At this point, the Gophers need significant help in some areas more than others. After an abysmal breakdown in the fourth quarter against Cal, some insurance must be made before the Gophers can really be evaluated with the likes of the top of the Big Ten.
Let's have a look...
5. Scoring Earlier Is a MUST
When you go out and play football, you don't just play the final 30 minutes—you play the whole hour of it. The Gophers have had a problem with this entering 2009, with Syracuse being a lone exception. Air Force was a clear sign that the Gophers always seem to come out flat and have to from behind to get victories.
In the Cal game, however, fighting off the No. 8—now No. 6—team in the country proved too much. Thus, if the Gophers want to hang with the teams in the Big Ten, they need to score and score early.
4. Defense Needs to Focus on Playing Against the Run
After an Air Force team that is run-happy and playing Jahvid Best, arguably the best running back in the nation, the Gophers have had their run defense tested full well in their non-conference schedule. The key now will be how they approach playing in a conference where the team that typically runs the best wins.
The Gophers will need to keep the ball in front of them but still be able to keep the runners on the sidelines and force teams to pass on them. The Gophers have proven their pass defense is above average at least and should use that to their advantage.
With only one (Purdue) of their upcoming three Big Ten games against a team averaging more rushing yards allowed, the Gophers definitely have room to improve. Getting the defensive linemen prepared will be vital.
3. Own the Home
One thing I've observed of the Gophers playing at home is that their new stadium is a fitting environment for the Big Ten: loud, hostile, and eventually... cold. The Gophers need to learn to thrive in these conditions if they want to be successful at home.
The stadium is considered the finest college football venue in the country as far as quality. With that said, the Gophers should use their close intimate surroundings to their advantage and play with pride at home. Their 2009 schedule gives them friendly games at home for the rest of the season with winnable games against Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois, and lowly South Dakota State.
If Tim Brewster plans on eyeing the top 25, living up to a hostile home environment will be key. He'll need to psych up his boys to play at home. Recruiting should also improve if the "Bank" proves to be as good of a venue as its other Big Ten counterparts.
2. Someone Besides Decker Needs to Step Up; Where's Hayo Carpenter?
I'm very curious what the Gophers will do on offense when they keep getting caught behind and have to play from behind without the ability to hit anyone besides Eric Decker.
At the beginning of the year there was much buzz over junior college transfer Hayo Carpenter, but has he caught one pass as a Gopher yet? He was supposed to be a shoo-in No. 2 guy, but I haven't seen him in games or playing at wideout. I have, however, seen him on kick returns, but I honestly think Troy Stoudermire is best suited for that...and he's at least caught a decent workload from Adam Weber.
This works both ways though. Weber needs to quit being one-dimensional and look for someone other than Decker to move the ball. Defenses are going to be unforgiving on Decker, and now is the time to get someone other than Decker as a focal point.
A sub-point to this is Weber working on playing in the clutch. His two picks late against Cal were awkward and need to be addressed ASAP if the Gophers want to contend late in games.
1. Run, Run, RUN!
85.7 yards a game is a crying shame in the Big Ten conference. Even traditional bottom feeder Indiana is averaging 146.7 yards a game. The Gophers need to work with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge A LOT. If either back wants to excel, hitting holes and using field vision will be key.
Bennett currently has a measly 121 yards, while Eskridge has 103. That needs to change FAST. Part of it is the heftier offensive line that isn't exactly as skilled as it was last season. Then again, against Cal, holes were clearly visible but opted against by Eskridge or Bennett.
If the Gophers want to win in the Big Ten, running the ball is the key.