over an extended period of play, maybe let’s try something else. Maybe try and test the edges of the defense. Maybe a sweep, maybe a bubble screen to Berkeley or Jones, anything. I know the TCU’s defense was fast, remember were assuming that they’re a top 10 or 15 defense in the country. Hell, you wouldn’t even need to run a sweep; just fake the damn thing. Something, anything, to stretch the defense laterally.

So, yeah, that’s what I think. There is an irrational part of me, a part that I usually try to smother with a pillow in its sleep, the one I try to drink away on weekends, that has this awful, awful theory. Maybe we didn’t bust out the whole playbook again. Maybe we saw TCU on tape, realized that they were far , far superior to what we would be able to manage, given the circumstances and decided to hold our cards for another day. Maybe we didn’t test the edges because we don’t want to give too much away. Maybe we didn’t think the jet sweep to stretch the defense because we’re holding it back for a game where we have a better chance to win. Maybe we assumed this was a loss and played it as such.

Yeah, yeah it’s absurd. That theory doesn’t explain the piss poor performance of the line. That doesn’t explain the inability of our wide receivers to consistently get separation from TCU’s defensive backs. That doesn’t account for our quarterback’s inability to recognize and connect with our receivers when they did manage to get open. The chances are much greater that we just kind of sucked. It could have been injuries across the offense of line, it could’ve been nerves associated with this year’s first road game, it could’ve been just a lack of execution with no real explanation. Regardless, it’s a moribund time for the program when a hypothesis that we didn’t even try is preferable to the reality where we probably gave it our all. That first loss of the year always cuts the deepest, doesn’t it?

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I’ve done a pretty good job of culling the Twitter herd over the last couple of years. That’s not to say that you should be offended if I don’t follow you; believe me, it’s a me problem, not a you problem. I have a difficult enough time managing my own sanity throughout the course of the Gopher football season without having to contend with some of the outrageous slings and arrows you all throw the program. I love you all, very dearly; but the bipolar tendencies of the media, and more often than not our own fans, are just a bit too much at times. Most times, as a matter of fact.

Case in point are what I really hope to be a very tiny, yet extraordinarily vocal contingent who began calling for the firing of Jerry Kill after the TCU game. Yes it was a frustrating game, the team, frankly, looked terrible, but it’s absurd to consider firing anyone after one game, no matter how bad it was. We’re but one season removed from a .500 conference record, the best we’ve done in a decade. We won four consecutive conference games for the first time in my life, and I’m probably closer to death than I am birth. The defense is the best it’s been in 15 years and there’s seemingly talent there to keep it going for at least another couple.

Yes, the offense has been uninspiring and the offensive line hasn’t developed quite as quickly as we’d all hoped. But, whoever you are that has totally given up faith in the Kill regime, you need to disabuse yourself of the notion that the answer is always hitting the reset button and starting over. A bad game does not necessarily portend a bad season. Hell, even if this season turns into a never-ending tire fire, a Fukushima-styled eruption of spent nuclear fuel and glowing maroon ash, Kill still ain’t getting fired. Maybe, maybe, if the season goes completely sideways we could see a change in personnel on Kill’s staff; but that’s much more likely to be a reassignment of personnel than a firing of one of his existing coaches and replacement by an external hire.

We were an absolute embarrassment of a program for the better part of five years in the late 00s and early 10s. We have finally reached some measure of stability and respectability as a program. Maybe it’s all part of the terrible ruse, where we slowly get better over three years, enjoy our best season in a decade and then fall off the face of the earth. It’s possible. Though, again, there’s nothing in Kill’s history to suggest that will happen. Will he ever win the big game and get us to the Rose Bowl? Truthfully, there’s nothing in his history to suggest he’ll do that either.

But it’s his fourth season and we’re coming off of a year where we did quite a few things we hadn’t done in a while. Maybe take a step back and let things play out a bit. We won’t ever get to where we all want to go if our first move after a setback, temporary or permanent, is to grab the torches and pitchforks and call for purity through bloodletting.

If it all goes to shit in two years, I promise I’ll be the first one offering a mea culpa and metaphorically opening my own veins as penance. So shut up for now, please. 

(Frothy's starting word count: 21,771; Finishing word count: 23,080)

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