By Mike Gallagher
When Tim Brewster took over the University of Minnesota’s football program three years ago, it was not a pretty sight. That was reflected on the field in the 2007 season, when the Gophers went 1-11.
The idea from there was that the program would begin a rebuilding process that would have the team in the Big Ten’s contenders by at the earliest the third year of Brewster’s reign, but definitely the fourth.
What you have seen this year is what ultimately ruined that plan.
With the Gophers rapping up a regular season filled with hope, and then massive disappointment, things are looking as if they’ll get worse before they get better.
Looking into the stats shows nothing to inspire hope. The offense ended the regular season 113th in the nation in yards/gm. When an offense is this bad, you have to start at the head of the unit. Adam Weber’s struggles have been chronicled, and were amplified this weekend vs. Iowa in which he failed to complete 50% of his passes for the fifth time in six games. For only the second time all year, he didn’t throw an interception, but made up for it by fumbling twice.
Think he should be benched? I did, and still don’t think it could hurt, but it’s painfully obvious that his backup, Marqueis Gray, is far from ready to captain an offense. In limited but consistent duty this year, he completed only 38% of his passes. He showed his football immaturity this past weekend, throwing an interception while scrambling out of the pocket.
Don’t expect much help from their targets next year, either. The U will lose their top two receivers, Eric Decker and TE Nick Tow-Arnett, to graduation. Aside from those two, no one else had more than 300 yards receiving, even with Decker being out the last month.
The run game isn’t exactly a beacon of light either, it ranked 108th in the nation this year. No Gopher running back averaged more than 4.2 yards per carry this year. You’d think over the entire season someone would break one that brought that average up a little bit, but in reality no Gopher had more than a 29-yard run on the year.
The only good news here is that the, ahem, three headed monster, of running backs (Deleon Eskridge, Kevin Whaley, Duane Bennett) are all back next year. Maybe with another year under their young belts, they will be able to be more of a factor in the offense.
But does is matter how good the backs are? As we know from my other recent articles (my 4 loyal readers would know), it all starts up front and the biggest problem this year has been on the lines. While having one of the worst run blocking teams in the nation, they have also allowed the most sacks in the Big Ten this year. After losing center Jeff Tow-Arnett for the season with an injury, there was no hope left for this patchwork group.
The bright side for the O-line is that only Tow-Arnett is graduating, leaving four of five starters on the line. At this point, the Gophers top recruit is an offensive lineman, Jimmy Gjere. With Seantrel Henderson still considering the U, this is a group that could be much improved. But even big improvement might only bring them to average after how this year went.
On the other side of the ball, it’s simple. The defense kept the Gophers in a lot of games, including this past week vs. Iowa. They rank smack dab in the middle of the national rankings in scoring defense, at 60th. The bad part is that they’re graduating their entire front seven. Nate Triplett and Lee Campbell will be sorely missed at linebacker, while they also graduate Kim Royston and Treye Simmons, key contributors in the secondary. The defense will be gutted, leaving many to wonder how they’ll be in any games next year.
Looking at the very near future, they have a bowl-game to prepare for, what will likely be the Little Ceasers Pizza Bowl. Obviously this game is of very little importance to this program, which is why I’m paying no attention at all to it.
The big picture is what matters, and there’s virtually no shot that AD Joel Maturi will make a coaching change this offseason, so the Gophers are going to have to work with what they have, coach included. What they have right now is not very much, especially heading into next year. Brewster has gotten practically nothing from his recruits, and that will need to change in order for there to be some progress since they graduate a very productive group of 27 seniors.
This was a key year to see the direction of this team, and with the way they performed and all the talent they’re graduating, how can there be any excitement around not only this bowl game, but the years to come?
After this year, there is no light at the end of the mediocre tunnel anymore. The tunnel just got a lot longer. Tim Brewster needs to find a way to get more out of what he’s got, because if he doesn’t, he won’t be around to reach the end of that tunnel.