This is the second part of a series where I look back on the 2008 Golden Gophers and try to see what fans can expect in the future. This part will hopefully shed some light on an offense that seemed to define erratic play.
Let's start with the good news.
Throughout the first eight games of the season, the Gophers seemed to get any yardage they needed, when they needed it.
Fourth-and-goal in the closing moments of the Northern Illinois game? Check. A 28-point second half against a feisty Bowling Green team? Check. Game-clinching drives against Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue? Check, check. check.
Looking back on the Gophers' seven wins, it seems like someone stepped up every night. Against Northern Illinois, it was Duane Bennett. For Bowling Green, it was Adam Weber and Eric Decker. Come to think about it, it was usually Weber and Decker that stepped up huge.
Seriously though, there were moments where the Gophers offense looked like a unit that was ready to become elite.
Then reality set in.
17, 6, 32, 0.
Those are the scoring totals for the Gophers over the last four games, all losses. Granted, two of those games were basically played without All-Big Ten wide receiver Eric Decker, but there were more troubling trends that developed.
First-and-10, second-and-1, third-and-35, it didn't matter. It seemed like over those last four games, the Gopher offensive linemen would take any excuse to jerk a shoulder, lift a head, anything.
It grew to the point in the Wisconsin game that the TV announcers were left feeling bad for the guy (names will not be named, even I feel bad for the guy) who kept jumping up.
In those last four games, Adam Weber seemed to go through periods of overthrows, underthrows, or just plain bad throws.
I don't want to point a finger at the quarterback (after all, he was still second-team All-Big Ten), but there seemed to be times when he would press a bit. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the Adam Weber we saw last year. Of course, that may have something to do with...
Being Dominated on the Line of Scrimmage
Against the superior competition the Gophers faced in the last four games, this clearly became their biggest problem. Against Northwestern, they gained 68 yards rushing. Against Michigan, 83. For Wisconsin, 99, and in a big game against Iowa, a grand total of 7.
The lack of a run option allowed teams to drop back in coverage. The fact that the Gophers knew they couldn't run forced Weber to throw more. Naturally, this led to...
During the 7-1 start, the offense did not turn the ball over. Well, they did, but it never seemed to be at a big time, and it never caused them to lose.
Once they got sloppy in the last four games, the turnover numbers went to 2 (including the game-losing pick-6), 1, 3 (in a three-point game), and 3.
As the Golden Gophers showed in 2007, you just can't win when you turn over the ball that often.
In the words of Martin Luther, what does this mean?
The Gophers were a terribly young team on offense. The only two players that put points on the board for the team that will not return are Jack Simmons and Joel Monroe. Frankly, the youth showed. While the young players seem to be developing, the Big Ten presents a steep learning curve.
Take, for example Brandon Green. As a freshman, he had 18 catches for 260 yards. Not a bad start, right? At times he looked great (Purdue and the first half at Wisconsin). At times he looked hopeless. (Did he even play against Michigan?)
In a lot of ways, this can serve as a microcosm for the Golden Gophers' offense in 2008. At times great, at times miserable. More often than not, it depended on the quality of the opponent, which is not terribly unusual for a young unit in a tough conference.
What can we expect in 2009?
I expect this offense to continue evolving into a pretty good unit. No one from the offensive line leaves (and you have to expect some recruiting help there). Let's face it, this unit can't get too much worse in 2009.
The receivers remain intact, and I think we can expect more excellence from Decker, more consistency from Kuznia, and a lot of improvement from Green and Brodrick Smith.
The loss of Jack Simmons will hurt, but Nick Tow-Arnett proved he can be a clutch receiver and steady blocker, and the addition of Ra'Shede Hageman (Scout, Inc. No. 12 TE) will keep part of the offense humming.
I truly believe that people in Minnesota will be talking about Adam Weber for a long time. This guy can simply play ball. He has the ability to throw the deep ball, dive for a first down, and he has the smarts to throw the ball away.
His transformation from a source of constant worry to a source of confidence is the main reason (on offense) that the Gophers went from 1-11 to 7-5.
I believe that this unit will keep improving steadily. They are still two years away from being a top offense nationally, but next year I totally expect them to be one of the top offensive teams in the Big Ten.