Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2012 Minnesota Gopher Football - Questions, Questions, Questions...

[caption id="attachment_1853" align="aligncenter" width="513"] Will RG3 be replaced by MG5?[/caption]

It's the best time of the season. I'm tired of 90 degree days in August. Get the grill out, bring on the cool air, and let's sit back and enjoy our couches once again because football is king (Lebron, you never will be to me). In my eyes, there is no bigger king than Gopher football. We are 3 nights away from year 2 of the Kill era and this year will be one of the most interesting in recent Gopher memory.

I'll give you a quick blurb on myself here. I am the Marooned Gopher, who was exiled to non-Gopher loving Midwest cities over the past decade and have finally returned home to U territory. Like Jake Sparrow, I was marooned from the world. In this case, the world was Gold Country where my fellow Gopher followers dwelled. Unlike Jack Sparrow, I did not find my way home by drinking countless bottles of rum. I just got in the car and said "I'm outta here." And now, here I am.... back in the cities and joining my buddy Ben on his world-renowned blog. That's my story.

What I mean by real interesting is there's a lot of unknowns, but an endless amount of potential. It all starts with the Q, in this case, Marqueis Gray. The biggest recruit of the Brewster era is the best athlete to wear maroon and gold since Laurence Maroney. Q is electrifying and he showed why he has the potential to be a Cam Newton or RG3 like player in spurts last season. Now I know that seems to be a big stretch and I mean big, but remember the Michigan State game when he dominated through the air against a stout Spartan D or when he ran all over the place against Miami of Ohio? The sky is the limit as far as his potential and if he plays up to it, the Gophers could surprise a lot of people and go bowling. However, if his accuracy does not improve from last year, the U could be facing another three win season.

Who will be Q's main targets this fall? Good question. I'll throw a bunch of names at you and we'll see which ones you know and which ones you don't. Andre McDonald, Isaac Fruechte, Jamel Harbison, Devin Crawford-Tufts, and Marcus Jones. Of those five players, two were four star recruits, one was a MN State high school sprint track champ, one previously played at Rochester Community and Technical College, and the other is coming off a torn ACL, but displayed big-time playmaking ability in the slot and the kick return game as a freshman last season. None of these five WRs are upperclassmen so experience and size may be a disadvantage, but the athleticism is uncanny. Much like Q, this group can make big things happen, but it remains to be seen how quick the learning curve is for the youngest, yet deepest group of Gopher receivers since Ernie Wheelwright and Eric Decker.

More questions on offense, still fewer answers. Can the U find a 1,000 yard rusher not named Marqueis (if you don't count sacks as lost yardage, Q would've had a 1,000 yards last year)? It's been awhile since we had one of those. Can the O-line anchored by LT Ed Olson give Gray the time he needs to deliver the ball or will he be scrambling a heck of a lot like last year? How will they stack up against some tough d-lines in the Big Ten? If MG5 gets injured, will we see the Max Shortell who shined in the USC game or the QB who struggled in the Big House?

Let's not forget about the D and all the Edward Nigma's there (I can see Bruce Wayne and Alfred solving the Riddler's riddle now in Batman Forever). In my eyes, it all starts with the pass defense for this team if it is poised to go bowling in a sunny state like Arizona or Texas or go bowling at your local AMF lanes. Three key guys have to live up to the hype or maintain it. Up front, Rashede Hageman is being touted for a big year. He had two sacks in the season finale against Illinois and showed U fans that this could be the most talented DT we have had in God knows how long. He needs to live up to the hype for our team to be successful.

From Hageman to the secondary where two corners could be the studs on the D. Troy Stoudermire has shown to be the top corner on this team. He hits hard, is fast, athletic, and plays with some swag. He's also a big time KR man and pairing him up with Jones in that department can be a scary combo for opposing teams. Troy has maintained the hype, his counterpart senior Michael Carter, has not. Carter was Brewster's last-minute recruiting coup from West Virginia on signing day. The cousin of Gopher great and ex-NFLer Tyrone Carter, Michael flashed signs of great things is freshman campaign, but has since tailed off. Can he fulfill the promise he displayed his rookie year? If he can, the Gophers D could be a lot better than people expect. In the middle of the D, I believe Mike Rallis, Keanon Cooper, Brendan Beal, and James Manuel will be the pillars . With big Hageman up front and these steady LBs, the run d should be improved, but the question still lingers if that will come to fruition.

Special teams has a few answers, but the kicking and punting game remain unsolved. Stoudermire and Jones should own the return responsibilities and this will be a strength for the Gophers this season. Chris Hawthorne and Jordan Wettstein are battling for the kicking spot and the punting job has multiple candidates. For a team that struggled last year, a better punt game and another consistent kicking game could help Kill's bunch steal a game or two.

One area where no questions need to be asked is the coaching staff. I realize 3-9 is not a a good first year, but here are a few things that opened eyes favorably towards Kill and friends in 2011....

1. The Gophers held a Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, and Matt Kalil led offense to zero points in the second half in last year's opening loss 19-17 to USC. Let me remind you that USC is the #1 ranked team in the AP poll right now and let me remind you the U's defense has been terrible as of the past few years. That Kalil was selected by your Vikings with the #4 pick in the draft.

2. Minnesota gave up 269 yards on the ground to Iowa, yet somehow beat the hated Hawkeyes 22-21. Why? D Coordinator Tracy Claeys dialed up an unexpected perfect corner blitz deep in Gopher territory that led to a big fumble recovery for the U. Who can forget Jerry Kill's perfect onside kick call halfway through the 4th quarter with a tired D on the bench? That may have single-handedly kept Floyd here. When's the last time you can say MN won a game when they gave up that many yards on the ground?

3. The near upset at Michigan State showed this team can be no slouch. They were a 4 TD underdog in East Lansing, yet went toe-to-toe with Sparty. For a team with a bunch of players still getting used to their new O and D schemes, that was impressive to be that close on the road against a top 20 team.

To wrap up this whole never-ending questions dilemma, the Gophers can win as little as 1 game or as many as say 7-8. It all depends on how all these questions get answered. No one really knows at this point, but I'm excited because the possibilities can be very positive. This is a young team still in the early stages of building a program and Kill has stocked the cupboard full of young talent (see Phil Nelson, Isaac Hayes, Jonah Pirsig, Andre McDonald, Jamel Harbison, etc).

We'll start getting some answers Thursday night in Sin City.

Visions of Gold-4 things this Gopher Fan wants to see Thursday Night from the U against UNLV

1. Gary throws for three tines as many yards as he runs for. I'd like to see Q establish a nice repoire with his young receivers right away.

2. 100 yard rusher not named Gray- Who will answer the call? This team needs a featured back. The last stud I can remember was Maroney. Who will be the next one?

3. Take Away Thursday-When Ted Roof was D coordinator a few years ago, the Gophers had Takeaway Tuesday practices where they worked on turnovers. Turnovers were few and far between in 2011.

4. Dominate-Any Big Ten team should blowout any Mountain West team. With a blowout win, the U would come back home with a lot of confidence coming into the Bank opener against New Hampshire. Plus, it's been four years since we've seen the Gophers blow an opponent out of the water.



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