Friday, November 20, 2009

A Chance For Redemption

The Gopher football team heads to Iowa this weekend to close out the 2009 regular season. The campaign opened with great fanfare as the team's new on-campus home helped energize a dormant fan base (for at least one game). Offensive struggles and injuries to senior WR Eric Decker and on the offensive line quickly sent the season spiraling toward mediocrity and fired up the critics of coach Tim Brewster. The low point was a two-game stretch in which the Gophers lost games at Penn State and Ohio State and were out-scored 58-7.

Brewster is not without fault this season. Although he does not coach the offense, he deserves some of the blame for Jedd Fisch's offensive unit's struggles. His willingness to fire spread guru and coordinator Mike Dunbar after last season and install more of a hybrid attack with Fisch has been met with mixed results. There is certainly the good (the Michigan State game in which the Gophers scored 42 points and ran up over 500 yards), and then the bad (the two-game stretch outlined above and last week's no-TD attack against South Dakota State). The instability of coordinators is but one reason why QB Adam Weber has regressed in each of the past two seasons. Weber is also not blameless in this respect, but a porous offensive line deserves some culpability as well.

With all of this as background, the Gophers are bowl-eligible going into the Iowa game at 6-5. Seven Big Ten teams are eligible for post-season play, and only Michigan can qualify next week, and all they have to do is beat Ohio State. This year's schedule was certainly tougher than last year's campaign which saw the Gophers sprint out to a 7-1 start, only to lose their final five contests. The 2009 edition featured the SDSU game, but Syracuse, Air Force, and California was a much tougher non-conference slate than last year's version with Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Montana State, and Florida Atlantic. The Gophers' win at Northwestern looks pretty good now, but the loss at home against Illinois looks even worse than it did a week ago. If the Gophers had won that game, going to Iowa City 7-4 instead of 6-5 may have silenced a critic or two. The team is erratic, yet athletic, and there is progress in this program. Still, without a victory in the season's final game, the season will be viewed as one of mediocrity.

Iowa will not win the Big Ten this season after losing last weekend at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes have enjoyed a Cinderella season in 2009, winning all nine of their games in come-from-behind fashion. However, a loss two weeks ago at home against Northwestern and last weekend's at Ohio State turned the season into a pumpkin. Starting QB Ricky Stanzi is out for the season with an ankle injury, but the Hawkeyes still have much for which to play this weekend, even if a berth in the Rose Bowl is no longer at stake.

The Hawkeyes are 9-2 (5-2 in the conference) and are coming off consecutive losses. They were the cardiac kids early in the season and scored impressive wins against Arizona, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Stanzi's loss stung Iowa, but his freshman backup, James Vandenberg (pictured right), was solid in the Ohio State game last week (20 of 33, 233 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) and has a gun of an arm. Iowa is down to its third-string running back, but Adam Robinson has gained 703 yards from scrimmage this season. The receivers are led by Marvin McNutt (29 catches, 625 yards, 7 TD) and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (34 catches for 624 yards, 2 TD). The name of Iowa's game, however, is defense. The front four are very solid, and it will be extremely difficult for the Gophers to be able to establish a running attack - not that they've been willing to do this all season.

Knocking off Iowa would likely save Brewster's job (not that he is in jeopardy, anyway), or at least silence the critics for a week. Due to circumstances beyond their control, they may avoid the Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit anyway, but beating Iowa would likely move them out of consideration for this game altogether. They'll need to play far better than they have all season to beat Iowa. Coach Brewster needs a trophy win, and capturing Floyd of Rosedale in Iowa City would be nice.

1 comment:

  1. SnakeOilSalesmanBrewNovember 21, 2009 at 2:41 PM

    I appreciate the article, Brian. I'm looking forward to the extra 15 practices in preparation of the Hot N Ready Bowl. These practices will be cruitial in the development of this young football team. I couldn't be more proud of our offensive line and the play of our receivers against Iowa. They showed exceptional effort. Looking foward to taking Gopher Nation to Detroit... Show up early. Be loud. Be proud. We are Minnesota!