Minnesota Preview 2006 - Furthern Analysis
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Posted Aug 6, 2006

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – The Pinnix rises from the ashes – Some teams have a once in a lifetime back, well, once in a lifetime.  The U, on the other hand, seems to have a back of that caliber every season.  Marion Barber III then Laurence Maroney.  The heir apparent this year was supposed to be Gary Russell, who had a strong season as a backup behind Maroney.  But, Russell’s academic woes will keep him from toting the mail this season.  Enter Mr. Amir Pinnix.  Even though Pinnix had to sit behind Maroney and Russell last season, he did have one shot at proving that the future was going to be bright in Minneapolis.  In the Michigan State game, Pinnix carried it 32 times for 206 yards and earned Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for doing so.  Not too bad for a third stringer, huh?  Well, it’s his show this season and the 6’, 195 pound back will have the pressure of the running game on his shoulders.  Now, he does have some help, with an underrated passing game, led by QB Bryan Cupito and an experienced and versatile receiving corps; however, the loss of All-American center Greg Eslinger and guard Mark Setterstrom are massive losses to the offensive line.  The Gophers have replaced great running backs with great running backs, but that hardly is ever the case with linemen, especially in a lineman’s first year.  So, how the offensive line comes together without those two stars will be a key facet for Pinnix and the Gopher running game.  Pinnix won’t have the luxury, as Maroney did, of stepping right into the run game mix behind two OL studs.  So, what, maybe, he’ll be a 1,200 yard rusher, instead of a 1,700 yard rusher in his first year as a starter?

2nd and Seven – Achilles’ Heel – After losing Anthony Montgomery to the NFL, the Gopher defensive line is left severely undersized.  Severely.  The average size of the projected starters is only 253 pounds.  Start Neel Allen at defensive tackle in the front four and the average is still a Lilliputian 260 pounds.  Now, don’t misunderstand, a team doesn’t have to have hulking, burly 300 pounders all across the defensive front, but if not, it helps if they can move and move well.  It would help if they had experience, but this unit only has one starter coming back from last year.  As such, don’t expect this front four to sit still and absorb the blows from the smashmouth offensive lines in the Big Ten.  This quartet must slant/stem/stunt and run some ‘games’ up front to get some ‘action’ in the backfield to disrupt blocking schemes.  After a year in which they gave up 156 yards per game on the ground last year with guys that had experience and size, if this DL can hold teams to 156 per game again this year, defensive coordinator David Lockwood should be coach of the year.

3rd and Three – The Spaeth in between – As the world of college football changes with the proliferation of the spread offense, the tight end has become a lost weapon in some cases (or an offensive tackle – just ask Eric Winston, formerly of the University of Miami).  Even in the NFL, the tight end has evolved into a guy who is part H Back/part fullback/part perimeter receiver.  The days of seeing guys like Mark Bavaro dominate the landscape in college football aren’t gone forever, but they’re definitely on the down cycle.  However, don’t tell that to Minnesota TE Matt Spaeth.   As tight ends go nowadays, Spaeth is a prodigious anomaly (6’6”, 270), and he’s a definite throwback to the in-line blocking, pass-catching tight ends of yesteryear.  He’s not going to be a Vernon Davis or a Marcedes Lewis, both of whom could split out at WR and be vertical threats downfield, but possessed weaker in-line blocking skills.  Spaeth is a solid run blocker and will find the open seam in the defense for 3 to 4 key receptions per game.  Down in the red zone, Spaeth is an even bigger threat, especially on play action passes, with how effectively the Gophers have traditionally run the football.  He’s not going to be a vertical, cover two ‘beater’, deep down the seam; he’s going to be the guy who sits down in the zone, 12 to 15 yards downfield and makes the key third down catch.  And, mow down DE at the point of attack in the run game.  Spaeth is more like a 1975 Jeep Wagoneer in a world of 2006 Ferraris, but then again, it’s not how you get from point A to point B.  It’s how many people you run over on your way there.

4th and One – No more toast – The Gophers secondary had a solid start to last season.  Outside of the Colorado State game, the Gophers didn’t allow more than 246 yards in a game, and that was in an overtime win over Purdue.  Then, in a Gopher romp in game nine over Michigan State, Drew Stanton threw for 312 yards in a losing effort.  On the surface, it didn’t mean much – the Gophers won by 23, but over the next two games, the trend continued.  Drew Tate – 377 in Iowa City.  Marques Hagans – 365 yards and four touchdowns in the Music City Bowl.  And, the results were L and L in those games where the secondary had a poor afternoon.  But, those afternoons should be fewer and farther between with the Gopher secondary this season.  This group is an experienced and more talented unit, even with the loss of John Pawielski.  Trumaine Banks and Jamal Harris man the corner spots and started every game last season, while Dominic Jones took over for injured Brandon Owens at the strong safety position after the Penn State game, as a true freshman, and averaged nearly 8 tackles a game the rest of the season.  Jones, though, may have to be included more in the run defense this year to help out the overworked linebackers, leaving Banks and Harris out on an island much of the season.  This back four has, well, an interesting year ahead of them.

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