2010 Minnesota Preview
Minnesota DE Brandon Kirksey
Is Minnesota ever going to turn a corner? This is the year when the program is supposed to be hitting its stride under head coach Tim Brewster, but instead it's in a rebuilding year with nine new starters on defense and yet another coordinator for the offense. Check out the 2010 CFN Minnesota Preview.
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Minnesota has gone to bowl games in each of the last two seasons, has a ton of young, promising talent waiting to shine, and boasts one of the sweetest new ballparks in all of college athletics. So why does it seem like 2010 is a holding pattern year to get to 2011 … and a new coaching regime?
Head coach: Tim Brewster
4th year: 14-24
Off. 21, Def. 15, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Minnesota Players
1. QB Adam Weber, Sr.
2. S Kim Royston, Sr. (Inj.)
3. S Kyle Theret, Sr.
4. C D.J. Burris, Sr.
5. OT Dominic Alford, Sr.
6. QB MarQuies Gray, Soph.
7. LB Mike Rallis, Soph.
8. CB Michael Carter, Soph.
9. OT Jimmy Gjere, Fr.
10. S Herschel Thornton, Jr.
Sept. 2 at MTSU
Sept. 11 South Dakota
Sept. 18 USC
Sept. 25 Northern Illinois
Oct. 2 Northwestern
Oct. 9 at Wisconsin
Oct. 16 at Purdue
Oct. 23 Penn State
Oct. 30 Ohio State
Nov. 6 at Michigan State
Nov. 13 at Illinois
Nov. 20 OPEN DATE
Nov. 27 Iowa
Tim Brewster was a questionable hire, but he had a reputation for being a great recruiter with a ton of energy and a can-do, positive attitude. Considered by some to be a slick salesman, others consider him the type of rah-rah type a college program needs. But in the end, wins and losses are all that matter, and while going .500 over the last two seasons with two bowl appearances isn't all that bad, it doesn't seem like Minnesota is taking a big enough step forward.
Brewster would be an ideal assistant and recruiting coordinator, but he has yet to show that he can get his teams to play at a higher level as a head man. The talent might not be the same as it is at Ohio State or Penn State, but there's no excuse to not show up the past two years against Iowa (losing by a combined score of 67-0 in games that weren't even that close), there's no reason to struggle to get by South Dakota State at home, and for a program that has to win all the layups, losing home games to a 3-9 Illinois team last season and a 3-9 Michigan squad in 2008 is disastrous.
The worst part is that the Gophers appear to be treading water, and struggling to do that. Under former head coach Glen Mason, the team had an identity with one of the most devastating ground games in all of college football to go along with a few good NFL players sprinkled here and there. While the program hit a wall under Mason, Brewster hasn't shown anything to suggest he can even get things to that level and there doesn't appear to be any direction or philosophy to rally around. Brewster has had his chances, and there aren't any excuses at this point. If you can get to a New Year's Day bowl at Northwestern and if you can be BCS-good at Iowa, you can win at Minnesota.
This year, the problem will be that time and patience will be a must for a coaching staff that doesn't have time and can't afford to be patient. Only two starters return on defense, and both of them -- safeties Kim Royston, with a broken leg, and Kyle Theret, suspended for drunk driving -- have issues. But that doesn't mean there isn't talent. The defensive front is very big and very promising with freshmen reserves that will go ballistic for the next head coach. The linebacking corps is a mess, but the secondary should be terrific with three JUCO transfers providing a huge boost to go along with rising-star Michael Carter at corner along with Royston and Theret (who are each supposed to be ready to roll by the start of the season).
The offense has yet another offensive coordinator, the school's fourth in five years, and hasn't had any semblance of consistency under Brewster. This year's theme, after starting out with the spread and following it up with an alleged pro-style attack that didn't work, is to be more physical with more of a ground game. The woeful line of last year gets everyone back, the running backs should be able to do more with a slew of good freshmen coming in, and Adam Weber is a fringe NFL backup-type prospect who could be fine if he had even the slightest bit of help around him.
Considering that this is a rebuilding year for a head coach who needs to be hitting his stride with his program in Year Four, it will probably take something extraordinary, like a winning season, for there not to be a change at the top next offseason. Minnesota has too much going its way to continually be so mediocre.
What to watch for on offense: Simplification and getting physical. New offensive coordinator Jeff Horton is going to try to ease everything up for everyone by making things as simple as possible, and that starts with getting more physical for the running game. With all five starters returning up front, and with massive blockers to pave the way, Horton is determined to change things around for the Big Ten's worst running game. With a good quarterback in Adam Weber running the show, the passing game will likely come around if there's finally some semblance of a ground attack to rely on.
What to watch for on defense: The linebacker situation. Simoni Lawrence and Nathan Triplett got to work out at the NFL Combine, and leading tackler Lee Campbell is on the Detroit Lions. Now the linebacking corps goes from being the team's biggest strength to a screaming weakness with a potential nightmare in the middle. Mike Rallis is a nice, try-hard playmaker, but he's a former walk-on safety who has to play big on the outside. Keanon Cooper is a decent outside prospect, but he needs to be phenomenal. The middle is the problem with Gary Tinlsey having legal problems and Sam Maresh off the team because of academic issues, there's some scrambling to do. To put it bluntly, if the small, inexperienced linebacking corps doesn't surprise, the Gophers will be in trouble.
The team will be far better if … the offensive line isn't a disaster. All five starters return, the backups are strong with several great young, athletic prospects, and enough options to form a good rotation. However, the line has to be night-and-day better for the Big Ten's worst offense to improve after paving the way for under 100 yards per game while finishing 113th in the nation in sacks allowed. The big, beefy linemen won't have to do anything fancy and they'll be able to get physical and do some shoving around, and this works and the blocking improves, Adam Weber will finally get time to work and the quick backs will finally get a chance to produce.
The schedule: On the surface, the first part of the season would be a big plus with four straight home games following the opener at Middle Tennessee. However, getting USC in TCF Bank Stadium is a problem and things get really, really tough as the season goes on. Missing Michigan and Indiana is a nice break, but the schedule sets things up for yet another second half Gopher slide. There's a stretch of four road games in six, and the two home dates are against Penn State and Ohio State. Going on the road to face Wisconsin and Michigan State aren't going to be easy, and while the Iowa game is at home, the Hawkeye fans always pack the Minnesota house.
Best offensive player: Senior QB Adam Weber. Considering he's the school's all-time leading passer, he doesn't get a whole bunch of respect. After starting off his career as a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, but last year he was turned into more of a pure passer and he did the best he could with no time to operate. The senior has 6-3, 221-pound size, great mobility, and a decent arm, but he has to keep his interceptions to a minimum after giving away 42, along with 52 touchdown passes, and he has to show he can produce without Eric Decker to throw to.
Best defensive player: Senior S Kim Royston … if he's back from his broken leg. From all indications everything should be fine for the start of the season, and the team needs his leadership and all-around ability. After starting out his career at Wisconsin, he transferred to Minnesota and has been fantastic making 108 tackles with two broken up passes and two picks in two years, and he has the tools and the skills to do even more if he's 100%.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore LB Keanon Cooper. Mike Rallis appears to be on the verge of coming up with a big statistical season on the outside, but the linebacking corps needs playmakers to shine to make up for the lack of depth and the problems in the middle. The 6-0, 210-pound Cooper had a nice first season making 43 tackles and was great on special teams, but now he has to be a force on the weakside tanking over for Nate Triplett.
The season will be a success if … the Gophers come up with a winning season. That's not a given considering the defense needs to undergo a major rebuilding job and the offense has to find itself. Beating Middle Tennessee in the road opener isn't a plus, and getting by Northern Illinois, possibly the best team in the MAC, isn't a given. However, the first half of the season, besides the USC game, is just light enough to hope to form a nice base of wins, but the back half is brutal. With nine bowl teams on the slate, getting to seven wins would be a major, major shocker and would show that Brewster and his staff are doing a decent job.
Key game: November 27 vs. Iowa. Actually, the opener against QB Dwight Dasher and a Middle Tennessee team that might be the best in the Sun Belt might be the key to the season; lose that and it's time to back up the truck. However, Minnesota has to do something, anything, to improve against its rival, Iowa, who has won the last two seasons in laughers. In last year's 12-0 Iowa win, the Gophers came up with 201 yards of total offense with Adam Weber completing 14-of-40 passes. In 2008, the Hawkeyes won 55-0 with the Gophers gaining just 111 yards of total offense.
2009 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Opponents 40 for 254 yards – Minnesota 22 for 164 yards
- Punt return average: Minnesota 14.7 – Opponents 6.6
- Second quarter scoring: Opponents 101 – Minnesota 59
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