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.