#76 Minnesota Golden Gophers College Football 77 in 77

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In 2011, the Minnesota Golden Gophers played a very powerhouse USC team very tight, and utterly destroyed an Illini team that had completely quit on Ron Zook when they met in Minneapolis. Those were the highlights of a bad 3-9 season.

The lowlights? a loss to dreadful North Dakota State which kicked off a horrendous four game losing streak that saw the Gophers outscored 31-144. New regimes take time, so maybe year two will be better? Well, the Minnesota state legislature approved the sale of beer on game days for 2012, so at least they’ll have that.

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Gophers are the Same Team With or Without Brewster

Tim Brewster Fired

Changing coaches is an inevitable thing unless your name is Joe Paterno or John Gagliardi of St. John’s.  [Read more…]

Grading Minnesota Gophers 2010 Signing Day

By Mike Gallagher

4:30 in the early evening on Wednesday February 3rd, 2010 rolled around, and Seantrel Henderson broke Minnesota fans hearts.

After much speculation and months of waiting, three letters were on the lips of the best lineman in the nation. [Read more…]

Insight Bowl Sheds Even More Insight on Gophers Holes

By Mike Gallagher

68 teams, 34 bowls, lots and lots of corporate sponsorships and money being thrown around.

Clearly, college football has gotten money-based to the point of any true sports fan being nauseated, as more than half of FBS teams make it to a bowl.

Obviously this makes for a lot of meaningless football, and December 31st’s Insight Bowl was, without a doubt, no exception.

Minnesota’s 14-13 loss to upstart Iowa State, however, did help re-affirm the question marks that some supporters had coming into the game.

But instead of throwing everyone from head coach Tim Brewster to freshman 6th string cornerback Lucas Duppler under the bus, because it is extremely tempting to do it after a season like this, I decided to answer some of those questions in a more positive light, as it is the start of a brand new year and a chance to turn the page.

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How Did Adam Weber Do That?

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By Mike Gallagher

Unlike The Question Mark shown above, I believe I do have the answer.  Adam Weber must be a loyal reader of my articles, and the one last week must’ve be so enraging that he set out to prove me wrong.  But seriously, on first glance, doesn’t that seem like the only possible explanation?

Well, as much as I wish that were true, I’m not that delusional.  I am, however, delusional enough to not back off the rather harsh article I wrote targeting Weber last week.

Don’t get me wrong, Weber had a truly spectacular performance last Saturday, throwing for 416 yards and five touchdowns.  But there were a lot of factors playing in his favor for this game.

First, and most obviously, Michigan State is surrendering 245 yards a game in the air, good, or bad, for 95th in the nation.  They gave up 300 yards and two scores to Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, 243 and four scores to Scott Tolzien of Wisconsin, 291 and two scores to Mike Kafka of Northwestern, and 328 and three scores to Central Michigan’s Dan Lefevour.  Lefevour and Clausen are obviously very good quarterbacks, but Kafka and Tolzien have been extremely average this year.

Secondly, Michigan State had the first look at a Gopher team without Eric Decker.  Every other team knew what to game plan for when Decker was in the lineup, take him away and you’ll stop the entire offense.  Game planning for a team without it’s star player can be a good thing because that’s one less weapon you have to stop, but at the same time, the new look can be confusing.  It can also be hard to predict what exactly the team will do without it’s star player, will it stick to passing or will the running game be more of a factor.  The mystery of the situation can be difficult for a defense because you just don’t know what to expect.

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The third possible factor could be the emotional one for the Gophers.  Decker being lost for the regular season, and having given so much to this program, could’ve sparked a fire in the guys looking to step in for him and for Weber to prove Decker hasn’t made him who he is today.  This may’ve led to guys such as Duane Bennett, who had 42 receiving yards on the year, rack up the 121 he did.  Da’jon Mcknight might’ve felt the same way, his uninspiring three career catches heading into the game quickly was exceeded, as he went off for four and 98 yards.  The emotional factor can be big for tight knit groups, the win-one-for-the-gipper attitude can carry a team, if only for a week.

All those points aside, I did look like a fool this week, and give credit where it is due, it was an impressive performance by Weber and his supporting cast.  Even if the emotional aspect was part of it, that’s ok, because the guys asked to carry a bigger load last week did their job and stepped up.

The one semi-legitimate theory that has been tossed around about Weber is the idea that he was zeroing in one Decker too much on passing plays and would try to force it to him, therefore cutting down his options and making the offense extremely predictable.  The thought that having Decker out of the lineup got Weber out of tunnel-vision mode is not ludicrous, in fact it makes a lot of sense not only on the field, but off the field as well.  The two are roommates, best friends, and obviously want what’s best for one another, so maybe Weber, after being around Decker so much, was just subconsciously always looking to Decker.

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I do not subscribe to that theory, but of all the ones I have heard, that seems the most plausible.  I tend to think that it actually is more a combination of the first three points I gave, and that with the emotional aspect not playing as big of a factor this week and Illinois being able to get a look at how not to stop Weber, this week may be a little rougher go than the last was.

That being said, we won’t learn a whole lot about who the real Adam Weber is either of these next two weeks.  Illinois is coming off it’s first Big Ten win, and while it was a decent one over a severely overrated Michigan team, don’t expect them to come into TCF and pose too much of a threat to the Gophers becoming bowl eligible.  Then there’s South Dakota State…so yeah, like I was saying, not much opposition.

Well done by Weber and company this week, but let’s not fly off the handle saying he’s a changed man and he’s a god of quarterbacking.  He had a good game in which a lot of things were going his way, let’s see him do it these next two weeks against teams he should beat, then go into Kinnick Stadium and put up a solid performance.

When he does those things, I’ll be back on the bandwagon.  Because any starting Big Ten quarterback shouldn’t have a problem accomplishing that.

Eric Decker Out For Season, Adam Weber Should Follow

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By Mike Gallagher

Finally Gophers fans got a glimpse of what life after Eric Decker will be like.  After Decker left midway through the first quarter with what was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain, not surprisingly, things got no better.  The Gophers stretched their scoreless stretch to 136 minutes and 23 seconds, before Marqueis Gray connected with Troy Stoudermire Jr.  Gray, just in for mop up duty at the end of a lopsided 38-7 loss vs. Ohio State, looked good, hitting on 5 of 6 passes for 51 yards and one score.  He also had 11 carries for 81 yards.  He was the only bright spot in an otherwise pathetic effort which saw Minnesota lose for the 13th straight time to an AP top 25 team.

Worse news came down on Tuesday, with Decker’s All-American season getting cut short by what was no longer a high ankle sprain, rather a “foot injury.”  With the only weapon on an otherwise horrendously below average offense done for the regular season, you have to wonder what the next move will be to bring some sense of improvement to this slapstick comedy routine called Gopher football.

Certainly the defense cannot be blamed, yes they gave up 38 points last week, but at the half it was only 7-0.  Before the offense and special teams started putting the D in bad positions where only inept offense would not convert, the defense was the only thing keeping Minnesota in the game.

They only gave up 20 against Penn State the week before.  Granted, Penn State’s offense is not elite, but they managed 35 vs. Michigan last week, and are the #12 team in the nation.

The offense is clearly where the problem lies, and after the coaching staff, the first one to shoulder the blame is always the man under center.  Adam Weber, as much as he has accomplished in his three years here, is no exception.

People fell in love with Weber for obvious reasons.  Firstly, the Gophers haven’t had a legitimate quarterback, EVER.  Bryan Cupito is the Gophers all time leading passer yardage wise.  Don’t worry, if I didn’t cover the team, I wouldn’t know who he is either.

Weber’s career numbers are far from spectacular, as he finished his freshman year 77th in the nation in passer rating and 58th his sophomore year.

However, that was an important show of improvement between those years.  This made critics, myself included, believe that this was to be a breakout year for Weber.  It hasn’t been.  His last three games have been the worst stretch of his career.  He is a combined 25-54 for 287 yards and five interceptions.  That leaves him 103rd of 110 eligible FBS quarterbacks in quarterback rating.  Over his last twelve games, he has gone over 60% in the completion category only twice.

Secondly, as the quarterback must take the blame, he is to accept credit for the success as well.  The jump in wins from one to seven from freshman to sophomore year made it seem a top four finish in the Big Ten was possible.  But at only 4-4 this year, the team will not be improving in the win category, and most likely will take a step backwards.  That 4-4 record now leaves the Gophers at 12-21 overall with Weber under center, and 5-16 in the Big Ten.

Third, when he came in, he was a legitimate dual threat from the QB position.  Having rushed for over 600 yards his freshman year while also throwing for almost 3,000, fans were drooling over what he would do to defenses once it all came together with the rest of the squad.  His rushing numbers, however, have fallen each of the past two years, bottoming out at -35 yards this year.

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Weber’s collapse can be analyzed for days upon days, but I’d prefer to focus on the rushing aspect.  The Gophers offensive line has had it’s share of problems the last few years, since Brewster instituted the “spread offense”.  When Weber took over in 2007, he was able to make up for a lot of the mistakes the offensive line may’ve made by creating plays with his feet.  Thus resulted his, and the Gophers best offensive year under Brewster.  He was even able to do that to an extent last year, but this year he has not made any sort of effort to do so.  No injury has been reported to his legs or ankles over his career with the Gophers, so the sudden drop off in attempts to move the ball up field with his legs is mysterious.  Without that aspect of his game, and without any sort of run game whatsoever from anyone on the Gophers, he is a sitting duck in the oft-collapsed pocket.

So with Eric Decker gone, Adam Weber not living up to the hype, and the Gophers floundering in another disappointing season, it’s time to make a change.  The Gophers got an up close and personal look at what a true athletic talent can do last week when Terrelle Pryor put up 225+ passing yards and 100+ rushing yards against them.  The Gophers may not have Pryor, but they have the man that looked an awful lot like him late in the game last week.

Marqueis Gray, it’s your time to take the reigns.

now he should take off the hat, and put on the helmet

He has truly been Brewster’s best recruit, a 4-star QB out of high school, and to this point has had people wondering if he was going to pan out.  But in limited time this year, he has shown his versatility and extra components he can add to this offense.  Yes, he is extremely raw as a passer, as he had only attempted one pass at the college level before last week’s game.  At the same time, he is very quick and gifted with his feet, something Weber is not.  Those feet will, at the very least, give the defense something else to think about.  Teams won’t be able to put six or seven in the box and be comfortable with their ability to stop the run, they’ll have to bring that other safety near the line much more often with Gray under center.  This could open up some, dare I say, BIG PLAYS, words not usually used in the Gophers passing game.

Marqueis Gray is the future, but when the present isn’t amounting to anything, why wait for the future?  Adam Weber has been a very good quarterback the last two years for the Gophers, but for whatever the real reason may be, can’t seem to find the touch this year.  If Brewster does not pull him and he continues to perform at this level, do they plan on playing him next year?  Especially without his favorite target Eric Decker, that is an extremely risky decision.  Why throw another season down the drain with a guy that can’t get your program wins?  At this stage in the season, there’s no reason not to go with your future to see where it stands.

With Gray under center, you’ll still likely make a bowl, and get him key reps and experience he can take into next year.  Weber to Decker is no more, it’s time to usher in a new era.

Fairy Tale Beginnings for TCF Bank Stadium

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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.

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“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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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