2013 Minnesota Preview – Offense

Posted May 30, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Minnesota Golden Gopher Offense

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Preview 2013 - Offense

- 2013 Minnesota Preview | 2013 Minnesota Offense
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What You Need To Know: Enough of this fancy-dancy, tippy-tap stuff; it's time to get nasty. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover also oversees the line, and he has a good one returning as all five starters from the end of last year are back. The call has gone out for the attack to be more powerful and more brutish, and the pieces are there to do it with the veteran line paving the way for big backs Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. The passing game needs to be more efficient and more effective, hoping for Philip Nelson or one of the other young options to take charge of the quarterback job and be The Guy to build around. The receiving corps is big and physical – perfect for the new-look attack – but it has to be more dangerous.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Philip Nelson
75-152, 873 yds, 8 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Donnell Kirkwood
218 carries, 926 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Isaac Fruechte
19 catches, 256 yds, 2 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Donnell Kirkwood
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Isaac Fruechte
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Josh Campion
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Ed Olson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ed Olson, 2) C Zac Epping, 3) Kirkwood
Strength of the offense: Power Running, Line
Weakness of the offense: Efficient Passing, Receiver


You wouldn't know it by the statistics, but sophomore Philip Nelson took over the job because of his passing ability. Thrown to the wolves midway through the season against Wisconsin, he fearless and decisively tried to take control of the offense, but he struggled with his accuracy and had problems with interceptions late, closing out his true freshman campaign completing 49% of his passes for 873 yards with eight touchdowns and eight picks. However, he had some bright spots, hitting 15-of-22 throws for 246 yards and three touchdowns against Purdue, and he showed some decent mobility with positive yards in every game but one – finishing with 184 yards – and now he has to take over the job and make it his. The 6-2, 215-pound former Gatorade Minnesota Player of the Year has the skills, but he needs to be consistent.

6-4, 233-pound redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner is a huge local recruit with excellent passing skills to go along with great size and arm. Able to move, he's more than just a huge pro-style passer with the toughness to pound away for yards if needed. Also in the hunt is freshman Chris Streveler, a 6-2, 205-pound talent who came to school early and looked the part with the type of athleticism and dual-threat ability the coaching staff has wanting. He might not have prototype tools, but he can make plays and could grow into a true baller who finds ways to make things happen.

Watch Out For … Conor Rhoda, who'll come into the mix late but could make a big impact. The 6-3, 195-pounder from the same high school as Chris Weinke and Steve Walsh, he's a good all-around option who can run a little bit but also has a sharp, accurate arm.
Strength: Options. For good and bad, there are still three quarterbacks in the hunt for the starting job with different positives to offer. Nelson has the experience and the passing skills, while Leidner is a pro bomber and Streveler could be the right fit. The job is still open, but …
Weakness: The job is still open. It would be nice if there was one true No. 1, sure-thing starter to work everything around, but no one has dominated enough to take over the gig and the offense. Someone has to separate from the pack, but still …
Outlook: It's Nelson's job if he can be consistent. With his experience and upside, he'll have to struggle in a huge way to be bypassed by an unproven freshman, but Leidner and Streveler will each get every honest shot to be the starter. Overall, the quarterback play has to be better and more careful – the interceptions and mistakes have to stop.
Unit Rating: 6

Running Backs

The new power offense should be a perfect fit for Donnell Kirkwood, last year's leading rusher with 926 yards and six scores highlighted by a 134-yard day against Purdue and 152 yards and two touchdowns against Illinois. The 5-10, 223-pound packed on a little weight and should be ready to add more thump to the mix, but he has a little bit of a burst to get through the line in a hurry. He'll never hit the home run, but he can come close to averaging five yards per crack while doing a nice job carrying the offense as the workhorse.

5-11, 235-pound sophomore Rodrick Williams adds even more size. He's fast and can be used from time to time as a receiver, he showed late in his true freshman year that he could be a bigger part of the running game with his 261 yards and two scores all coming in the back half. While he has the wheels to tear off a big run or two, if he's hitting the hole hard and moving the pile, he'll be doing his job. He'll combine with James Gillum in a backup role behind Kirkwood. The 5-11, 214-pound Gillum came to Minnesota from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC and was supposed to be the maim man right away, but he got hurt early on last year and finished with just 73 yards and a score, and he suffered a knee injury this offseason.

Taking over at fullback in a full-time role is 6-1, 231-pound senior Mike Henry, a former linebacker who got in a few starts on the offensive side last season used only as a blocker. He caught four passes for 39 yards, but his job will be to open up holes. 6-3, 247-pound redshirt freshman Tyler Hartmann was a high school pass rusher who'll see time in the backfield as more of an H-Back and second tight end. He'll be physical, but he'll have to grow into a receiver.

Watch Out For … Berkley Edwards, a 5-9, 190-pound scooter from Michigan with good speed and the type of cutback ability the main backs are missing. The brother of former Michigan and NFL star Braylon Edwards could find an instant role in the rotation with a little early success.
Strength: Power. Kirkwood and Williams are big backs who aren't going to shy away from contact. The two should form a nice tandem that softens up defense and takes the heat off the passing game.
Weakness: Speed. Williams can move, but it'll be up to some of the other options like Gillum – if healthy – and receiver K.J. Maye to try cranking out the big runs. As a team, Minnesota averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. A Jerry Kill offense needs to be well into the 4s.
Outlook: The change up in attitude and style should make the backs shine. Kill knows how to generate maximum production out of running games – at least he did at his previous stops – and now he has the players and the line to do it. Expect well over 2,000 yards from the ground attack after finishing with 1,975 last year.
Unit Rating: 7


The receiving corps took a massive hit losing leading receiver A.J. Barker, who quit the team late last season. The spotlight will be on junior Isaac Fruechte, a 6-3, 204-pound target who caught 19 passes for 256 yards and two scores, but was all but out of the mix late last year. With excellent athleticism to go along with his size, he has the raw tools, but he has to be more explosive. Also pushing for the Z job is sophomore K.J. Maye, a talented all-around option who was originally tried out as a running back but did more as a receiver and kick returner making 11 grabs for 49 yards and averaging 22.2 yards per return. The 5-10, 197-pounder is quick enough to add more pop to offense once he gets into the open field.

Senior Derrick Engel turned into a dangerous deep threat averaging 20.8 yards per catch on his 18 grabs, saving his only 100-yard game for the bowl making four catches for 108 yards against Texas Tech. The transfer from Winona State has the speed to work at the X, but he'll likely take on a bigger role at the H position where he'll be a more reliable target.

Trying to provide more of a blast at the X will be junior Devin Crawford-Tufts, a 6-2, 193-pounder from Edina who grow into a starting role making 16 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. Not just big, he can fly winning the Minnesota state championship in the 100 and 200 meters. He'll have to hold off redshirt freshman Jamel Harbison, a 5-11, 199-pound speedster who got on the field right away, but got hurt against UNLV and missed the entire season. On the plus side, he got a medical redshirt and has four years of eligibility remaining. With all the tools, last year's star recruit could quickly turn into a No. 1 target.

Sophomore Lincoln Pisek took over the starting tight end job late last season, and while he only made three catches on the season for 22 yards, he showed good toughness as a blocker for the running game and the upside to grow into more of a receiver. At 6-4 and 265 pounds, he's big with good all-around skills. He'll be backed up by 6-5, 265-pound junior Drew Goodger, a huge blocker and spot starter who caught 13 passes for 115 yards and three scores. He's not going to stretch the field, but he turned into a surprisingly nice short-range receiver and good option around the goal line. He'll mostly be a blocker.

Watch Out For … Drew Wolitarsky, a 6-3, 208-pound producer who put up huge numbers, setting the California state high school record with 281 career catches for 5,148 yards and 52 scores. With the athleticism to go along with his size, he can play anywhere in the Gopher receiving corps with the talent to someday by the team's main target.
Strength: Size. This is a big, physical group that isn't going to be afraid to block. This might not be a pass-happy attack, but the receivers have the potential to hit on one big play now and then, and they'll never be pushed around.
Weakness: A sure-thing No. 1. Barker only made 30 catches, but he was by far the team's leading receiver. The Gophers will spread the ball around, but it would be nice if a go-to target could emerge right away.
Outlook: The Minnesota receivers are never going to scare anyone, but they could be effective if they can work within the confines of the offense. Keep the chains moving, block, and hit the occasional home run – this group can do that. The tight ends need to be used more and a No. 1 target has to rise up, but there's plenty of potential to work with.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

The offensive line that did a nice job overall should be terrific with everyone back. It all starts with 6-7, 309-pound senior Ed Olson, who starred at left tackle last season after kicking off his career on the right side. He missed a little time last year, and he's trying to come back from an ankle injury, but he's the leader, anchor and main pass protector with all-star potential. While he's set on the outside, his brother, Tommy Olson, will once again step in at left guard where he started six times and did a nice job for the ground game. At 6-4 and 301 pounds he's not as huge as his older brother, but he's a solid drive blocker who'll fit the new offensive style.

6-2, 321-pound junior Zac Epping is a huge center with a great base and the ability to get low and stay there. A steady quarterback up front, he proved he could handle the work after starting out his career at guard. Extremely strong, he won't get moved. Backing him up is the promising Jon Christenson, a versatile 6-4, 306-pound sophomore who can play anywhere on the interior. First, he has to get past an ankle problem suffered this offseason.

Sophomore Josh Campion turned into a nice surprise starting all 13 games at right tackle as a freshman. The 6-5, 326-pounder transferred in from Fork Union Military Academy, and he was ready right out of the box. While he's not the quickest of pass protectors, he's great when he's able to lock on to a defender. Also back on the right side is junior Caleb Bak, a versatile 6-3, 302-pound run blocker who ended up starting 11 times and turning in a solid season. Built more like a right tackle, he's able to wall off his man well and provides a nice pop when needed.

Watch Out For … Alex Mayes, a terrific get out of Texas with 6-5, 285-pound size and the room to get a little bigger. With Ed Olsen graduating after this year, Mayes could be a great young option to develop at left tackle with terrific run blocking ability and the frame to grow into a solid pass protector. He's a finisher.
Strength: Experience. All five starters are back up front from a group that grew into a solid all-around unit as last season wore on. Best of all, this is still an emerging line with Ed Olson the only senior on the starting five.
Weakness: Quickness and athleticism. That's not the worst thing in the world considering what the line is being asked to do now, but the front five won't outrun anyone. As long as they can blast away, they'll be fine.
Outlook: It's what every offensive lineman wants to hear – hit somebody. The coaching staff wants to get nastier and more physical, and it'll be up to this group to do it as the offense transforms into more of a power running game. The depth needs some developing and time in the rotation, but the starting five should be a major plus.
Unit Rating: 7.5

- 2013 Minnesota Preview | 2013 Minnesota Offense
- 2013 Minnesota Defense | 2013 Minnesota Depth Chart