Monday, September 22, 2014

Saturday's Talkers on Monday or Tuesday: Numerology and Epistemology

Well, you know Gopher football season is in full swing when the fan base has torn up the social contract and formed warring factions. The innertronz has been a rowdy place for the last few days as feuding parties have lobed small-pox ridden posts into opposing camps. The nuclear option for forum managers, the ban-hammer, has been used on posters who push antagonism to its limits. Right or wrong, this is where we end up. More on that in a bit.

Seven passing yards on seven attempts. Damarius Travis had an interception. His jersey number? Seven. Cobb ran for 6.1 yards per carry: 6 + 1 = 7. David Cobb and Chris Streveler were the only two Gophers with offensive yards until the 43rd minute of the game. Cobb got all of his yards on 34 carries. 4 + 3 = 7. The final score was 277. Eerie, right?

Frothy the Seer believes the frequency of the number seven from last Saturday’s game is a positive omen for the team going forward. After reading up on numerology over the last three minutes, I’ve learned that seven is the perfect number and a symbol of divine abundance. Unless the divine is a fan of man boobs, dog farts and gout, this can’t be a bad thing. Further, the number seven suggests positive change and renewal following the completion of a cycle. My training in mysticism tells me we are now fully free from the decade of futility, the malignancy of those one- and three-win seasons burned from our cellular memory. The cycle is done, broken, and, in the words of the immortal Smashmouth, we could all use a little change.

Let’s hope the divine, the noumenal essence of number, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, DJ Khaled, Cerberus, John Galt and/or Sweet Baby Jesus are happy with this incarnation of the Gophers team, because there is a significant percentage of our fans who are not. At all.

Like I said, Gopher Nation has split apart into factions. And I mean faction in the traditional, Madison-esque shit coming straight at you from Federalist 10 sense of the word: “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion.” Now, Madison was referring to political factions, particularly those associated with property, and how a direct democracy or small republic may be unable cope with the vagaries of the human condition. Who cares about such ephemera? We’ve got real-life Gopher football factions!

We’ve got two fairly well-defined camps. While I’m sure neither camp represents a majority of Gopher fans, it makes for a better narrative if you pretend everyone is in one or the other. There is no Dana only Zuul, where we replace “Dana” with “gray area” and “Zuul” with “black or white.” What fun is pumping out opinions if you can’t use the written word to assault straw men and false dichotomies?

The issue at the heart of the disagreement is the offense. Not even sure why I typed that sentence because, if you’re one of the thirteen people who read this, you already know. The positions roughly break down into “shit, we’re fucked” or “settle down, we’re fine.”

We’ll start with the latter, which we’ll refer to going forward as ENJOY THE SEASON (ETS). These peeps are happy that we’re 3 – 1 and don’t understand why people are so angry. We dominated three of our four non-conference games and happened to run into a better team against TCU. While there may be some reservations about the Gophers’ offensive potential come conference play, the maxim here is we’ve done what we needed to do to win. Why do we need to do more than that for people to be happy?

Folks in this camp usually go for the counterpunch. They’ll wait for someone to open a vein about how angry they are that we have no passing game in year four, how the team isn’t any better than it was when Kill took over and how we’ll struggle to win a conference game with a one-dimensional offense, then strike. Their responses are usually pragmatic, if laced with condescension. Suggestions that we wait for nine months, only get 12, maybe 13 games, so it seems silly to be miserable even after winning. Threads about focusing on the positives rather than dwelling on the negative. Practicality is king.

The central premise for ETS is, effectively, that each game is an individual event rather than a progression from one to the next. Consequently, a strong or weak performance in one aspect of one game – or many games – has little to no bearing on how the team will perform in the following weeks. So, to ETS, less is known about the remainder of the schedule than is known. We should have a chance in every game, we have our strengths and weaknesses, as do our opponents. We’ve got good coaches who will figure it out, so let the season play out and savor the process regardless of the outcome. To worry about what will happen next week is akin to being frightened of the boogeyman – it’s merely a manifestation of fear of the unknown.

The offense, then, has had three good games and one poor one. It hasn’t been flashy, but it hasn’t needed to be flashy to get the job done. That we’ve been unable or unwilling to pass is moot – we haven’t needed to pass to win, and to win is the single important objective. Maybe we won’t be able to pass against Michigan and other B1G teams; but we don’t know that yet. Why worry about the monster under your bed when you’re outside on a beautiful summer day?

The other camp, the Oceania to ETS’s Eastasia, we shall refer to as FAHK. While there may be some measure of satisfaction that we’re 3 – 1, at the forefront of this faction’s mind is the Gophers offensive ineptitude. We are one dimensional and will be exposed against better defenses. TCU was a harbinger of the Gophers B1G season, where we go belly up when the running game is stopped. It’s nice to assert our will against lesser opponents, but that part of the season is done and what do we expect to do now?

FAHK is looking at the 2014 season as a repeat of the 2013 season through this point: maul FCS- and non-BCS-conference teams only to get shut down and pantsed against your real competition. Very recent history is on their side and, somehow, they’ll point out, the passing offense appears to have regressed even by last year’s low standards. Generally speaking, FAHK is more assertive in sharing this view and are genuinely piqued when confronted by arguments from ETS. There is dismay that this season is playing out identically to last season and others aren’t acknowledging it. Imagine you and some friends have seen two trains race toward each other on the same track and produce a fiery wreck. Now, some time later, you’re watching two trains on the same track, moving at full bore toward the same point, yet your friends state they don’t believe they will crash. You would have difficulty muting your disbelief. Past performance must be some indication of future result.

Thus, there is an air of certainty, a knowledge, of you will, associated with FAHK’s view on the program. We saw last year’s first five games and we’re suffering from the same pratfalls now as we did then. In fact, we’re objectively worse than we were in 2013 with respect to passing the ball. We played poorly in all four games and only won three because we outclassed them in talent – that won’t be the case going forward. Contrary to ETS, FAHK believes that past games are indicative of where the program is, that history is progressive and directional. FAHK isn’t afraid of the boogeyman. FAHK knows what ETS is calling the boogeyman is really a rabid St. Bernard who will chew your throat out. To suggest otherwise is to deny knowledge to make room for faith in the coaches.

So, who’s right? I’ll use the author’s prerogative, find a third way and say they’re both right and both wrong. I tend to agree with ETS that it’s absolutely worth celebrating any win. Guise, we’re not that far removed from losing to New Mexico State and the University of fucking South Dakota and here we are puling over what is, by any measure, three pretty dominant wins. None were terribly pretty, but we’re doing what decent teams are supposed to do and beating lesser opponents fairly decisively. 

I also think we’ve got more to the offense than we’ve shown thus far, so there’s an element of knowledge that’s missing at this point. Limegrover has shown he can be fairly creative; but only in instances where the game is of particular importance and we need to do things a little differently. None of the games this year have been that important, so we’ve been given the non-flavored gruel and we’ll damn well like it.

But I can’t accept there isn’t any cause for anxiety. This season is shaping up to be identical to 2013, where TCU played the part of last year’s Iowa. If that holds true going forward, this weekend’s game against Michigan will be uncomfortable. There is no way we get to six or seven wins as one dimensional as we are on offense. We are under 50% in completions and have two passing TDs versus five interceptions. We simply have to be further along in the maturity of this offense than we are right now. But we have seen no evidence that’s the case. Perhaps the coaches will open things up against Michigan and we’ll see a more robust passing game. But, again, there is nothing to support the belief that even if we did open things up, we have a quarterback on the roster who can execute it. Frankly, if you’re not a little bit concerned I want some of your Xanax.

So, here we are. Fighting amongst ourselves heading into one of the bigger games of the year. This is a game ripe for the taking, as Michigan is astoundingly weak offensively. They lead the nation in turnovers and we are second in takeaways. Santa Claus meets a greedy child. Hopefully, our friends in ETS are right, the coaches have been holding things back and we’ll run four verts for sixty minutes. Nothing will be held back in this game, so this time next week, we will know who will win our Gopher civil war.

(Frothy's starting word count: 24,241; Finishing word count: 26,018)


  1. My god, if we lose this game the wailing and gnashing of teeth will be historic.

  2. I don't get the fear of repeating 2013. It was one of the most successful seasons in my lifetime (I'm 33). Right now if some football deity gave me the power to grant the Gophers a repeat of 2013 for every year until the end of time - I'd take it in a heartbeat. That being said, FAHK, we need to throw it better to win this week! I'm only anonymous because I don't want to sign up for any of the other options...

  3. @ Anon

    Yeah, should have made it more clear that I was only referring to the first half of the 2013 season. We certainly righted the ship after that. I think the concern from FAHK is that Nebraska and Penn State were the anomalies in Limegrover's resume - we can't assume he'll do that again when the preponderance of his tenure here has been pretty vanilla.