Minnesota Football: 11 Things the Golden Gophers Do Very Well

Joe PetruloCorrespondent IIIMay 30, 2011

Minnesota Football: 11 Things the Golden Gophers Do Very Well

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    MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 18:  Da'Jon McKnight #6 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown during the game against the USC Trojans on September 18, 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Jamie
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Golden Gophers football program has officially suffered, yet survived through the tenure of Tim Brewster.

    Now it's Jerry Kill's turn to direct the program.

    Last year, while winning only three games, the Gophers proved that they are a long way from getting back into the top half of the Big 10.

    Still, there were some bright spots, and many of them have been consistent trademarks of the program.

    Let's take a look at 11 things this program does well.

Run, Run, Run

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    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 31:  Runningback Duane Bennett #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers rushes the football against the Iowa State Cyclones during the Insight Bowl at Arizona Stadium on December 31, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. The Cyclones defeated the Golden
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    In 2010, the Gophers implemented a pro-style offense. 

    It appeared to be promising after the first two games of the season.

    They rushed for 485 yards as a team in these games. In a win on the road over Middle Tennessee, they accumulated 281 yards, and followed it up with a 204 yard performance in a heartbreaking loss to South Dakota.

    Although last year was the first year that the running game was featured while Tim Brewster was coaching, the Gophers program has a history of producing solid running backs.

    The most notable recent alumni are Marion Barber III, Laurence Maroney, and Gary Russell.

    With Donnell Kirkwood gaining a medical redshirt, the Gophers will be stacked with three redshirt freshmen halfbacks to build around in the coming years under Jerry Kill. 

The Occasional Big Play Through the Air

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    MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 18:  Da'Jon McKnight #6 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers carries the ball into the endzone for a touchdown after catching a pass during the game against the USC Trojans on September 18, 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minne
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Gophers have had a number of deep threats at the wide receiver position through the years.

    Da'Jon McKnight may be the best one the school has seen in a very long time, aside from Eric Decker.

    He has a similar, yet bigger body than Ernie Wheelwright, and maybe half of the play-making ability of Decker (that's plenty).

    McKnight dealt with a lot last year.

    He proved his worth within the midst of a season of turmoil last year.

    His sidekick receiver on the other side of the field was the back-up quarterback.

    His coach was fired.

    Still, McKnight found a way to make most of the big plays in the passing game.

    This year, with his former No. 2  receiver throwing him balls, he may be a breakout top-five receiver in the Big 10.

    Since there have not been any other options through the air down the field, McKnight will be heavily relied on in 2011. 

Recruiting Leaders

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    It may be that the Gophers come across random marquee players.

    Maybe it is luck.

    Or maybe it is a skill to attract the occasional leader of a program.

    Many of the recent leaders have been in-state recruits including Eric Decker and Marion Barber III.

    This year, a new leader takes over the helms of the program.

    Junior MarQueis Gray will be the starting quarterback after playing wide receiver during Adam Weber's tenure.

    He was the highest-touted recruit that Tim Brewster reeled in. It is a little sad that Coach Brew will never get to see his prized recruit play his preferred position.

    Hopefully, Gray can turn into the star everyone expects him to be.

    If that is the case, the program will have continued its trend of finding the occasional elite recruit to carry the team. 

Coaching (Hopefully)

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    Yes, Jerry Kill is the second coach of the Golden Gophers in the last four years. 

    Yes, Tim Brewster was criticized from the day he was hired and proved to be a negligent Big 10 coach.

    Yes, Glen Mason's tenure was underwhelming.

    However, despite Brewster, the Gophers have had some pretty decent coaches in their history.

    Kill has the entire Gopher football community excited. He is very tough on his players, but knows that the ones that survive his grueling practices and harsh coaching tactics will turn out to be his best players.

    He does not assume things about players.

    Rather, he forces them to work. Those that continue to work and outshine the rest under brutal circumstances will get the playing time they deserve.

    Kill has fans thinking that this program can compete in the Big 10 within a few years. 

    Hopefully, coaching undoubtedly turns into a strength under Kill's realm.

Development of the Offensive Line

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    Greg Eslinger is a notable Gophers O-Line Alumni.
    Greg Eslinger is a notable Gophers O-Line Alumni.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If the running game is going to be considered a strength for the Gophers, they need an offensive line to pave the way for ballcarriers.

    When the Gophers possessed one of the best rushing attacks in the nation behind Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, the offensive line was more of a strength than the big-name running backs.

    In the past decade, Minnesota has produced a number of NFL linemen.

    Greg Eslinger, Mark Setterstrom, and Ben Hamilton are prime examples of Gophers offensive linemen that progressed into big-time players.

    The offensive line was a major weakness two years ago when the Gophers won six games. Adam Weber was sacked 38 times and attempted 367 passes.

    Last year, the offensive line made major improvements. Weber was sacked only 17 times while attempting an almost identical number of passes (368). 

    Plus, the running game made huge strides behind the line.

    With a promising class of big men coming in, the future of the Gophers front-line looks bright.

    Maybe they can call one of the aforementioned alumni for some advice.

Quality Tight End Play

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    The Gophers program has produced some notable tight ends.

    Ben Utecht and Matt Spaeth are two in recent fans' memory that played very well while dawning the maroon and gold, leading to an NFL career.

    In 2011, Eric Lair will look to build on a successful 2010 campaign. 

    He broke out in a three game stretch against Northern Illinois, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. In these three games, he accumulated 247 yards and two TD's.

    Lair was a bright spot for the Gophers and will continue to play a big role in the passing game in his senior season.

    Although he is most likely not big enough to play tight end in the NFL, he is definitely carrying on the tradition of quality tight ends at the U of M.  

Solid Linebacker Play

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    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 31:  Quarterback Austen Arnaud #4 of the Iowa State Cyclones scrambles with the ball past Lee Campbell #30 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the Insight Bowl at Arizona Stadium on December 31, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. The Cyclones
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Two years ago, the Golden Gophers fielded a senior trio of linebackers in Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett, and Simoni Lawrence.

    These guys, especially Campbell, were vocal leaders who also led with their play on the field. They played a major role in helping the Gophers to six wins and a bowl appearance.

    Last year, the trio of Gary Tinsley, Mike Rallis, and Keanon Cooper were not as solid.

    They were plagued by injury, and failed to carry the weight behind a weak front four.

    Still, if these three can grow together, along with the addition of Brandon Beal who is a transfer from the University of Florida, they can become a strength of the defense.   


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    The Gophers were above average in the Big 10 last year in overall team speed.

    Troy Stoudermire might be the fastest player on the team.

    He began the year as a wide receiver and returner last year. Due to a weak defensive secondary and a deep wide receiver core, he was shifted to defensive back.

    He was very raw in the defensive backfield, but his speed should ease his development at the position.

    Stoudermire's return abilities have been invaluable to the team. In his three years on the team, he has accumulated nearly 3,000 yards on kickoff returns with a long of 90 yards.

    Head Coach Jerry Kill has been very strict in his emphasis on speed. He wants defensive ends that can get up the field, and he already has capable players on the roster like undersized D.L. Wilhite.

    Under Kill, team speed will only improve in 2011 for the maroon and gold. 

Tackling in the Secondary

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    Minnesota's defensive secondary is filled with good tacklers.

    The problem is, they should be breaking up passes, not making the tackle after completions.

    Kim Royston received a sixth year of eligibility, and his leadership should stabilize the secondary.

    He was one half of a hard-hitting safety duo alongside Kyle Theret two years ago. That team was, by no means, led by the secondary.

    However, Royston's leadership and solid tackling mentality along with the speed of corner backs like Troy Stoudermire, Michael Carter, and Brock Vereen should balance out the pass defense.

    The hope for the 2011 season lies in the speed of the aforementioned players that must begin breaking up passes on game day, rather than getting in extra tackling practice. 

Allowing Big Plays

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    Minnesota does a lot of things well that hurt them.

    Allowing big plays is one of them.

    It happens far too often. Many times, it is a simple miscommunication rather than a lack of physical talent.

    The worst part is that teams with inferior physical skills like South Dakota and Northern Illinois were able to break off enough huge gains to defeat the Gophers in 2010.

    A big problem may have come from poor game planning. At times, under the Brewster regime, it seemed as if the secondary was not even required to watch film.

    Hopefully, Coach Kill can turn this around and minimize the biggest problem for the Minnesota defense.  

Disappoint Fans

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    The truth hurts.

    This program has put together a number of promising campaigns, only to fall short of expectations.

    Fans do not need to be reminded of the epic chokes under Glen Mason. Lets just say the biggest bowl comeback ever crushed fans' hearts, and proved to be the undoing of Mason in Minnesota.

    The entire Tim Brewster campaign began rolling downhill in 2008 after turning a 6-0 start into a 7-6 season that ended in an Insight Bowl loss.

    Clearly, these fans are used to disappointment.

    Now, Jerry Kill did not strut into this position as boisterous as Brewster. Still, he gives fans the feeling that he expects himself to succeed.

    Fans love it, but please, Jerry, don't break their hearts again.