Tim Brewster’s Recruiting Classes: Failing

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By Mike Gallagher

It’s been six years since Paul Bunyan’s axe has graced Minnesota’s campus.  The case in which it rests is a barren and pathetic sight.  You could say it almost resembled the play of the Gophers last Saturday.  The score had no business being as close at it was. Zach Brown handed the Gophers seven garbage time pts. via fumble.

Somehow, the Gophers managed to scrape together one more chance.  That, however, was quickly squashed by the Gophers O-line, which was issuing free passes for the Badgers defensive linemen to get in.  Weber had no more than two seconds to find anyone on the last drive and finally fumbled to end the game, but he can hardly be blamed for that.

It was a game the Gophers needed to win for gaining legitimacy on the Big Ten stage.  When they needed it most, the supporting cast did not step up, which seems to be a recurring theme around TCF Bank Stadium.  You can only lose so many games versus legitimate opponents before people start asking what the problem is.  Don’t look too deep though, because this one is easy.

Take a look at the Gophers stats page on any website or media guide you have handy.  Who are the key contributors?  Look closely, and you’ll notice a trend.  Almost everyone giving anything worthwhile is a senior.  Eric Decker and Nick Tow-Arnett (1-2 in receiving yards), redshirt junior (a.k.a. senior) Adam Weber. Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell, and Simoni Lawrence are the top three tacklers on the squad, and starting corners Treye Simmons and Marcus Sherels.

The list goes on, but the real interesting list here is the underclassmen:  WR’s Vincent Hill, Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith, RB’s Duane Bennett, Shady Solomon and Deleon Eskridge.  Brewster’s QB son Clint and prize of Brewster’s 2008 recruiting class QB Marqueis Gray. timbrewsteryelling

These are just the position players he’s brought in to plug holes, but they’ve been more like sieves than plugs for the offense.  This is especially true with the hands of former four-star recruit Brandon Green, who is being relied on as a second option, but can’t seem to hold on to the ball.  The other four-star recruit, Vincent Hill, no longer attends the U and is not listed on any college roster anywhere now.  Brodrick Smith and Clint Brewster also transferred.  Marqueis Gray was an All-American in high school and 4 star recruit, and has contributed nothing.  Yes, he has Weber ahead of him on the depth chart, but the coaching staff has still been unable to find anyway to really make him produce consistently on the field. The three running backs are 1-2-3 on the depth chart, but it’s a non-existent running attack that has only yielded 96 yards a game (106th in the nation).

Both of the last two classes have been nationally ranked coming in.  But key departures and lack of development from very naturally talented athletes have hurt key positions.  It’s clearly showing how their stars can only carry them so far.  They need to put something together outside of Adam Weber to Eric Decker or they’re going to suffer a brutal wake up call against Penn State and Ohio State after they dispose of Purdue next week.

Some help from underclassmen would be nice, but since they can’t perform, it lies on the seniors.  Let’s not think about next year, because it might make this year look like a national title.

Adam Weber re-writing Minnesota QB Record Book

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By Paul M. Banks

There were representatives from about a half-dozen NFL teams at the Northwestern-Minnesota game a couple weeks ago. Yes, many were there to see Corey Wootton, Sherrick McMannis and especially Eric Decker, but a few had their eye on Minnesota Junior QB Adam Weber. He has still a season and a half left to go, but Weber has already grilled up many of the passing records in the Golden Gopher QB record book.

He’s already passed up Cory Sauter for career pass completions, and is on a very comfortable pace to pass up Asad Abdul-Khaliq, and then Bryan Cupito for TD passes this season. He’s less than 800 yards away from surpassing Cupito for all-time passing yardage leader. Ok, so maybe the names on the Gopher QB passing list are extremely unimpressive. (Tim Schade or Billy Cockerham anyone?) but that’s not the story, Weber is

Weber’s collegiate career is inextricably linked to that of Eric Decker– as he’s obviously benefited from having arguably the best receiver in college football on his team.

“It’s a comfort blanket as a quarterback…if they give a cushion to Eric, then I’m going to pick it up and throw it out there, and he’ll go pick up 8, 10 yards. And to have a receiver that you know will go and get it no matter what is crucial. Anytime we can find a way to get Eric the ball we’ll do it, but obviously we try to be smart with it, you can’t just force the ball out there,” the Shoreview, Minnesota native said about his tag team partner.

This year he’s had another added boost, coming in the form of a new offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch from the Denver Broncos.

“He mixes it up a lot, moving guys around, using our tight ends a little bit more for blocking and protection. This year we wanted to put more tight ends in, and maybe establish the run, and play action off the run with me under center. Coach Fisch brings a professional mindset to the college game…He’s been under some great coaches, and each one has their own rhythm to their play-calling and he likes to go out there and attack,” Weber said.

Weber’s head coach, Tim Brewster discussed what makes Weber stand out. “Adam’s a great leader. He exemplifies the things that quality character leaders do. He stays calm and he sees the game at a speed in which he can come to the boundary and really talk about what he sees on the field, and that’s a very positive thing,” the  Gophers leader (and Tight End on the 1983 Illini Rose Bowl) team said.

Eric Decker Nation’s Top WR

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By Mike Gallagher

Note: for an exclusive interview/in depth profile of Eric Decker produced by The Sports Bank, click here.

When you think of the top wide outs in the nation, Eric Decker probably isn’t the first name coming to mind.  Many would say Marshwan Gilyard of Cincinnati, currently leading the nation in receiving touchdowns.  Mike Williams of Syracuse has been a key part of a Syracuse offense that is much improved and he should get attention for the strides the program has taken.  Jordan Shipley of Texas is 7th in the nation in receiving yards and 2nd in receptions.

Those names definitely garnish the media attention because of the stages and storylines they are a part of.  There in lies the problem with media- tunnel vision. It’s easy and fun to look at big name programs and give them attention, people will eat that up.  It’s much harder to look at perennially average programs that have standout players putting them in the spotlight.  eric_decker2_200baseball

That’s the mold Eric Decker fits into, a guy working hard day in and day out trying to put this program on the national landscape.  He could’ve gone to the diamond, where he was drafted in the 39th round by the Brewers, then the 27th round by the Twins the next year.  He could’ve gone to the NFL draft, where he likely would’ve been a late round pick last year.   He should remind football diehards of Jeff Samardzija, former Notre Dame standout receiver/baseball star.  He made similar catches and his game was comparable to Decker.  Samardzija chose baseball after his senior year and he’s still considered one of the Cubs top pitching prospects.  Decker also came back for his senior year for another run at making memories Minnesota wouldn’t soon forget.

So far he’s succeeded on the football side: third in the nation in both receiving yards and receptions.  He has come up big every game Minnesota has played so far, including two TD catches last week vs. Northwestern.  Memorable catches have been easy to come by.  A bone-jarring hit he took along the sidelines left his chin gashed open against California.  He still hung on for the touchdown.  He’s accounted for nearly 60% of the Gophers air attack this year and has more receiving yards than the entire team has running the football.

Still not convinced?  Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated named him the third best receiver in the nation at the beginning of the year behind Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant and Georgia’s A.J. Green.  Bryant has just 17 catches for 323 yards, while Green has 25 catches for 428 yards.  Decker has 35 catches for 499 yards, both numbers far and away from the one and two on Mandel’s list.
Not only does Decker have the numbers, but as mentioned earlier, he’s doing it on his own.  Unlike Marshwan Gilyard, he doesn’t have Tony Pike, who’s now getting national attention and is 4th in the nation in QB efficiency as well as pass yards.

Jordan Shipley has Heisman hopeful Colt McCoy and is on the second ranked team in the nation.  The aforementioned Mike Williams gets publicity because he’s so close to the biggest story of this year- former Dukie basketball player Greg Paulus, now QB and the man behind the offensive turnaround at Syracuse.

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Eric Decker has no receiver opposite him, no run game, and a quarterback in Adam Weber who’s solid, but far from superlative. His team is just hoping to garnish a few AP poll votes each week.  If it weren’t for Decker, the Gophers may be cellar dwellers in the Big Ten and a bottom ten offense in the nation.

Decker should get serious consideration for the Fred Biletnikoff award when December comes and if there actually were a most valuable to your team award (let’s not get into what the actually Heisman Trophy stands for these days), Decker would have to be right up there as a national finalist as well.

Cal Bears more Golden than Gophers

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By Mike Gallagher
Minnesota football hadn’t beaten a top 10 opponent at home since 1977 (#1 Michigan.)  California had lost eight of its last nine road games dating back two years.  Some of those losses were to teams that were riding a low in 2007 (Stanford and Washington.)
Something had to give in this Pac 10-Big Ten clash, and both programs were soaring with confidence and emotion going into the weekend.  Cal had scored more than 50 points and gained more than 500 yards in their first two games, granted against far from serviceable competition (Maryland and Eastern Washington), but they played nearly flawlessly.  They had not turned the ball over, given up only 20 points combined, and scored touchdowns on 64% of their drives.

On the other side of the coin, the Gophers’ high was more about emotion than how they performed on the field.  While they had two wins and a brand new stadium, they also had only 21 points a game and had won by three and seven points respectively against opponents that had no business being in a game with a Big Ten program.  Their offense had looked lackluster and their running game, which in previous seasons had carried them through tough times, had been practically non-existent.  Oregon State California Football

More importantly than the problems in their running game was on the other side of the ball.  Their rush defense got gashed for 261 yards against Air Force and it was clearly exposed as the way to move the ball on the Gophers.  That may not have been such an issue if the man in the backfield for Cal wasn’t Jahvid Best, an early Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the most dangerous weapons in college football.  He also was the reason that people around town were calling it a success if the Gophers were within shouting distance at halftime.

But the Gophers did the critics one better, going into the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon tied and with the ball with the chance to move ahead of the west coast powerhouse.  But the Gophers drive stalled, Cal seized the opportunity and matriculated the ball down the field for a score.  The gophers still had life, with a kick return out to the 40, but Adam Weber threw a costly INT and Cal again grabbed the bull by the horns and punched in another TD.  Oh, and that Jahvid Best guy, he accounted for all five of the Golden Bear touchdowns (tying a school record for rush TD’s) to go along with 131 yards on the ground.

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Plain and simple, California is the better team.  The Golden Bears are right up there with the best conference foes/future opponents of the Gophers: Penn State and Ohio State.  Whenever you have a running back like Best and a rush defense the caliber of Cal’s, which has allowed less than 40 yards in two of their three games, you have a formula for winning.  I haven’t even gotten to QB Kevin Riley, who threw four touchdowns against Maryland and STILL has not turned the ball over.  They are a legitimate top-10 program with all the tools they need to grab a BCS bowl bid.

As for the Gophers, the end result is disappointing considering the position they were in heading to the fourth quarter.  But considering the chance they were given and their history against programs like Cal, I think there has been a lot of progress made and it really showed in the first three quarters of this game.  ericdecker1

Now they have to learn to play a complete game, because if you look at their first three games, none of them have been 60-minute efforts.  Against Syracuse, the offense put up points the first half, but was awful in the second half.  In the game against Air Force they were horrible the first three quarters, but got it together in time for a win.  Today, they gave Jahvid Best and Co. all they could handle through three, but games are won and lost in the fourth quarter.  That’s the difference between programs such as California, and programs like the U of M.  Cal played a complete, well rounded game.  They capitalized on opportunities given to them, and when the chance presented itself for them to seal the game, they did.

Just because it’s a loss for Brewster’s club doesn’t mean it’s a horrible thing.  If you would’ve told anyone in the Gophers locker room they would go into the fourth tied against the 8th ranked team in the country, any one of them would’ve jumped at the opportunity.  A year ago, this game would’ve been an embarrassment and an exhibition.  Now, they can keep their heads up because there are actually positive things you can find in this loss.  They need to look at the first three quarters and use them as a blueprint for success.  They also need to look at the fourth quarter and correct the mistakes and mental lapses so they don’t let them creep back into their mind.
If they can put those two things together, they’ll start out what has potential to be a successful conference season, on the right foot in Evanston next week.

Eric Decker: Minnesota’s Football/Baseball Star

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By Paul M. Banks

Since the early ‘90s, the heyday of athletes starring in both baseball and football, we haven’t heard much about two sport stars. Today’s answer to “Neon” Deion $anders and Bo Jackson is Cold Spring, Minnesota native Eric Decker. He needs just two more catches this fall to tie Ron Johnson for the University of Minnesota’s school record for career receptions. The 6’2”, 215 pound senior with 4.5 speed projects as a 3-4th rounder in most NFL Mock Drafts. In collegiate baseball, he hit .329 this past spring after batting .326 in ’08. He’s been drafted by two Upper Midwestern MLB teams already (the Milwaukee Brewers in the 39th round in 2008, Minnesota Twins in the 27th round this past June).eric_decker2_200

So which sport does he prefer? “If I had to pick one, I’d pick football, there’s something about the game that intrigues me, a special game requiring team work,” Decker told me during my exclusive interview of him at Big Ten Media Day. “Football is an emotional sport where you have to show up on Saturday with the juices flowing, excitement level. And I learned this quick, baseball is the opposite, you got to have a consistent mindset, you’re going to have good at bats and bad at bats, that’s the nature of the game. You got to learn how to control your emotions,” he said in describing the differences between the two games. I mentioned my idea that football is pretty much war and Decker said “Right- yeah, that’s a good point.”

I also asked Decker what he needs to do to take his game to the next level. “Coming off my breaks, and getting off the line, you can always get better at that, and that’s one thing in order to be a great receiver, you have to be able to get off press coverage and get out of your breaks fast,” he responded. Of course, Decker does a lot right already as he broke the school record for single season receptions as a sophomore, and then broke it again (despite missing two games from injury) as a junior. Decker was named All-America honorable mention by SI.com and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season; and move over Tutu Atwell, because Decker is fourth all-time in Minnesota history receiving yards; third in touchdowns.

I asked Decker what the very best part of his game is. “Toughness, competitive drive. I know I’m not the fastest guy, or the strongest, but I definitely won’t back down, and play through the whistle and play that way the whole game,” Decker said sounding like a cross between Tom Petty and the title character in “Rudy”…only with talent, size and speed. ericdecker

This year he’ll be working with a new offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch who comes from the team that features the wideout Decker sees himself in the mold of. I inquired as to who his game compares to. “Brandon Stokely who plays for Denver now, He’s not flashy, but he catches the ball over the middle and has good hands,” he responded. Decker probably has a bright future in either baseball or football, but I think we can guess which sport he’s leaning towards pursuing after graduation.

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