We all know of Ohio State’s troubles with the ball in their hands. Without exaggeration, it’s a type of offense that may actually result in more turnovers than first downs, all things equal. At 91st nationally in total offense, the Buckeye offense may end this season as one of mankind’s most awful crimes if things do not improve. Fact is: Minnesota is actually worse (114th). Minnesota has the less offensive pass offense (88 to 105), but is struggling to get anything going on the ground (105th nationally, compared to Ohio State’s 48th nationally). In short, the transition from “spread coast” to the new, more pro-stylings of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has not gotten immediate results. You have to wonder how bad the offense would be without Eric Decker, one of the best — if not the best — offensive player in the conference. No matter how poorly the Gophers are on offense, I’m not taking anything for granted if we get more of that defensive game plan we got against Purdue last week. God almighty…
Quarterback Adam Weber is in his 3rd season as starter, but has not been playing like a veteran. He started off the season well against the likes of Syracuse and Air Force, but has followed a good start to this season with 2 rather grim performances in his past two games. He, like Terrelle Pryor, struggled against Purdue (albeit in a victorious effort). While Pryor was able to add some numbers late in the game, Weber finished with 74 yards, 0 TDs and 2 interceptions. He turned in another forgettable performance last week against Penn State with his 101 yard, 1 INT performance in a shutout loss to the Nitts. He’s also taken his fair share of sacks (15) and has already thrown 9 interceptions (to only 6 TDs). Minnesota’s offense as a whole is struggling and Weber is part of it. To compensate, expect Minnesota to use their variation of the Wildcat offense and put highly-touted backup MarQueis Gray in the game on offense, typically lined up as a WR. Eric Decker may get involved in the trickery too. He threw a TD pass against California. Speaking of Decker, I think it’s safe to say that if every other Big Ten team could poach one player off another team’s roster, his name would come up a lot. His 47 receptions for 731 yards gives him 44 percent of the team’s receptions for 55 percent of all the receiving yards. Weber looks for him every play.
Remember the Glen Mason years for Minnesota? Glen Mason’s offense was predicated on a reliance on a strong, durable rushing game that featured the likes of Amir Pinnix, Laurence Moroney and Marion Barber. Remember it fondly because that is not this style of Gopher football. The tailbacks of the 5’9 Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge, both sophomores. Both provide their own unique wrinkles and contribute differently to the Minnesota rushing attack, if we can call it that. However, their numbers — 292 yards for Bennett and 212 yards for Eskridge — are largely artifacts of games against the Nerds and Purdue. For example, the team had 37 total rushing yards against the Nitts, 57 against the Badgers and 108 against Air Force. Bennett and Eskridge can hurt you on any given play, something that Ohio State will need to know. Unfortunately for Gopher fans, reliability has been absent. One wonders if the offensive line — going Dominic Alford (from Ohio), Chris Bunders, Trey Davis, Matt Carufel (transfer from Notre Dame) and Jeff Wills left to right — has been the biggest factor in both the lack of a rushing game and Weber’s downward numbers. The line has a blend of size and agility, but performance has been sorely lacking. Not helping? The season-ending injury to Jeff Tow-Arnett.
Things aren’t much better for the Gophers on the defensive side of the ball. They are 92nd in total defense, 77th in passing defense and 87th in rush defense under the two new defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ronnie Lee2. For what it’s worth, Cosgrove was also the defensive coordinator on those defensively hilarious Nebraska teams of the Callahan years. Far from a snarky non sequitir, it’s perhaps precisely that which is hurting the Gophers this year.
Minnesota’s front 4 consists of Cedric McKinley (of my current state: Alabama) and Anthony Jacobs on the ends and Eric Small and Garrett Brown in the middle. All but Jacobs are seniors. The strength of the defensive line is probably in the interior, as it was for Purdue last week. However, unlike Purdue, McKinley and Jacobs on the ends are not as potent as Kerrigan and the other dude that wasn’t raising as much hell as Kerrigan. In short, they miss Willie VanDeSteeg. McKinley had a quality campaign last year, but has been mostly quiet. Jacobs, for his part, is a little green. Sacks have not been forthcoming for Minnesota’s defensive line, but I take nothing for granted with our offensive line.
Lee Campbell might be the leader of the defense, though I won’t speak on behalf of Gopher fans on that one. The Naples, Florida native is not very dependable in pass coverage. But what he lacks in a backpedal he makes up for in run support. Walk-on Nate Triplett replaces Deon Hightower of yesteryear and follows Lee Campbell in team tackles. The strongside linebacker is the undersized Simoni Lawrence. What Lawrence lacks in size (6’1, 218lbs), he will naturally try to make up in speed. With a quarterback that likes to bounce things outside, this may be crucial for Minnesota. All 3 linebackers are seniors.
Minnesota’s secondary is a little undersized, but they still get somewhat active. Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels are the corners. This defense has only 5 interceptions so far this season, and linebacker Nate Triplett accounts for two of them. Simmons has one; Sherel doesn’t have any. The two safeties are Kim Royston (FS) and Kyle Theret (SS). If you watched the battle for that axe thingie that the Gophers and Badgers played for earlier this year, you may remember the name of Kim Royston. In a story bludgeoned to death, anticipating Justin Boren’s return to Ann Arbor later this year, all of college football was reminded that Royston began his career with the Badgers before transferring to Minnesota. He has an interception (Minnesota’s only other pick in the secondary) and 41 tackles this season. Theret has 45 tackles.
Suffice to say, we hope for a better result this week.
- The last time a Big Ten game for Ohio State was played in the same location in back-to-back years was against Wisconsin in Madison, 2002-2003. [↩]
- Ted Roof did some good things with Minnesota’s defense in 2008 (didn’t get too much help from the offense) before leaving the Gophers for more money at Auburn. I’m sorry, but I’ve been to Auburn. There’s no amount of money in the world that could get me to live anywhere near there. [↩]