2012 Minnesota Preview – Offense
Minnesota WR Brandon Green
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Minnesota Golden Gopher Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know:
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has some work to do. It's a relatively young group, but there's plenty of promise on the line with several good blockers to build around and a slew of decent quick backs who should be able to come up with decent yards from time to time. The problem is the lack of explosion for an offense that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring offense and total yards with too many mistakes and not enough consistency. While the running backs, receivers and line will be a work in progress and should get better as the year goes on, but it will come down to senior QB MarQueis Gray and how far he can carry the team. He has the talent, but he has to make everyone around him better and he has to be a better passer to go along with his tremendous rushing skills.
Star of the offense: Senior QB MarQueis Gray
Passing: MarQueis Gray
108-213, 1,495 yds, 8 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: MarQueis Gray
199 carries, 966 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Brandon Green
15 catches, 190 yds, 1 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior WR Brandon Green
Unsung star on the rise: Junior RB James Gillum
Best pro prospect: Sophomore OT Ed Olson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gray, 2) OT Ed Olson, 3) RB James Gillum
Strength of the offense: Young Potential, MarQueis Gray
Weakness of the offense: Sure-Thing Playmakers, Proven Production
All the tools are there for senior MarQueis "O.J." Gray to be a dominant force who can carry the Gophers on his back. The 6-4, 245-pound senior has had an interesting career, coming to Minnesota as one of the nation's top dual-threat spread quarterbacks. First he wasn't eligible, and then he was moved to wide receiver, and then he was moved into more of a passing role as a quarterback, and last year he struggled with his accuracy and consistency completing 51% of his passes for 1,495 yards and eight touchdowns with eight picks. However, he's an excellent and powerful runner finishing with a team-leading 966 yards and six touchdowns averaging 4.9 yards per carry. There were too many games when he couldn't keep the chains moving, completing just 5-of-12 passes in the loss to North Dakota State and 9-of-21 throws in the loss to Northwestern, but there were also games like with over Iowa when he came up clutch with a late game-winning touchdown drive. The former Elite 11 Quarterback camper is a tremendous athlete, a good leader and he has the sort of Cam Newton-like size and abilities to be special. However, he still has to prove he can be a reliable passer.
6-6, 235-pound sophomore Max Shortell was given his share of chances early on last season when Gray was banged up a bit and struggling. As a true freshman Shortell completed 48% of his throws for 309 yards and two touchdowns with two picks, but he was great in relief against USC in the opener and he showed decent upside as a pure passer.
Waiting in the wings is true freshman Philip Nelson, one of the team's top recruits who earned Minnesota's Mr. Football award and was the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year. While he's only 6-2 and 225 pounds, he's a great pro-style passer who can push the ball all over the field. Fellow true freshman Mitch Leidner, a 6-4, 230-pound local recruit with high-end passing skills and good enough athleticism to get by, while 6-1, 220-pound redshirt freshman Dexter Foreman is a dangerous athlete out of Texas who has nice passing skills and can take off at any time.
Watch Out For … Gray to take on a bigger role. He hasn't had a whole bunch of help around him, and he has already had to carry the entire offense, but this is his team and the coaching staff will stick with him through thick and thin.
Strength: Big-time arms. Minnesota is starting to recruit to a type. Gray has a cannon, but he was brought in by Tim Brewster. The Jerry Kill staff is going after big bombers with live arms.
Weakness: Production. Gray might have all the skills, but he passing attack still finished 109th in the nation and was 107th in efficiency. It's not going to help that top target Da'Jon McKnight is gone.
Outlook: It's all up to Gray. Shortell might be the main man for next year, and Nelson is a terrific prospect, but the offense and the season comes down to whether or not Gray can be everything the program was hoping for a long, long time ago. The coaching staff loves Gray, but he has make the passing game work and he has to make everyone around him better.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The running game needs to be more than just MarQueis Gray, and that's where JUCO transfer James Gillum needs to come in. The 5-11, 204-pound junior from Mississippi State Gulf Coast CC was an all-star out of New Orleans who ended up running for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns last year for the Bulldogs, and now his job will be to add more power. He's a between-the-tackles runner who might not break off any big plays, but can move the pile.
Veteran Donnell Kirkwood was supposed to be a big part of the mix right away two years ago, but he suffered a leg injury and was knocked out after running for 107 yards. Back last season, he finished third on the team with 229 yards and three touchdowns averaging three yards per carry. At 5-10 and 216 pounds he has good size, and nice base, and the ability and potential to be a workhorse to revolve the ground game around.
Looking to add more speed to the equation is freshman KJ Maye, a 5-10, 190-pound flash who can be used on the outside and could eventually be a dangerous third-down back. The former high school quarterback can be used in a variety of ways and could eventually move to receiver, while fellow freshman Rodrick Williams is a 5-11, 228-pound blaster who can bring the thump. While he's fast and can catch the ball, his game is about power.
6-1, 240-pound junior Mike Henry moved from linebacker to fullback and was used a bit on special teams as well as an H-Back. He's not going to carry the ball, but he's a good blocker who could find a key role on short-yardage plays.
Watch Out For … the freshmen. The hope is for Gillum and Kirkwood to handle the load, but the coaching staff won't be afraid to quickly add Williams and Maye to the mix to try to take the heat off of Gray.
Strength: Power. Gillum is a barreling back who can move the chains, and while Kirkwood has a little wiggle, he can run with some thump, too. If the line is doing its job on the inside, the backs will produce.
Weakness: Proven production. It's not like Gillum put up astronomical numbers at the JUCO level and Kirkwood still has to prove he can shine. The real talent is among the young guys, but they might need a little while.
Outlook: There's just enough talent here to get by, but the team's most dangerous runner will be Gray. It would be a huge plus is one back could take over the job and average more than four yards per carry, but it could take a rotation to make the ground game work.
Unit Rating: 6
The passing game needs a No. 1 target to step up and replace Da'Jon McKnight, and the hope is for senior Brandon Green to go from fine to great. A consistent target who does the little things right, he finished third on the team with just 15 catches for 190 yards and a score. Fully past a knee injury that knocked him out a few years ago, he's a tremendous athlete with great quickness and the ability to do far more.
Sophomore Marcus Jones was supposed to break out and shine right away, but he after moving over from corner he suffered a knee injury and finished with just nine catches for 142 yards. Extremely quick, he's a speedster who can hit the home run from anywhere on the field and will be used in a variety of ways. At 5-8 and 170 pounds he'll see time in the slot, but he'll get the ball as a runner from time to time, too.
JUCO transfer Malcolm Moulton was strong right away making 14 catches for 174 yards with most of the production coming on a big 59-yard play against Miami University. The 5-11, 185-pounder is speedy and shifty as a decent return man, averaging 20 yards per kickoff return, but he has to do more with the ball in his hands.
Sophomore Devin Crawford-Tufts brings the 6-2, 195-pound size the receiving corps desperately needs. A deep play target, he caught eight passes for 156 yards averaging 19.6 yards per catch, but he wasn't the most polished of receivers and he still needs to work on his route-running ability. However, if he can get deep and he can start taking the top off of defenses, he'll be doing his job.
Gone is tight end Colin McGarry, the team's second leading receiver with 16 catches for 120 yards and two scores. Now the job will go to senior John Rabe, a former JUCO transfer from Ellworth College who made four catches for 36 yards, but scored twice. At 6-4 and 255 pounds he's a big target, and while he's not going to stretch the field he has nice hands and can hit. He'll be backed up by 6-5, 255-pound sophomore Drew Goodger, who won't make many grabs but is a big blocker.
Watch Out For … Crawford-Tufts. The Gophers need a gamebreaker, and he has the potential to be it. There was a glaring lack of big things happening from last year's receiving corps, and the job opening is there to be filled.
Strength: Sneaky-good prospects. The Gophers might not have any household names, but there's enough speed and enough upside to hope for a good year from this group if everyone stays healthy. Green has the talent to be a go-to target and Jones is getting past a knee problem.
Weakness: Da'Jon McKnight. Last year's leading receiver caught 51 of the team's 134 completed passes with 760 of the 1,804 yards and four of the ten scores. There's a long way to go before any one Minnesota receiver appears ready to come up with big numbers.
Outlook: This will be a functional receiving corps, but does it have to make the quarterback play better, or vice versa? MarQueis Gray has a live arm and tremendous upside as a bomber, but the receivers have to start doing more when they get their chances. There are plenty of young athletes, but the spotlight is on.
Unit Rating: 6
The Gopher line wasn't too bad and turned out to be a positive, but it's going to take a huge hit losing Jimmy Gjere , a 6-7, 325-pound sophomore who was a huge recruit for the Gophers, literally, coming in as the second-ranked tackle prospect in the state behind Miami's Seantrell Henderson. He could've gone anywhere with Wisconsin and Iowa leading the pack for a while, but now hgone having to retire after suffering problems with concussions.
Returning to his spot on the left side is junior Ed Olson, a 6-7, 305-pound junior who has been a key starter for the last few years starting out on the right side before showing he could handle himself on the left. The leader of the line, he's the anchor and the main pass protector with the potential to earn all-star honors.
Taking over for Ryan Wynn at center is junior Zach Mottla, a 6-2, 290-pound walk-on who saw a little bit of time in a backup role, but he's a feisty, physical blocker. He'll be backed up by 6-2, 290-pound sophomore Caleb Bak, a versatile blocker who started the final four games at left guard and will rotate in where needed.
6-2, 310-pound sophomore Zac Epping ended up taking over the starting job at right guard and he'll have the spot to himself again. A great prospect with good strength, he's missing the size but he gets good leverage and has proven he can be a good one to work around.
Sophomore Tommy Olson is the brother of tackle Ed Olson, and while he's not as big at 6-4 and 295 pounds, he's a promising left guard with good athleticism and a tough disposition. He's one of the most aggressive run blockers who'll try to take his man and put him into the fourth row.
Watch Out For … the Olsons. Ed is a good one at left tackle and the coaching staff loves the aggressiveness of Tommy. These two will form a good foundation to work around for the next few years.
Strength: Youth. There aren't any seniors with three sophomores and juniors likely to start the season and with really, really young prospects to develop. This was a good line last year that should be tremendous as they grow into their roles.
Weakness: Proven depth. The coaching staff has done a great job of updating the talent, but outside of Bok there's almost nothing to count on from the reserves. There will be big, big problems if injuries strike.
Outlook: The line should be a positive and it should grow into one of the biggest strengths on offense, even with Gjere unfortunately gone. There's a nice mix of size, experience and youth that should come together to do a decent job. This isn't going to be a dominant front five like Wisconsin's or Michigan State's but it should be solid.
Unit Rating: 7
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