Went to this site this morning for the first time in a long time. Took me awhile to get into the SGH control room and find the breaker box to power it back on. Paid homage to our shrine to Frothy's Former Twitter Existence; may he rest in peace wherever he is in the interweb ether. Then I cleared away the cobwebs and dust (both from the control room and my brain) to try this here thing called Gopher Football blogging.
Game #2 for the Fleckites of Cult Fleck goes tomorrow night late on the west coast- assuming the wild fires allow- as Minnesota makes their FS1 debut for a 9pm central kickoff vs the Beavers of Oregon State and former Sconnie coach Gary Andersen. As you likely know by now (especially if you listened to this week's Taken All Wrong podcast), the Beavers are 2.5 pts favorites (give or take) despite getting pasted by Colorado State and barely surviving 1-AA Portland State in their first two games. They have been less then impressive and yet...the Gophs are road dogs?
Minnesota survived their opener themselves with a 17-7 win over MAC school Buffalo. While the Gophers failed to cover the 26 point spread, or decide their QB battle, or inspire any confident in their offensive or defensive lines or...well you get the idea. A win is a win (PJ was the first Gopher coach to win his debut since the 1980's) but we enter week 2 with still more questions than answers about how good this football team can be in 2017. Here's a few of the questions I'll be pondering tomorrow night...
WHY DOESN'T FLECK NAME DEMRY CROFT QB1?
We've been over this, like, a million times already so I'll be brief: Prior to the season my argument for Demry over Conor Rhoda was that if you have two QB's who are apparently this close in a battle for a starting job, you take the younger player. Or the player who has far more upside. Or athleticism. Or a better throwing arm. When one of your QB's has all three of those things AND is only a sophomore compared to a 5th year senior?!?!? Again, how is this even a question?
The week 1 win over Buffalo only further solidified my position. With the offensive line looking less than stellar, and with Croft's ability to run both when pass protection breaks down and as a keeper on the read-option, it seems even more like a no-brainer. Except Fleck stated we were going with the QB job share again this week. I don't get it but hopefully game #2 brings some clarity.
IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR THE O-LINE?
It was jarring to watch how much they struggled against a MAC school. While Oregon State is far from a juggernaut they're still a P5 school with P5 athletes. They've also struggled mightily thus far giving up more than 500 yds of offense in each of their first two games. If the Gophers struggle to run and pass block against this group...it does not bode well for the offense going forward. Ed Warriner is quite literally one of the best O-line coaches in the country so if anyone can work some magic, it's him. The fear is, if they don't look much better this week then it means the line depth and talent this year is worse than we feared, and real improvement isn't coming until 2018.
HOW GOOD ARE THE RECEIVERS REALLY?
Sophomore Tyler Johnson had a breakout debut with 6 catches for 141 yards, which included a 61 yard TD catch (WIN A PIE FOR IT!). True frosh Demetrius Douglas also 6 catches but for only 36 yards. Senior Eric Carter and redshirt frosh Philip Howard had one catch each. And that was it. Last year's returning catch leader Rashad Still did not catch a pass and is not starting for the second straight game. Jr Melvin Holland Jr continues to have some serious ability and yet cannot get on the field. Will we see anything from those two? Can Johnson dominate vs a P5 opponent? Does Douglas get more room to run on these short throws, or do they look to get him the ball downfield more? Do we see any other new names jump into the lineup? A lot of questions at receiver right now, but assuming Johnson's breakout is real, at least there's a legit #1.
WHERE IS THE PASS RUSH?
As JD and I discussed on the pod this week, it's becoming more difficult to judge a pass rush as more and more and more offenses go spread and try to get the ball out quickly. There were few QB hurries and no sacks vs Buffalo, but the Blue Bulls struggled to run all game (as a team they averaged only 2.3 yards per carry) and they weren't much of a threat passing or running in the second half. The D tackle rotation remains a strength and the ends remain a question mark. Will we see a more effective pass rush vs another spread opponent? And how do they hold up vs the run?
I HAVE NO CONCERNS ABOUT OUR LINEBACKERS
Fine that wasn't a question, but still thought it was worth mentioning. Jonathan Celestin and Thomas Barber were everywhere. Kamal Martin looked good for a true soph. Do we see more of Blake Cashman or Cody Poock? Nice problem to have when your starters are outplaying two returning productive upper classmen.
HOW MUCH DO WE SEE WINFIELD, MCGHEE AND HUFF ON THE FIELD TOGETHER?
There was a noticeable difference- and improvement- in the second half in the defense when senior FS Duke McGhee returned from a first half suspension (a targeting call penalty he committed in the bowl game). It could be argued that Minnesota's three best DB's are Antoine Winfield, Jacob Huff and McGhee; the issue that all three are safeties and in a base defense, there's only room for two of them on the field. With McGhee back in the second half we saw DC Robb Smith move Winfield around, including to slot corner to get his 3 guys on the field together. Coach Fleck talked this week about how talented Winfield is and how they're going to move him around a bunch. I'm interested to see where and how much tomorrow night. Redshirt frosh corner Kiondre Thomas could be great but he's only a freshman, and the rest will be a work in progress all year. The more Minnesota can get Winfield, Huff and McGhee on the field together, the better the defense will be.
Gophers 20- Oregon State 17. Go Gophers. SKI-U-MAH! And #RTB.