Friday, October 24, 2014

Is it a trap? Gophers vs Illinois

Favored by -12.5 against Purdue at home.  Was that a trap game?

Favored by -6.5 against Illinois at Champagne this weekend.  Maybe that's the trap?

The bye week certainly isn't a trap, but what about the following week at home versus Iowa.  Trap?

Everyone seems to be calling each game a trap these days.  I realized that I don't know what the hell a trap even is except you lose when you don't expect to.  Some nerds at Harvard defined the trap game as a game against a lesser opponent preceding a game against a better opponent.  In that case, I guess Iowa would most qualify as a trap game presuming you think the Gophers are better than Iowa.  Iowa lost to The Turtle last week and has a loss against the Cyclones in non-conference play.  They will likely get handled by Northwestern a week from Saturday at Kinnick.  So yeah, let's assume they are worse then our Gophers.  Then the Gophs face Ohio State at home the following week, which will be a game they most certainly are not favored in.

Back to Harvard... they did an analysis of "trap games" in the NFL between (2002-11) and found that in so called trap games, the favored team won at a percentage consistent with other (non-trap) games where they are favored.  In fact, they won ever so slightly more often.  There were similar results for "let down games", i.e. games against a lesser opponent after beating a strong opponent.

So, in this non-trap matchup with the Illini, what can we expect?  The line at Bovada stands at Gophers -6 right now with an o/u of 56.  Illinois lost 38-28 to the Badgers in their last game and is now 3-4 (0-3) on the year.  They lost quarterback Wes Lunt to injury against Purdue, but the offense was still working with Reilly O'Toole and rushing QB Aaron Bailey leading the way.  The team averages 304 yards passing per game, but that's mostly due to Wes Lunt-ness.  Guy was slangin' rocks.  Now you have Bailey running and O'Toole throwing it around like the boys.

Tim Beckman thinks the Gophers will struggle with the dual QBs, "I think that for them to prepare for two is always a little more challenging than to prepare for one."

Here's the thing though, one looks like he's a glorified tailback and the other was efficient (12/19), but threw for 96 yards last week.  He was also sacked four times, so look for the Gopher d-line to put on some pressure.  Freshman WR Mike Dudek is having a good year receiving for the Illini.  He has 37 receptions for 598 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Irish assassin O'Toole will need to find him early to get some points on the board.

Obviously, Illinois scores some points here, but probably not as easily as Purdue did last week with their death-by-bubble-screen attack. There will be some bending.  There may be some breakage.  What we do know though is the defense is the softest of Swiss cheeses.  Which makes them Laughing Cow I guess?  Illinois gives up 35.9 points per contest including letting Texas State (who?) hang 42 on them.

My prediction is similar to many pundits this week.  The David (Daniel?) Cobb ground and pound will continue and the defense and specials will continue to make plays.  The Gopher secondary will make it tough for O'Toole and hopefully bear down on Bailey.  Minnesota 34 - Illinois 24.

Oh, almost forgot (scotch):

Illinois All-Namers:

V'Angelo Bentley DB - Nice take on the uber boring D'Angelo
Marchie Murdock WR - Marchie'ing down the field shtick in play
Man Berg QB - Full given name is Peter Bailey Berg ... Goes by "Man".  What in the everloving F?  Father is an EVP at CBS, man.
Jihad Ward DL - Declares Jihad on OL's each week
Dawuane Smoot DL - PARTY BOAT, Y'ALL!

Apostrophe Count: 3 including O'Toole and O'Connor

Friday, October 17, 2014

Know Your Enemy - Purdue Boilermakers

Plas-tic Ham-mer
I just took a little trip to imagination land and imagined myself as a Purdue fan.  Purdue football has been around since 1887, but these days they play it like they just came over from India and are still learning the rules.  Purdue's glory days were in the 1890s, when they won four consecutive conference championships.  Purdue has 8 Big Ten championships, 7 of which they were co-champion because they'd only play like 6 games in conference. 

In 2000, they had their most recent Big Ten championship under Joe Tiller going 8-4 (6-2). Drew Brees and Matt Mitrione lost in the Rose Bowl to Washington. 

As I imagined being a fan, I thought to myself that the best part would be drinking Boilermakers at the tailgate lot.  Is that a thing they do?  It should be.

A boilermaker can refer to two types of beer cocktail. In American terminology, the drink consists of a glass of beer and a shot of whiskey.[1] The beer is either served as a chaser or mixed with the whiskey. When the beer is served as a chaser, the drink is often called simply a shot and a beer.
In the United Kingdom, the term boilermaker refers to a half pint of draft mild mixed with a half pint of bottled brown ale.[2] The use of the term in British pubs can be traced back to about 1920.
So, I always thought a boilermaker was a drop shot; meaning you drop the shot of whiskey in the beer.  Wiki tells me that I'm wrong though:

  • Traditionally, the liquor is drunk in a single gulp and is then "chased" by the beer, which is sipped.[4][5]
  • The liquor and beer may be mixed by pouring or dropping the shot into the beer. The mixture may be stirred, if desired.[4] If the full shot glass is dropped into the beer glass, the drink is known as a depth charge.
  • The liquor may be poured directly into an open beer bottle or can after removing some of the beer.
So, I've been drinking DEPTH CHARGES, which sounds more awesome anyway.  That first bullet point is just "drinking" to me.  Doesn't everyone drink beer and whiskey on the reg like that?  Am I making boilers the whole time?

Back to Football

I've been getting the impression that our Gophers are once again being underestimated.  I just read snippets here and there, but Purdue seems a little punchy and even a little confident. 

I found quotes from head coach Darrell Hazell saying, “I think this is a big game for us — all of them are.  I like our chances. Obviously, they’re feeling good about themselves at 5-1 and playing good football. We’ll match up well with them.”


“I think this is a big game for us, as all of them are, but this is a huge game.  We have to come out there and play our best football game of the season. I like our chances.”

Mike Carmin at JCOnline's first question Joe Christianson in his Scouting Minnesota piece was essentially, The Gopher offense is terrible, why are they 5-1?

The dudes at are split on their predictions for the game. @cclinkin says the Gophers D is vulnerable to explosive offenses and Purdue has just such an offense.  The whole thing made me a little ragey. 

Part of the hype is due to the switch at quarterback.  Purdue has started sophomore Austin Appleby the past two games.  He completed 68% of his passes in those contests and made mediocre appetizers after each game.  Looking at Purdue's performance against MSU, sure its neat that they closed within a TD with 6 minutes remaining, but they still lost 45-31 and were down 38-17 entering the 4th.  Appleby's QBR was 45.7 (50 is average) and he only amassed 211 yards on 37 attempts.  To compare, Leidner's QBR against NW was 80.3 and the game prior it was 73.5.  We won't talk about anything prior to that.

Also, Appleby doesn't play both ways though and Purdue is still allowing 30+ points per game on the year.  And that's with Iowa bringing down the average with their 24-10 win.  Western and Central Michigan combined for 81 against this defense.  They allowed 532 million yards to Michigan State.

Hunt and Mostert are two capable backs and Tracy Claeys has said this is one of the better offensive lines that he's seen on film.  That means the Gophers need to rely heavily on the defensive line to play a good game and get some pressure on Appleby.

Purdue All-Namers

Andy James Garcia, LB - Academy award for best supporting actor in Godfather III
Ra'Zahn Howard, DT - Bad. Ass.
Race Johnson, DB - Bet he's fast
Dolapo Macarthy, TE - I just.  I just don't know.
Bearooz Jacoobi,  OL - Has a brother named Feerooz, actually true.

They have a lot of apostrophe guys too: Ra'Zahn, Ja'Whaun and Da'Wan

Prediction Time

TRE:  At first when I read all of the hype for Purdue I got some fearz thinking that Admiral Ackbar is standing behind me yelling ITS A TRAP when its already too late.  Then, reality set in. 

We have a top passing defense and Appleby isn't scaring me.  Get ready for a lot of bubble screens where the Gophers have to be sure tacklers. 

There will be times where Purdue runs well and Damien Wilson is going to have to be the monster in the middle that he's been all season long to help keep those runs from breaking.  The three headed monster at safety will also have plenty of work to do to keep those big plays from happening. 

On offense, Cobb will continue to roll and Leidner will continue to improve as a passer.  Wills will be exerted, rousers will be chanted.

On special teams, the Gophers will continue to excel and now there's the added fear factor of Jalen Myrick running 21.5 miles per hour and housing it on you. 

Bottom line is the Gophers are going to pound Purdue Pete and friends into dust.  There will be little pieces of plastic hammer everywhere: Gophers 41, Purdue 24

Frothy:  Purdue gets an A for effort in last weekend's fight against Michigan State, but if there's one thing I know, it's rebuild jobs.  They aren't linear, so consistency will be lacking from game to game - meaning they played great last week, but probably won't this week.  Also, getting close to but falling short of beating a superior team usually means bad things happen the following week.  For evidence, look no further than the 2013 Purdue squad, who came up 14 points short against MSU at Sparta and then lost 56 doughnut at home to Ohio State the following week.  Now, Purdue is better than last year and we're not Ohio State - but the hangover will still be in effect:  Minnesota 31, Purdue 10


Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Being Pavlov's Dog

We’re probably not the most diseased fan base in college football, but we’re definitely shadowing the leaders. Diseased may be too strong a term – perhaps broken is more appropriate.
Here we sit, on the cusp of our first 3-0 start in the Big Ten since 1990 and we’re not really sure what to do with ourselves. Matt Hayes’ excellent piece in The Sporting News used a stat that perfectly articulated what a heady position the program finds itself in today: we’ve got a realistic chance at back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time in 73 years. Think about that – we win three more games this season and the team accomplishes something that hasn’t been done since BEFORE THE UNITED STATES ENTERED THE SECOND WORLD WAR. And three wins seems imminently possible – Ohio State seems like the only insurmountable task on the remaining schedule. Sure, there won’t be any easy outs, but it’s not a Herculean task to find three more wins.
For all intents and purposes, the next two games should be gimmies: Purdue has looked competent in their last two games, but they should be a year or two away from being legitimate players and Illinois is without a quarterback and would be better served with a paper bag filled with warm malt liquor as their coach. Our offense has finally shown some semblance of multidimensionality, with an efficient if not spectacular passing game, and our defense and special teams have become exactly what you'd expect from a program led by Jerry Kill.
But check out the ‘tronz and the extent to which dyspepsia rules the day is remarkable. “Let’s get to 7-1 before celebrating too much,” “Purdue has looked really strong these last two games and will give us everything we can handle,” “Did you see what they did to that MSU defense? MSU is better than us, so I have no idea how we’re going to stop them!” We just beat Northwestern, what I believe to be a top-half conference team, holding their offense to 17 points, and we are concerned by a team that won its first B1G game in 18 months two weeks ago.
And what’s sick is I kind of identify with it. Going into the Michigan game, I saw no way we could win. Sure, the season results to that point suggested we were playing better as a team, they were likely starting a blob of ineptitude at quarterback and their offensive line deserved a “SIEVE!” chant; but I saw 50-years of history as the great equalizer and we’d lose as soon as our players saw the devilish spirit imbued in those winged helmets.
But we won – and now I’m dealing with the converse: I see no way we lose this game. Hazell appears to be doing a nice job with Purdue in cleaning house and the freshmen he started last year and early this year seem to be improving by leaps and bounds. But he’s in the second year of the rebuild and they shouldn’t be able to threaten us at this stage. They’re basically the 2012 version of Minnesota. Competent, occasionally showing some teeth, but a few years away from legitimately competing with some of the better teams in the conference.
And the last half of that sentence is what is giving me and much of the Gopher fan base pause. “The better teams in the conference.” Are we really one of the better teams in the conference? I mean, it seems like it. Say what you will about the condition of the B1G, and the West Division in particular, but it seems like we may be one of the better teams. Winning this division may be the equivalent of owning the best house in a bombed-out neighborhood, but it’s still worth some measure of legitimacy.
But simply uttering those words as regards Gopher football conjures demons. We thought we were one of the better teams in the conference in 2008, sitting at 7-1 and showing a pulse against Ohio State. We promptly lost the next five games and got nuked into the stratosphere by Iowa. Prior to that was probably 2003 and then, yeah, no reason to revisit that Himalayan mound of barf.
We’re facing a Pavlovian response to perceived success. We’ve gotten close a couple of times in recent memory and gotten a white-hot laser shot through our eye. Now, on the brink again, we’re rightfully averse to embracing it. The downside to keeping our emotional distance from the team this year is missing a little bit of enjoyment from the current level of success. The downside to going all in, throwing your proverbial balls on the table and spitting in the devil’s eye is the feeling of crushing despondency that comes from being burned by this team again. That feeling is still fresh, familiar – I get why it’s tough to move the chips to the center of the table.
I’ve decided to join the #Believe train now and will worry about tomorrow tomorrow. People are actually picking the Gophers to win the West Division. Like, people not affiliated with the program. I don’t remember the last time there was such sentiment from people whose wardrobes weren't comprised entirely of shirts with a rodent on them.

So, enjoy today. It may all go away on Saturday or the Saturday after that. Enjoy the positive vibes because it’s been too long since we’ve experienced them. It may be ten years until we find ourselves in this place again and I don’t want to mitigate some of the misery later by being miserably anxious now. It will hurt again, if not in a week, then in two or six or 52. And we’ll all get through it together, just like we always have. Enjoy today, enjoy it while this fleeting sensation of success lasts. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Gophers #Believe Train Keeps Rolling

So, the last couple of weeks I've been shrugging off the comfortable smallpox blanket that is my certainty that the Gophers will be break my heart at some point this season.  I think the change really started when all of the sudden we could pass a little bit.  It's amazing what just a little bit of passing can do for this team. 

I've been referring to this ongoing phenomenon as being in "believe mode" and I'm here to tell you, it's pretty fun to believe.  It will probably make the hurt so much worse when it all goes to hell, but I'm enjoying the ride.  I'm not the only one starting to believe though... based on our schedule and relative weakness of the Big Ten Western Division, there is a growing sentiment ALL OVER THE WORLD that the Gophers are in the hunt for the division.

So, climb aboard as we ride the believe train and check the scuttlebutt from the webz:

Scott Dochterman at The Gazette (Iowa)
4B. Minnesota (5B) 5-1 2-0
"Gophers a true contender in Big Ten West"
Of course, Dochterman has Iowa as 4A, which is odd because they lost to freaking Iowa State.

Tom Powers says the Gophers are Improving
"Kill comes across as more Munchkin than Wizard, but he definitely has his players headed down the yellow-brick path. Minnesota's victory over Northwestern on Saturday boosted the team's mark to 5-1 and Kill's record as Gophers coach to 22-22. The Gophers have two more winnable games on the horizon: Purdue and Illinois. Then the schedule gets dicey in November."
Berry Tremel at the Oklahoman
Purdue at Minnesota: Gophers 26-14. Don't sleep on Minnesota winning the Big Ten West.
Iowa at Maryland: Hawkeyes 27-17. Iowa as good a pick as any for worst 5-1 team in America. Let's see who else is on the list. Georgia Tech. Rutgers. Kentucky. Washington.

Love you, Berry.

Paul Myerburg at the Telegraph-Forum

Kill's ability to maximize his team's talent has the Golden Gophers in the hunt in the Big Ten West Division.
Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans at

[The underdog] is a role Minnesota coach Jerry Kill & Co. are comfortable with, but they’re unlikely to be in with its next three games against Purdue, at Illinois and Iowa. The next time the Gophers won’t be favored should be Nov. 15 against Ohio State.
Adam Rittenburg at

That's why the Big Ten needs someone to take charge in the West. The ideal candidates are Minnesota and Nebraska because both have quality losses (Gophers on the road against TCU, Huskers on the road against Michigan State). Iowa isn't a bad option at 1-1, but a home loss to Iowa State will be held against the Hawkeyes.
There's also the possibility, albeit slim, that both Big Ten championship game participants are in the playoff mix. If Nebraska's lone loss is a 5-point setback at Michigan State, its résumé, which will include road wins against Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa, plus a home win against Minnesota, doesn't look too shabby. Minnesota would have benefited from TCU holding on against Baylor and continuing to win, but a Gophers team that runs the Big Ten table with wins against Ohio State (home), Nebraska (road) and Wisconsin (road) would get much more national respect than the current unranked product.
Don't look now but Rittenburg said there's a chance, albeit slim, that the Gophers are in the playoff mix!

Whatever you think, this much is true:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Here's how the Gophers Win the West

I think the Gophers are either the guy with the awesome 'stache or Amish beard guy.  Cigarette guy is Purdue.

Ok, I let the overwhelming weight of our history against Michigan get the best of me and I panicked.  I didn't expect a passing game from the Gophers, but all of the sudden it existed!  Hoke went with surprise (as in, "surprise, he's terrible!") starter Shane Morris at QB and we worked him over like Rocky on a side of beef.  What a glorious and wonderful result that was!

We've played one glorious game in the B1G Ten and the West division seems up for grabs.  You know the old adage "take it one game at a time"?  Well, we're going to do the exact opposite of that here because adages are stupid.

As Frothy has mentioned, we're not used to this winning thing, but maybe, just maybe, this is a team we can believe in.   What if we're actually, you know, kinda good?  I thought I'd spend a little time going through the remaining B1G Ten schedule and see just what needs to happen for the Gophers win the division.

First, the current standings:

Using the current Sagarin ratings, here's how the rest of the year plays out:

Stupid Wisconsin wins out according to these ratings.  Here's how the standings would look:

Wisconsin sits atop, but MN is tied with both Nebraska and Northwestern in second place.  In order to get Minnesota on top we need one of a few scenarios to play out:

Scenario 1: Minnesota beats Wisconsin at the end of the year -- Boom that would do it.  MN and WI would be tied at 6-2 and the tie-breaker for two teams is head to head results.

Yes, Please

Scenario 2: Wisconsin loses twice more; preferably to MN and someone that isn't Nebraska -- If Wisconsin gets two more losses and they're to Minnesota and Nebraska, then they would fall to 5-3 and Minnesota and Nebraska would each be 6-2 and we go to tiebreakers.  The tiebreaker for two teams is head to head results.  In this scenario, MN has lost to Nebraska.  If the Gophers beat Nebraska and Wisconsin, the point is Fred Smoot and we're drinking until Roseanne Barr is pretty.  So this scenario would take MN and Iowa to beat Wisconsin or MN and either MD or Rutgers. 

Scenario 3:  MN beats WI, but Nebraska or NW also have 6 wins -- This is the dreaded three headed monster tie-breaker scenario.  The rules are as follows:

1.    The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other.
2.    The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division.
3.    The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, and 6).
4.    The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
5.    The highest ranked team in the first College Football Playoff poll following the completion of Big Ten regular season conference play shall be the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game, unless the two highest ranked tied teams are ranked within one spot of each other in the College Football Playoff poll.  In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game.
6.    The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.
7.    The representative will be chosen by random draw.

This one seems a long shot, especially if Nebraska is in the mix since they did not lose in non-conference play.  The Gophers would gain some advantage in the 2nd tie breaker as the OSU loss would be outside the division.  The rest of the tie breakers makes my head explode, so lets stop there.

One thing is for certain, all of this cool guessing and standings prediction stuff doesn't mean a thing if the Gophers don't win on Saturday against Northwestern, but I'm starting to believe!*

*"believe" aka "set myself up for tremendous heartbreak"

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On Hubris from the Northwestern Elite

A little late to the game on this one, but something called InsideNU posted a fun little statistical breakdown of the Gophers vis. Northwestern this afternoon. The author's application of Baylessian statistics was top notch, so I'll forgo any commentary on that. Rather, this is a short blurb in response to the tone from our Wildcat friends.

From the piece:

It's come to my attention that we have not yet reached the point in the season when Minnesota gets its reality check. Credit the Gophers, who have gone from dreadful to mediocre, for prolonging that point in the year, and credit the schedule makers who got them to 4-1.
But unfortunately for the Gophers, they're still, well, the Gophers. 
Still the Gophers, eh? Ouch. My first response was to rage: how can someone from Northwestern say this? A team with a Wikipedia sub-heading of "Years of futility" capturing 22 years of their history? A team that went 47 years without a bowl appearance and 63 years without winning a bowl game? But I bit my tongue and, the intrepid fact finder that I am (though a pale shadow relative to the talents of Medill graduates), found the following set of facts:

I, for one, bow down to our new Northwestern football overlords.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Saturday's Talkers on Monday or Tuesday: The Bye Week Edition

Bye weeks are fun, aren’t they? Especially coming off a big win.

This was the second consecutive bye week we’ve gotten to let the endorphins run wild and dream the impossible dream. Our last bye came after the victory over Penn State last year, where we just wrapped up our fourth conference victory in a row for the first time since the Vietnam War. We were 8-2 and had our sights set on a home game against Wisconsin, with a very outside chance of winning the erstwhile Legends division. Things came to an abrupt halt after the week off, but we got to revel in the glory of what could be for one blessed week.

The entirety of my week was spent doing something of a rarity as a Gopher sports fan: basking in the sweet glow of success. People, friends and co-workers, who know of my obsession with the Gophers congratulated me – I got texts from people I hadn’t spoken with in years who sent their well wishes. This must be like what winning the lottery, where acquaintances come out of the woodwork to make themselves known; only without the $200 million and jing and floating castle.

Frankly, sitting on the edge of the couch while the team came out of victory formation and the TV switched to Joe Bjorklund sprinting (well, doing whatever it is when offensive linemen move as fast as they can) to grab the Jug I felt, well, pretty damn good. Not winning the lottery good, or birth of a child good or unlimited trips to the pizza and taco buffet good; but a deeply profound sense of satisfaction.

There is a feeling of dread known only to long-time supporters of generally bad sports teams – a mix of excitement for what could happen coupled with the rumble of ten-thousand stampeding horses bearing down on you: the possibility of greatness rarely exists in thought without the more certain likelihood of pain. When we’re losing during a game or after a string of losses, we feel that pain acutely throughout the season. When we’re winning a game, the possibility of the pain tolls in the back of your mind. Only when victory is assured– and not just any victory, only those of consequence or over boogeymen – do we have that moment, the certainty of knowledge that there will be no pain. It happens all too rarely for us, or it has until recently, so we savor every blessed moment.

So, yeah, I enjoyed that win immensely and I’m sure the three readers of this blog probably did too. I would have enjoyed the bye week more if Michigan had thrashed Rutgers and lent some credence to the notion that we had beaten a tough Michigan team, but c'est la vie. They’re reeling and since this was the fourth time in my life we’ve managed to win the Jug, I couldn’t have cared less if the Wolverines were a rotting corpse by the end of the game. A win is a win, damn it.

It was pretty special watching Wisconsin lose to Northwestern. A lot gets made about how Minnesotans suck because they spend more time and energy cheering against Wisconsin than they do for Minnesota teams. I’ve had a couple go-rounds with a ZZZ-level employee of one of our local network stations on this subject. He’s an unapologetic Wisconsin alumnus and the paragon as to why Minnesotans have this complex. He claims to want Minnesota teams to do well, while throwing out every passive-aggressive barb possible as it relates to the Gophers vis a vis the Badgers. You don’t (or at least I don’t) see that sort of condescending self fellation from Iowa fans – Badger supporters have cornered the market on self-congratulatory asshattery; so, yes, I very much enjoy watching them lose.

The topic du jour over the Gopher innertronz seems to be whether the Badgers defeat to Northwestern portends awful things for this weekend’s clash against the Evanston Cats. 

Man, I don’t know. After my long-winded apology thread, I’m reluctant to jump back on the struggle bus of doubt; so how about a poor, long-winded metaphor? I was a bigger kid growing up (that’s code for “husky” or “fat”). Norwegian whaling ships were a constant menace in the waters outside of my home. I never really played much on teeter-totters, but when I did, the poor bastard on the other end always got stuck in the air. I’d push up with my legs, but since I weighed so much more than the other four-year old, I’d end up with my feet back on the ground. A harsh lesson in physics before I had ever even heard of Schrödinger’s poor cat.

At any rate, when you spend your whole childhood looking up from the bottom of a teeter-totter, you start to see the world a certain way. Now, maybe, you lose a little weight or the rest of the kids grow into you and you start to see what life is like from the top, or at least not always from the lowest point. It’s pretty cool up there, but you’re really not used to the bright sun and, oh, hell, that’s a long way down. You like it – you could certainly get used to it – but you’re totally unfamiliar with it.

We’re not at the bottom of the teeter-totter anymore, guys. For the second year in a row, we have legitimate hope of a great season. We have the defense we’ve always wanted, a running game that can hold its own in the conference and a few sprouts of hope with respect to moving the ball through the air. But the fear is still there. Just like a team that always loses, we fans, or at least I, have to learn how to win. They, the team, have to do it because success is unattainable without a positive mentality. I have to do it because of stress eating and pancreas transplants aren’t really a thing yet.

This week, we’ll look at that inescapable fear of the top of the teeter-totter. Maybe we can find a way through it together. Or maybe we’ll just find catharsis, reconciliation and better living through pharmaceuticals. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Saturday's Talkers on Monday or Tuesday: Post-Michigan Apology Post

So, this is the official apology edition, where I eat crow and try to make amends for being so terribly, terribly wrong about this Gophers team.

In fairness, I wasn’t wrong, exactly – my timing was just bad. After the EIU and MTSU games, I was preaching about how the defense had been stout and the offense was holding something back. Surely, I said, this wasn’t the whole offense; Limegrover was smarter than that.

Then the TCU game happened and my hope started to waiver. Why had we not shown more? I presented some homer excuses about the coaches recognizing our inferiority and opted not to show much offensively that could be used in more winnable games. But I didn’t really believe it. I started to see a faint outline of writing on the wall. Graffiti from a dark, terrible place. It said our offense was once again going to waste one of the better defenses we’d seen in maroon and gold and make would could be a special season into a fairly ordinary one.

The following week we played SJSU and allayed none of those emerging concerns. We basically ran three plays the whole day, all of which were devised around the time of the War of Independence. At this point, I had no new excuses. I was just copying and pasting stuff from the first two weeks while vacantly staring off into the distance. As the week leading up to the Michigan game wore on, any belief I had was drained from me. Then I wrote this gem.

So, like I said, I wasn’t wrong, per se. I just lost all belief and most of my hope. I mean, look at what I wrote the night before the Michigan game:

And while we haven’t exactly been world beaters, we’ve looked better, more consistent than Michigan. Our defense has been solid against both the run and pass in all four non-conference games and our running game last week was as good as it’s ever been. Yes, we haven’t been able to pass, it’s true. But if we can do just enough, find some way to move the ball through the air, make Michigan’s linebackers hesitate for a moment in their run fits, we should be able to score some points. And our defense should be good enough to contain the Wolverine’s impotent offense.

And there it is. The hope. The dream.

All week we’ve seen and heard prognosticators pick the Gophers to win. Some have said to lose this game would be worse than the way we lost to them in 2011. Pointing to Michigan’s deficiencies, they suggest we’ll be able to do enough offensively to punch them in the mouth early, and turn the 100,000 Coke drinking fans against their own team. From there, we play Gophers man ball through 15-play, 75 yard grind-them-to-dust drives and allow our wily defense to shut them down. Game over. The Jug returns to Minnesota.”

That’s what we did! That’s how we beat them! Beat them up a little early, shut them down defensively and then complete a couple of passes. Get a lead and then liquefy them through blunt force trauma on both sides of the ball. That’s exactly what we did.

Of course, I followed that up with:

Dreams are ephemera. Hopes are broken, white-hot coat hangers shoved into your sinuses.
But history is a savage. And history is smothering my hope with an old, musty pillow. I hear people saying we have a chance, but all I see the specter of the last 50 years. 1966: 49 – 0; 1972: 42 – 0; 1976: 45 – 0; 1985: 48 – 7; 1992: 63 – 13; 2008: 29 – 6; 2013: 42 – 13. These are inescapable truths. The record is bleak. Players graduate, coaches retire or are fired, teams change and evolve. But the constant has been ignominious failure.

As a fan, though, I may be too damaged to believe. I hope, I always hope. But, throughout my life one Gopher football maxim has generally held true: football is a simple game – 22 men chase a ball around for 60 minutes, and in the end, Michigan always win.

One loses one’s ability to gloat after that little bit of melodrama. I try to avoid histrionics and fatalistic thinking. Big ol’ failure on that front.

So, now, we apologize. No bloodletting or feats of strength. Just straight up honest, genuine contrition.

To Matt Limegrover, I’m sorry I doubted your abilities to put a sound offensive game plan together. You admitted after last year’s Iowa game that you were too stubborn to stop running the ball up the middle and I thought you were trying to fool me twice. Your rationale for not diversifying the offense unless you had to was cogent; but I didn’t listen. I thought you believed our offensive line could overpower anyone. I was even starting to mentally jump on the bandwagon that your coordinator and line coach positions should be split.

Even well into the game, I thought you lacked the cojones to get us out from our own goal line on THE DRIVE. When you called that play action pass from the seven for 21 yards, I wanted you to hold me. My hope sprung anew. It was morning in Gopher Nation. And the screens, the glorious, glorious screens. I’ve been demanding them for years and we saw them in myriad form to great success.

I had begun to write you off, Limey. I started to believe you were in over your head or stretching yourself too thin with multiple roles at the Power 5 level.

I was wrong and I’m terribly sorry.

To Mitch Leidner, I’m sorry I doubted your ability to consistently move the ball through the air. When they announced you were the starter, I panicked. I remember last season when Nelson was started even though he wasn’t 100% and I thought the same situation was in play here. But it wasn’t.

Through the first three games, it seemed like you lacked the accuracy and pocket awareness to keep the offense balanced enough to be successful. While I didn’t think the coaches were doing you any favors with the play calling, I began to think that you just weren’t quite ready to manage the offense on a full-time basis. In fact, I was in agreement with TRE that Streveler should get the start. I figured neither of you could pass the ball, but he was healthy and fast and had a swagger – let’s give him a shot.

On Saturday, against a very solid defense in one of the most difficult environments to play, you proved your mettle. You were the leader of that team, completing critical passes and restoring a hope for the season that usually dies with September.

I was wrong and I’m terribly sorry.

To Jerry Kill, I’m sorry I stopped believing. You have preached that things are different now. That history is what it is and we should focus on what we have now. That we have ripped up what was, dug deep into the earth, found our base, and built on it a foundation of concrete. You have never wavered in that belief. I did.

You’ve indicated on numerous occasions that building a program is not a linear endeavor. That we may see progress one week and a slight recession the following week. That it’s possible to plod along, playing uninspired football, to suddenly break through and improve in a step-wise fashion.

After the offensive impotency of the TCU game and splendid veer attack we unleashed against SJSU, I forgot that. I forgot that what happens one week isn’t necessarily indicative of what will happen the following week. That games and their participant teams are dynamic systems within dynamic systems, where a slight change in tendency, a nudge of one or two levers, can fundamentally change the outcome. Football can be predicted, but it is not so static as to be a forgone conclusion.

I should have recognized that and kept the faith. My apologies.

Finally to my Twitter friends and six readers of this blog, I’m sorry for being a Cassandra. Many of you tried to tell me that I was too pessimistic, that Michigan was a tire fire trapped in a septic system bad, that Leidner was better than his first three games. You believed that we could win – some how, some way the Gophers would bring the Jug back to Minnesota. I let history be my guide instead of seeing what was obvious to both our objective and positively-biased subjective fans.

I’m sorry I was a downer in the week leading up to the game. You were right and I was wrong.

So, with those necessary apologies out of the way, here we sit at the bye week, with the Jug in Minnesota for the next year, a 4 – 1 record and three very winnable games coming up. For the rest of the week, let’s dream a little bit.