Posts tagged Minnesota Golden Gophers
Posts tagged Minnesota Golden Gophers
Photo credit: Jesse Johnson / US Presswire
When last place might not matter: Here’s why college football’s National Signing Day’s rankings matter and where they might be wrong
1. On Jan. 25, a high school senior named Nate Andrews from Fairhope, Ala., decided to attend Florida State University, where he would also play Division I football. Previously, he verbally committed to Minnesota, but as teenagers are wont to do, he changed his mind. Andrews hadn’t put ink to paper and even if he had, that might not have mattered. One teenage recruit this year tattooed the Auburn logo on his forearm, before ultimately deciding to rescind his commitment to attend Alabama.
It happens. According to the Andrews’s high school football coach, Andrews decided to pick Tallahassee because it was a bit closer to home and he also struck up a good relationship with FSU’s defensive coordinator, who had previously coached defensive backs at Alabama. Good enough reasons – not to mention that Florida State has a more prestigious football program than Minnesota. The change was met with frustration from the Twitter feeds and message boards relevant to Minnesota college football, but many expected Andrews to switch schools, particularly after he attracted some late interest from Alabama.
Two themes emerged from Florida State and Minnesota fans though. Gopher fans bemoaned the idea that their coach couldn’t bring in talented recruits; Florida State fans cried that their coach was bringing in too many untalented recruits. Mr. Andrews was, at the exact same time, seen as either the one who got away or the one who shouldn’t have been invited.
College football recruiting can be kind of stupid at times.
2. Meanwhile, as Mr. Andrews made his collegiate decision, another teenager named Reggie Spearman debated what school would be best for his future. In August, the linebacker prospect picked Illinois, but as he continued to visit other schools, he wasn’t so sure anymore about attending school in Champaign, Ill. Schools started swarming. Iowa offered him a scholarship, as did Minnesota, Purdue, Syracuse, Indiana and seven other schools.
When asked about his recruitment, Spearman once said, “I’m still committed to Illinois but Iowa really opened up things and I am really just undecided.” He visited a few of the schools, each place jockeying position on Rivals’s recruiting pages.
When it came time to make a decision, Spearman took out a Syracuse hat, but then dropped it and picked up an Iowa Hawkeyes cap and put it on his head. Again, that’s pretty standard in recruiting. That isn’t the disgusting part. That came from Spearman’s Twitter feed, when he retweeted the messages he received from adult men trying to convince him to attend their favorite university.
A sampling of the messages he received after choosing Iowa (everything sic):
- “lmao this dude pathetic. you are a goddamn joke son.”
- “LOL..U picked 3 losers…good luck with that.”
- “HAHAHA.. Are you delusional? Good luck. You can’t even beat Iowa State.”
There are pages more of similar stuff, although most of it is congratulatory by now.
Keep in mind, Mr. Andrews and Mr. Spearman are three-star recruits; that is, they are not considered to be among the top tier, five-star players who command the most attention. That’s when the crazy gets turned up to 11. Five-star defensive end recruit Chris Jones of Houston received death threats from fans of Ole Miss and Mississippi State when he was rumored to be picking between the schools.
Again, grown men are harassing 17 and 18-year-olds over the Internet about what college the teens should attend – to the point where they are threatening bodily harm. If reading that doesn’t give make your eyebrows and nose scrunch together – and it should – try this. Take the phrase “17-year-old boy” out of the above sentence and place “17-year-old girl” in its place.
Several writers – Spencer Hall and Adam Kramer, for example — have written about the inherent creepiness of college football recruiting, but it’s worth repeating. SB Nation’s Black Heart Gold Pants even labels all recruiting posts “Caring Is Creepy.”
Again, 17- and 18-year-olds are being hounded by grown men who they have never met in person or even talked to on the phone. They are being repeatedly told that they should attend STATE U and when these teens decide a school that isn’t Johnny Crazyperson’s favorite, the crazies let their freak flag fly.
I bristle when people compare professional sports to slavery, but I’ve much more troubled when I overhear people brashly yelling about college football recruiting like this: “Yeah, we got that boy coming to town! Locked him up!” This insanity is not evidence of how competitive college football is. It’s evidence of how many crazy people like college football.
College football recruiting is nearly always creepy.
Image courtesy of the University of Minnesota. Lines provided by VegasInsider.com. Broadcast information courtesy of AwfulAnnouncing.com. This was originally posted at FringeBowlTeamBlog.com.
Michigan (-12) over MINNESOTA // 11 a.m., BTN, Kevin Kugler, Chris Martin, Jon Jansen.
I would have loved to start this post recalling the last time the Gophers beat Michigan in Minnesota, but I don’t remember it at all. This is mostly because it was five years before my birth.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers haven’t beat Michigan at home since 1977.
The Gophers have come close, obviously, but we don’t need to rehash those ghosts here. Plus, I’ve already ruined my day before writing about them. To get a sense of how lopsided things have been, perform a Google image search for “Little Brown Jug Minnesota Gophers.” I would love nothing more than to see Minnesota stun the Wolverines and return the Little Brown Jug back to the 612 area code for this first time in three and a half decades. I would love to restart this once storied rivalry with a surprise turd in the punch bowl at Denard Robinson’s Big Ten farewell party.
We just aren’t there yet.
So far this week, a lot of attention has been given to an injured nerve in Robinson’s throwing arm, which he injured last week in the first half against Nebraska. As will happen with a player who is currently accounting for 75 percent of a team’s entire offense (!*), Michigan sputtered without him and lost to Nebraska.
* - Just a second. I need to repeat that again. Robinson has accounted for 2,265 yards of offense this year, or 75 percent of Michigan’s 3,025 yards of total offense. If anyone thinks that Michigan is just going to seamlessly transition to a new quarterback next year — who isn’t named Devin Gardner — who isn’t running a wide-open, quarterback run-heavy scheme, I’ve got a Gophers practice facility to sell you.
Ed. note: There are many people who know about gambling. They aren’t me. That’s why this is “The Non-Gambler’s Big Ten Picks.” It’s not a clever name; this is not a gambling column. This column will preview the week’s Big Ten games, along with a few notes about the week in general from time to time. This was originally posted at FringeBowlTeamBlog.com. - EM
Minnesota (+7) over IOWA, 11 a.m., ESPN2, Announcing team: Beth Mowins, Joey Galloway, Lewis Johnson
“What can I say about Iowa’s offensive gameplan that has not already been said about Afghanistan? It looks bombed out and depleted,” - Silky Johnson, Hater of the Year, little known Minnesota Golden Gopher football season ticket holder of 25 years.
Two years ago, I stood up from my stool at the Happy Gnome and proclaimed the Gophers were going to upset Iowa. For once, I was right. That Saturday I got to run around on the field at TCF Bank Stadium like a rube with my Dad. Last year, I glumly figured Floyd of Rosedale was headed south down 35W again. This time, I was wrong. (Kind of a life theme, although usually I’m not quite so giddy about it.) I stood outside a winery in Oregon listening to the game on iHeartRadio, fist-pumping and generally scaring anyone who was driving into the parking lot.
The Gophers were heavy underdogs in both games; there wasn’t much to puff your chest about leading up to both games. Last year, the Gophers had already lost two awful non-conference games and had been outscored 144-31 in the three-game span preceding the Iowa game. Once again, I expected the trophy cases to be empty for at least another 12 months.
That has all changed going into this Saturday. It’s actually a rivalry again.
3. Troy Stoudermire | CB | Senior | 5'10” 200 lbs. G TK Solo TFL INT PD FF 4 24 20 3 2 3 0 Photo credit: Marisa Wojcik / Minnesota Daily
Troy Stoudermire walks into 2012 as the leader of the Gophers’ defensive backfield, if not the defense as a whole.
Defensive coordinator Tracey Claeys has an affinity for leaving his cornerbacks on an island, particularly the primary outside corner, or “boundary” corner in the Gophers defense. At the onset of 2011, that position belonged to Stoudermire. Highlighting his agility and also his strength, Stoudermire could play press coverage on an island without getting beaten like a rented mule, allowing a safety to cheat up in run coverage, take the place of a blitzing linebacker or help in deep zone.
If you remember the USC game, Robert Woods was able to get free on bubble screens and slants early in the game, taking advantage of man coverage and at other times, a soft cushion when he was lined up against Brock Vereen. In the second half though, Claeys was able to disguise coverages between man and zone, confusing Matt Barkley a bit, as he brought a cornerback on a blitz or cheated a safety toward the box. Stoudermire’s ability allowed Claeys to try and hide a glaring hole at safety across from senior Kim Royston. However, Stoudermire snapped a bone in his left forearm against Miami (Ohio) and wasn’t able to make it through the first quarter of the following week’s game against North Dakota State University. It was the last he played in 2011 and the thin defensive secondary unraveled thereafter, before rallying a bit near the end of the year.*
* - I should take a moment to say the pass defense wasn’t the biggest problem in 2011. On passing downs, the Gophers ranked 45 out of all 120 teams in Football Outsiders’ defensive S&P ranking. The Passing S&P as a whole was 63rd, while the rushing S&P ranked 93. The defense as a whole ranked 89th. Granted, the Gophers played from behind a lot and didn’t have nearly as many passing downs as rushing downs, but it is an important distinction nonetheless. MV also pointed these statistics out in his 2012 defensive back preview.
So what is S&P? S&P is a stat combination, similar to OPS in baseball. It is literally defined as the combination of a defense’s efficiency (“Success Rate”) and its explosiveness (“Equivalent Points Per Play). Taken simply, a team that has a good defense stops offenses a lot and doesn’t give up a lot of big scoring plays. Here is a more in-depth definition: A defensive success rate is defined by the percentage of plays targeting a defense in which the offense did not have a “successful” play. Equivalent Points Per Play gives each yard line a point value based on the average amount of points that a team can expect to score from that position on the field. The actual stats are then given a point value compared to that assigned point value. For more information about these terms, check out the Football Outsiders glossary.
When Stoudermire went down, the cornerbacks who stepped in were not able to play press coverage as well without the help of a safety. However, the run defense often needed an extra defender in the box and, well, you should be able to see the dominoes starting to fall.
Although the Gophers have brought in three junior college cornerbacks to provide depth, everyone knows who is No. 1. The better Stoudermire is on the corner, locking down opponents’ best receiving targets, the better the defense will be as a whole. He has returned this spring fully healthy, reportedly looking strong throughout spring and fall practice.
I have to admit I’m surprised to see Stoudermire in this position. In September 2010 he was suspended indefinitely by then-coach Tim Brewster. Stoudermire made a Facebook post about leaving the team, but was reinstated and moved back to defense, where he had started his Gopher career in 2008. Midway through his freshman year in 2008, Brewster moved the speedy corner to wide receiver, in order to capitalize on his playmaking ability. He continued as a kick returner and wide receiver in 2009.
(Important footnote: It was this year against Iowa when Jedd Fisch and Brewster famously called for the Weber to Stoudermire jump ball on the two-yard line on third down, in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot, 10-inch Stoudermire was unable to reel in the pass.)
As Stoudermire’s progress at receiver seemed stagnant, he instantly responded to playing cornerback near the end of 2010 and entered 2011 as the unquestioned No. 1. After last year’s season-ending injury, the NCAA granted him a fifth-year, and he’s now the leader of a young defensive secondary.
If Troy Stoudermire does nothing else in his Gopher career, he will at least be remembered for several years for his brutal fumble-causing hit on Marcus Coker in 2010, a play that guaranteed the Floyd of Rosedale would return to Minnesota. The hit put an exclamation point on the end of the Gophers’ three-year winless streak in rivalry trophy games.
In 2012, the Gophers need him to display more of that flair for the big moment.
4. Ra'Shede Hageman | DT | Junior | 6'6” 300 lbs. G TK Solo TFL SK FF 12 13 10 3.5 2.0 1 Photo credit: Chris Polydoroff/Pioneer Press
Last November at TCF Bank Stadium, Ra’Shede Hageman crouched in his four point stance as Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase barked out signals and adjusted his offense. The QB snapped the ball and Hageman bull rushed past Illinois center Graham Pocic with a combination of power and speed that would fit in perfectly on a high school recruit’s highlight tape.
Looking at the clip now, there’s no need to put a red circle around Hageman. It’s impossible to ignore him once the play starts. Hageman tosses Pocic out of his way, fends off a desperate flail from a second lineman, Alex Hill, and wraps his arms around Scheelhaase, tossing him to the turf and causing the QB to fumble the ball.
Maybe there was a blocking mishap and Hill was late to his double team. Maybe Hageman was finally realizing the potential he brought to Dinkytown when he enrolled in 2009. Recruiting expert Tom Lemming named him the No. 1 tight end prospect in the nation coming out of Washburn High School, but Hageman was quickly moved to defensive end. He struggled with picking up the techniques of defensive line in his first two years in Minnesota, but stood out near the end of last year with two sacks against Illinois and four tackles against Iowa. Worth noting, his two sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and 12 of 13 total tackles came within the last six games of the year.
Talent and size will never be an issue with Hageman. It will be technique, football IQ and desire that defines his career. Call him the football team’s version of Rodney Williams. There’s a reason that MV dubbed him “Optimus Prime.”
Can Hageman put it together this year as a junior? So far, reports from the spring are an emphatic “Yes.” But legends are not judged by how well they dominated their teammates in spring practice. Hageman was suspended in 2010 by then interim coach Jeff Horton for academic troubles. Also of note, Hageman was arrested this spring for disorderly conduct, although some blog postings at the the time said that he was trying to break up a fight, rather than start one. The charges were eventually dropped June 11. Hopefully that’s a sign of his progress.
Again, it’s clear Hageman has the potential. The Gophers need him to translate that into consistent production like the Illinois game and the second half of last season, with Hageman wreaking havoc on the opposing offensive line, disrupting both the running and passing games. If Hageman reaches his potential, gone are the days of quarterbacks like Zac Dysert scrambling around like Fran Tarkenton, waiting for receivers to break free. The Gophers should also receive help up front from junior college transfer Roland Johnson.
Some fans have said that Hageman could be the second-most important player on the Gophers this year and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them. It’s up to Hageman to finally fulfill that promise.
8. Keanon Cooper | LB | Senior | 6'0” 220 lbs. G TK Solo TFL SK FF PD 12 77 34 6 1.0 2 2 Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota Athletic Department
One of the most celebrated Gopher recruits in recent memory, much was made of Keanon Cooper’s switch to Minnesota on National Signing Day in 2008. Named to Rivals’ “Big Ten Signing Day Dream Team*” as a safety, Cooper redshirted a year and switched to linebacker.
He has since been a steady and solid presence for the Gophers. For a player who was highly touted coming to Minnesota and who has lettered three times, much has been written about his recruitment, his friendship with the late Gary Tinsley, even how he prefers to wear his jersey. But little has been written about Cooper’s on-field production.
That could change if the senior delivers a stand-out 2012.
* - A note about that “Dream Team”: It hasn’t exactly turned into a who’s who of the Big Ten’s best every Saturday. For example, here is the bulk of the offense (non-linemen):
• Running back Michael Shaw passed the 1,000 yard by one yard at Michigan. In his entire career.
• Fellow running back Terrance Robinson was moved to receiver and has two career catches entering his senior year at Michigan.
• Wide receiver DeVier Posey had a very solid career with Ohio State until his senior year, when he was suspended for 10 games.
• The other wideout, Michigan State’s Fred Smith, was moved to fullback before leaving MSU.
• Tight End Jake Stoneburner has been very good for Ohio State, but he was suspended from the team for the summer.
• The team’s quarterback? MarQueis Gray.
There are some very good players on the list (Mike Adams from Ohio State, for one) and definitely a few guys who are at the least solid contributors. Still, it again shows the difficulty in tabbing 17- and 18-year-olds as future stars or clipboard carriers before they have even reached campus. Too many unknown variables exist.
Also, it seems to show that if you go to Ohio State, you’re probably going to be suspended at some point in your career.
Playing through a wrist injury much of last year, Cooper totaled fourth on the Gophers in tackles with 77 and tallied the second-most tackles for loss. He has since undergone wrist surgery and was held out of spring practice as a precautionary measure. Cooper also dealt directly with the untimely death of Tinsley; Cooper was the person who found Tinsley unresponsive in his bedroom. Emotionally, I have no idea how a 22-year-old will handle such a tragedy and I’d rather not speculate. Instead, I’ll make an awkward transition back to football.
Cooper is one of the fastest Gophers on the team, if undersized a bit at linebacker. The preceding link directs to a blog entry by Phil Miller of the Star-Tribune in which Cooper bested all comers on the team in heads-up sprints. It seems Cooper may have gotten a bit of a Seinfeld head-start to win, but everyone seemed content with saying he was the team’s fastest player. If not, he’s a step behind Troy Stoudermire. Adding to his athleticism, Cooper is a smart player who has been twice named Academic All-Big Ten.
Cooper was sidelined so far this spring while he recovered from surgery, but he will be ready to play this fall. Even though he had to wear a non-contact jersey this spring, Cooper intently followed along at practice with defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, said Nate Sandell of 1500ESPN, the senior acting as a leader and quasi-coach for fellow linebackers LaMonte Edwards and James Manuel. Cooper is a smart, fast player who will have a lot expected of him. With Mike Rallis moving over to the middle and learning that position, Cooper needs to be a player who is always in the right position and also someone who can help Rallis along with the transition. He will also need to help the rotating cast of Aaron Hill, Spencer Reeves, Edwards, Manuel and any other linebackers who might play the outside position on the other side of the field. Although Cooper is a bit undersized for run defense and one-on-one tackling, his speed allows him to be a great asset for both blitzing and coverage. More importantly, without the wrist injury this year and a hopefully improved defensive unit, Claeys should be able to utilize Cooper on blitzes more often.
The 2011 defense was decent in passing situations, but struggled against the run. Football Outsiders and Bill Connelly ranked* the Gophers rushing defense 93rd out of 120 teams, while the defense as a whole ranked 89th. With two young, underclassmen possibly starting at defensive end and a converted middle linebacker this year, the defense is going to need the few established players to step up in run coverage when possible.
Still, there is evidence that the Gophers’ defense should slightly improve compared to last year, mainly due to an overhauled secondary and more experienced front-four, specifically Ra’Shede Hageman, Ben Perry and Michael Amaefula. If that defensive improvement occurs, Cooper’s leadership on the field will need to be a large part of it.
* - One way Football Outsiders ranks defenses is by a statistic called “S&P,” which is a stat combination, similar to OPS in baseball. It is literally defined as the combination of a defense’s efficiency (“Success Rate”) and its explosiveness (“Equivalent Points Per Play). Taken simply, a team that has a good defense stops the opposing offense a lot and in turn, doesn’t give up a lot of big scoring plays. Here is a more in-depth definition: A defensive success rate is defined by the percentage of plays targeting a defense in which the offense did not have a “successful” play. Equivalent Points Per Play gives each yard line a point value based on the average amount of points that a team can expect to score from that position on the field. The actual stats are then given a point value compared to that assigned point value. For more information about these terms, check out the Football Outsiders glossary.
9. Brandon Green | WR | Senior | 6'0” 190 lbs. G REC YDS AVG. TD 12 15 190 12.7 1 Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota Athletic Department
With Da’Jon McKnight moving on to the NFL, Brandon Green becomes the longest tenured Gopher wide receiver. However, that’s a loaded statement like being named the smartest kid in remedial math class.
Green was the team’s third leading receiver last year by one catch, but again, that’s another loaded statement; if Marcus Jones doesn’t have a knee injury, Jones would have likely passed Green’s receiving total of 15 catches. Although Green is a senior, he has totaled only 56 catches in three years of action.
Caption Obvious alert: The Gophers receiving corps is shallow and unproven. I’m currently writing about the most experienced receiver on the team and he had only 15 catches in his junior year.
Still, Green has potential. A four-star recruit who was part of former coach Tim Brewster’s vaunted 2008 class, Green has had a mostly underwhelming career at Minnesota. As a true freshman in 2008, Green tallied 261 yards in a four game stretch against Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan and Wisconsin. During the same stretch, future Denver Bronco receiver Eric Decker, who was the team’s main source of offense, had 110 yards and missed one game with an injury.
So Green had a great freshman year, right? Well, not exactly.
He ended the season with only 298 yards, only 37 more than that four-game outburst. He had a nondescript sophomore year in 2009 and then suffered a knee injury that caused him to sit out much of the 2010 year. Last year, Green caught one ball in every game, but only added a second when it was a deep pass, like during the Michigan and Northwestern games.
Injuries have robbed some of Green’s explosiveness, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover told 1500ESPN’s Nate Sandell this spring.
“I feel bad for Brandon,” Limegrover told Sandell. “He was a phenomenal high school player. The injuries have taken some of that away from him. That’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for anybody, any player who has that ability and their body just won’t let them do what they know in their mind and have that mental picture of what they’ve done in the past.”
Quarterback MarQueis Gray’s accuracy is still a large concern, so the receivers need to make the most of their chances. The Gophers simply don’t have the luxury of dropping open passes. Green demonstrated good hands last year in delivering the team’s second highest catch rate with 71.4 percent, but it’s hard to extrapolate that much from a sample size of 21 targets. (In comparison, leading receiver Da’Jon McKnight caught 54.3 percent of his 94 targets. These stats come from the brilliant Bill Connelly of Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.)
It’s reasonable to expect Green to step up to McKnight’s departed spot, although Marcus Jones’s return from last year’s knee injury makes a murky depth chart more cloudy. Although Jones’s ceiling is much higher at this point, Green has displayed more consistent hands. With the same number of targets, Jones’s catch rate was 42.9 percent. Again, it’s a small sample size.
As I wrote earlier about Jones and Devin Crawford-Tufts, the Gophers need a consistent deep threat or two to emerge. Green isn’t going to suddenly morph into Eric Decker or Ernie Wheelwright, but he has shown glimpses of ability to at least provide sure hands on a deep fade route. If Green doesn’t prove himself in fall practice, he could watch his job slip away to one of the other underclassmen that are now on campus, but the best scenario would be if Green finally delivers on his promise and becomes dependable in 2012.
12. Ben Perry | DE | Sophomore (RS) | 6'5” 241 lbs. G TK SOLO TFL SK 12 15 6 2.5 1.0
When a team unveils new jerseys, the stars are obviously going to be those modeling the new threads. If the Twins were to show off new uniforms, they wouldn’t trot out Matt Capps. Well, the Twins probably would trot out Capps, because they’ve pretty much shown an inability to un-invite him from everything including spring training, high leverage pitching situations and the bullpen as a whole. They are willing to trot him out for everything. OK, bad example, but the point still resonates. A team isn’t going to bring out a journeyman back-up to drum up goodwill at what is essentially an expansive dog and pony show.
When the Gophers went through those motions earlier this year, quarterback MarQueis Gray was obviously front and center. Ed Olson, leader of the offensive line, was there. Troy Stoudermire, who had recently been awarded a fifth-year of eligibility, was another one of the players, as well were other defensive leaders and seniors Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis. Senior receiver Brandon Green and senior tight end John Rabe rounded out the group.
Oh, and on the far right, stood sophomore defensive end Ben Perry.
Feel free to tell me that I’m reading too much into Perry’s inclusion – by all means, I likely am – but Coach Jerry Kill could have gone with senior D.L. Wilhite to keep the upperclassmen theme going, he could have tabbed Michael Amaefula if he wanted a more heralded, young defensive end.
But he picked Perry.
I think there’s something to that, or at least something beyond “Well, Ben was in town at the time, a couple of the d-line guys were sick and then the equipment guys misspelled ‘Amaefula,’ so Ben was up there.”
Perry and his fellow freshman defensive end Amaefula emerged from fall practice last year at the top of the depth chart, thereby earning the chance to be thrown directly into the fire of Division I college football. Perry played through a wrist injury and improved as the year continued, as did the defensive line as a whole. Some faint praise exists in that though, because the line had an awful start to the season. During a three game stretch against New Mexico State, Miami (Ohio) and North Dakota State, the Gophers registered one sack for a loss of four yards.
Perry ended the season with only one sack, so there’s obviously room to improve, and as things stand, it seems that the Gophers coaching staff is expecting him to do just that. Again, he was pushed into Big Ten play before he was completely ready and should gain another 10 to 15 pounds of muscle.
While Kill didn’t recruit Perry to Minnesota, Perry seemingly fits the profile of what Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys like to do at defensive end – rush the passer. A two-star recruit out of Texas, Perry resembles the build of six-foot, five-inches tall Jake Coffman, six-foot, three-inches tall Sean Progar and six-foot, four-inches tall Stephen Neal, defensive ends who played for Kill and Claeys at Northern Illinois. It’s worth noting that Kill’s good friend and coaching mentor Gary Patterson also routinely employs tall, speedy defensive ends; Patterson famously moved high school running backs Jerry Hughes and Tommy Blake over to defensive end.
Since Willie VanDeSteeg totaled 10.5 sacks in 2008, the Gophers haven’t had a defensive lineman tally more than three sacks in a season. (There is an exception among linebackers; the late Gary Tinsley had four sacks last year.) Perry has been tabbed as a pass rushing specialist, now he will need to deliver. At 241 pounds, he’s going to be undersized in run coverage, giving up some 60 pounds to most Big Ten offensive linemen.
Much is being expected of defensive tackles Ra’Shede Hageman and junior college transfer Roland Johnson, but there’s little room for ineptitude among the group. Run defense will be an issue for the Gophers in 2012 and if Perry is earning his spot, he will need to prove it through his pass rush, while he gradually learns the art of identifying the run.
13. Dan Orseske | P | Junior (RS) | 6'3” 205 lbs G PT YDS AVG IN20YD 12 57 2,111 37.0 12
Don’t x-out the window! Listen to me first.
I know, it’s hard to get too hyped-up about a punter, especially on a team with glaring questions on defense and offense. (For example, Minnesota’s top returning players at running back and wide receiver totaled 229 yards and 190 yards last year, respectively.) But if the Gophers are going to succeed, they need to be a team that minimizes mistakes and takes advantage of field position. Yes, that’s much more boring than relying on spectacular 65-yard touchdown runs from the likes of Denard Robinson or Braxton Miller.
But plainly stated, the Gophers simply aren’t good enough to overcome punts like this:
Orseske has a powerful leg, but for whatever reason, he’s been inconsistent to the point of being ineffective. After a 9-yard punt – with the wind – he was benched against Northwestern. That came a week after the above 4-yarder, which he downed himself.
Here’s the Cliff Notes of Orseske’s career: He had a few good kicks as a freshman, but then came down with mononucleosis and was redshirted. In 2010, then-coach Tim Brewster and his staff changed Orseske’s kicking form to a rugby style. If you watched a game, you noticed the difference, not only as Orseske took a few steps to the left and then kicked, but also in the lack of distance the kicks sailed.
It wasn’t something the kicker had done previously, which showed.
Call it a microcosm of Brewster’s coaching strategy, but the Gophers ranked 120th, dead last in Division I football, in punting average that year.
Before last season, Coach Jerry Kill talked to the Star-Tribune about Orseske needing more confidence and needing to provide him with better coaching. Gone, for example, were the rugby-style punts. Still, there was virtually no improvement in 2011 as Orseske’s average punt improved by less than a yard. Once again, the punter was learning different footwork, but it’s hard to blame all of his struggles on coaching turnover.
He kicked into the wind a few times with disastrous results; he had several games with punts that didn’t pass 10 yards. There was a six-yard punt against Illinois (along with three kicks between 20 and 30 yards that day) and against the wind in Michigan, he had a 14-yard kick and a 7-yard kick. The Michigan game showed the punter’s inconsistency, too, as he started the game with a 64-yarder along with four other punts that game of more than 40 yards.
Whether Orseske’s problem is technical or mental is unclear, but he can absolutely boot the football when the planets align. He boomed a kick 68 yards against Iowa last year and had six punts of 50 yards or more in 2011.
Still, if he continues to struggle, look of rsenior David Schwerman and redshirt freshman Peter Mortell to push him out of a starting position.
If the Gophers are going to reach bowl eligibility, they are going to have to overachieve, they are going to have to win some games they shouldn’t and they are going to have to play mistake-free, ball control football. Giving the defense strong field position will be a large part of that and if the Gophers will be successful this year, Orseske will need to minimize his single-digit punts and deliver more consistently.
I realize my favorite squad isn’t going to challenge for the conference title; I just want to see them beat a rival and make a bowl. Leave me entertained, overachieve a bit, that’s it. However it happens doesn’t really matter. Lose in some lower-tier WeedWacker Bowl? I don’t care. Just beat Wisconsin on the way there.
And of course, get to that WeedWacker Bowl.
Whenever I look at the schedule at the start of the season, I start counting down wins. I shouldn’t overlook this team or that team —especially when I’m follow the Golden Gophers — but I’m an irrational fan. It’s what we do, we use incorrect pronouns when talking about our favorite sports team. It doesn’t matter that a season ago, a coach was fired, the team spiraled off the tracks and sank into the depths of a nine-game losing streak. We beat Iowa. We got a new coach. We played on ABC national television to nearly the entire country last week against the No. 25-ranked USC Trojans and ESPN’s Pat Forde even picked us to pull off an upset. The Gophs nearly did it, too.