Tim Brewster’s Recruiting Classes: Failing

timbrewsterupset

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

adam-weber

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

minnesota_eric_decker

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.

eric_decker_2

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

gophers

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.

minnesota-cheerleaders_cc

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.

Fairy Tale Beginnings for TCF Bank Stadium

tcfbankstadium

By Mike Gallagher

At 2:00 p.m. there were fans in the parking lot tailgating for the upcoming Gophers Football game, but it didn’t even start until 6. It may not seem like anything special to the USCs, Texas or Oklahomas of the world, but if you’ve been around Minneapolis, this brought chills through your entire body.

Never in the 27 years that the Metrodome housed the Gophers was there excitement like this. You could never smell the hot dogs, sit in the sun and have a beer, or see the anticipation building with the gathering fans in the stands.
For people that have been around this town and the lackluster indoor football that its college program brought, this was special.

As fighter jets flew overhead, yet another thing most Gopher fans experienced for the first time, the 50,000 fans who sold out TCF were in a frenzy. You didn’t need any more evidence of what this meant to the University than the tears rolling down honorary captain and Gopher legend Bud Grant’s face as he witnessed the amazing scene. The emotion, the excitement, the anticipation, the long, painful years of waiting that every Gopher fan felt over the endless struggles this program faced.

It was finally here.

“You know you try to make it like any other game. But on the bus ride coming down University, all of frat row, and just seeing that it’s a whole different era now for our football program and just for our team,” said junior QB Adam Weber.
Understandably, it took the Gophers a while to settle in, they trailed 10-3 going into the fourth. But they knew, as did the 50,000 in the stands and the thousands more glued to their television sets around Minnesota, that it couldn’t end like this.

tcf-bank-stadium

“This place was magic tonight,” coach Tim Brewster said. “We knew that it was our night and it was our house.”
That magic came at the perfect time. An offense that had been in a slumber the better part of their last 5 quarters, suddenly awoke. A few big completions to Eric Decker and one Deleon Eskridge run later and it was tied. Fans wanted more.

“It was unbelievable,” said 82 year old John Charles, alumni and long time Gopher supporter who I caught up with in a local restaurant after the game. “The atmosphere was something I’ve never seen before.”

The storybook had a perfect climax. Senior LB Nathan Triplett, who had only one start and 40 tackles entering this year, scooped up a fumble by Air Force QB Tim Jefferson and got 52 yards to enjoy the eruption of the crowd and the Gopher sideline on his way to what proved to be the game winning TD. On the night, Triplett notched 17 tackles and his first career touchdown. He came from having one start to earning National Defensive Player of the Week honors for his heroics, and an eventual Gophers victory.

In the past, the Gophers may have found a way to let this game slip through their fingers. The last 27 years, they have let many opportunities to make something of their program go by the wayside. But they would not make the same mistakes of their predecessors on Saturday night. Fueled by 50,000 of their biggest supporters and a $300 million dollar symbol of what they hope will be a new, successful page in their history, they dug deep and got the job done.

Forget the fact that they didn’t play the most air tight game all around and that the offense was stagnant most of the game. This night was more about the most exciting thing to happen to this program since they won the Rose Bowl 47 years ago. As simple as it sounds, at it’s base, it was about making Gopher football fun again.

“Phenomenal atmosphere for college football,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “They’ve got something here that’s pretty darn neat and really special. I think it’s evident they’ve got a place where they can build something down the road and be a top-20 program.”

From the ground up, that’s where a program starts, with an on campus stadium, and now the program can officially begin again. It may not be USC, Texas, or Oklahoma, but with the way it looked in Minneapolis Saturday, give it time, because now they have the means to get there.

Tim Brewster’s Third Year Full of Question Marks

gophercheer

By Mike Gallagher

Tim Brewster did not have big shoes to fill when he stepped into the head-coaching job at the University of Minnesota.  He followed a man that could muster more than eight wins out of his football program just once and never finished higher than fourth in the Big Ten.  A man that consistently let top name talent walk right out of the state of Minnesota to go to any number of legitimate big name programs.  Brewster’s predecessor Glen Mason was not the greatest coach, but he managed to get a lot from a program that could offer very little.

People were very quick to rip Glen Mason left and right when he would produce another 4-4 or 3-5 conference season, but let’s take a minute to see what the man had to work with.  Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is the Metrodome.  Mason had to lead recruits into a stuffy, cheap, out-of-date, off campus stadium that would consistently draw 40,000 per game in a 60,000 seat tephlon bubble.

Secondly, the University of Minnesota did not have much to offer as far as an academic institution goes.  Only in the last few years has the University been upgrading it’s standards and starting to approach the academic excellence of some of the other Big Ten institutions like Wisconsin and Northwestern.  The ever present concern of weather is one that all coaches will have to face, and Mason suffered for that as they all do.  Anyone working against these odds is faced with the constant challenge of getting top talent into their program, and while he is not blameless for this fact, recruiting was more like a minefield than a stroll on campus.  For all the negatives, Mason still managed to lead the Gophers to 7 bowls in 10 years.

timbrewster
On the other side of the heavily weighted coin is Tim Brewster’s first 2 seasons in Minnesota.  Brewster has had the advantage since he arrived in Minnesota, of either showing recruits where the stadium would be, showing them the remarkable progress that has been made in the last three years, or, more recently, showing them the finished product.

It’s an immaculate sight, the open air arena will surely sell out for years to come, and you don’t have to walk far to find it, it’s right across the street from Williams Arena, home to Gophers basketball.  The academic element has fallen right into place, with nearly 25,000 students a year being turned away, the U is fast rising within an already strong academic conference.  Brewster also has strong connections in the NFL, which is sure to entice those with pro football dreams, as he was the tight ends coach in San Diego and an assistant head coach in Denver.  On top of all that, Brewster’s mentor is Mack Brown, whom he worked under for 13 years at North Carolina.  Brown, a recruiting giant among men, has since moved on to a beacon of college football excellence, the University of Texas.

goldie
See the contrast in the tools that the two coaches had to work with?  Recruits did, Brewster netted two top 30 recruiting classes and has another on the way to TCF Bank Stadium.  Sure,  the team’s 1-11 year was their first under Brewster and left much to be desired.  But the first year under a new regime can always be thrown out and blame should never be assessed to the new coaching staff for the indiscretions of the previous staff’s holdovers.  After a red hot start to the 2008 season which saw the Gophers at 7-1 and #20 in the Coaches Poll after week 8, they crashed and burned, losing their last 5 games, including a 55-0 drubbing in the regular season finale at home against bitter rival Iowa.

Although the end of last season was a tough learning pill to swallow for Brewster’s club, the positives have to be focused on as much as possible.  They won seven games and made a bowl game in Brewster’s second year.  That’s a long way to come from being 1-11 the year before.

But in order to make that year mean anything, they need to follow it up with an even better 2009 season.  That brings us where we stand today, with the Gophers at a record of 1-0 having beaten the, ahem, “mighty” Orange of Syracuse.  It was a win, yes, and as any coach looking to cover up the obvious flaws within an victory will tell you, that’s all that counts.  As anyone with half a brain and a clear view of reality will tell you, that’s bull.  Syracuse is widely considered the worst team in the worst power conference (the Big East didn’t even manage a team in the preseason top 25) in America.

They had three wins last year and are starting a former Duke point guard as their quarterback.  Their best  weapon in 2008 was RB Curtis Brinkley, who graduated, and they are in the first year of what is sure to be a long and arduous rebuilding process under new coach Doug Marrone.  All that being said, the Gophers looked as if they were picking up right where they left off at the end of last year.  Their running game had one shining moment on Duane Bennett’s touchdown run, but otherwise was non-existent.

The passing game was terrible outside of the most underrated receiver in the country, Eric Decker.  The defense, after getting torched in the first half, made good adjustments in the second half and was the only thing that kept them in it.  If the Gophers were playing any of the other 120 teams in the FBS last Saturday, the Minneapolis media would’ve been mercilessly destroying Brewster and Co. via every platform available.

All this in mind, this is Tim Brewster’s third year.  The general consensus is that the third year is when you’ll really be able to tell if a coach and his system are really going to work out.  Brewster has his system in place and the guys he recruited on the field.  TCF Bank Stadium is opening this Saturday against Air Force in primetime on the Big Ten Network.  This event is supposed to be the thing that turns the page into a new, successful Gopher football era.  All the pieces are in place for this to be a big year for the Gophers and a coming out party for Tim Brewster and his staff.

The Big Ten is a very tough conference year in and year out, and therefore excitement has been tampered a bit by the fact that if you look on the schedule, you have three instant losses (at penn state, at  ohio state, at iowa).  But if Brewster’s squad can manage to win those other 5 conference games (home to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, at Northwestern), that will get you a top five finish in the conference and the season has to be considered a success.  The non-conference game next week against California will be a good one, if the Gophers find a way in that clash, nine wins is within their grasp.

gophercheerleader

BUT, if the Gophers produce more porous efforts like the one against Syracuse, it doesn’t matter how many pieces are in place or how many people are at TCF for each game, all the critics that say an 8th place conference finish is in their future will be absolutely right.

Tim Brewster has no excuses this year, eight wins is a perfectly reasonable expectation.  It’s his top 30 recruiting classes, his system, his stadium, his campus, and now it’s on him to put it all in place and have a successful year.  After all, Glen Mason managed eight wins his third year without all of that.

Eric Decker: Minnesota’s Football/Baseball Star

deckerbaseballdeckerfootball

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.

en_USEnglish