Monday, October 28, 2013

Back in Blog; Gophers Post Big Home Victory

The Twinstalker blog took an unexpected leave of absence for personal and family reasons.  Lots of local sports was watched over the six weeks or so, and lots of crabby thoughts developed, but the blog was victim to the lack of temporal resources during that period.  No time!  This week we concentrate on the football Gophers.  Tomorrow's entry will be a comment we wrote at prior to the start of the Big Ten season that proved to be nearly spot on, and then on Thursday we'll dissect that entry bit by bit to determine what is still lacking with our Gophers and what has changed since that piece.  Here's a one-word clue to the latter: Limegrover.  It's always interesting when the problem and solution can be found in the same individual. 

It's a proud time for Minnesota Gophers fans following their favorite team's 34-23 defeat of the visiting Nebraska Cornhuskers.  We're not sure there is reason to be excited about this season, but it has certainly been interesting, and there is renewed hope for program cursed on so many different levels.  More thoughts:
  • While the preseason opinion here was that the Nebraska game was very winnable, we consider this victory very important to the growth of the program.  Adding in the poor play and coaching issues that kicked off the Big Ten portion of the schedule, the Gopher win this weekend took on even greater meaning.  Nebraska v.2013 is clearly not a top national team, but the Cornhuskers still boast a top national program.  Nebraska is at a level this year where a good team, which the Gophers have rarely resembled over the past thirty or fifty years, will take them down.  
  • Further, a good team will win these types of games at home, something our Gophers arguably haven't accomplished since, well, the 1981 Memorial Stadium victory over Ohio State. That game was the last time the Gophers defeated a ranked and top national program in Minnesota.  In fact the only home victories over ranked Big Ten teams have been an upset over Iowa a few years back, an early 2005 win against a pretty mediocre Purdue team and a 2000 thumping of a very overrated Illinois squad.  That's adds up to pathetic, and it takes a delusional person to believe that Gopher football has been anything but pathetic.  Losing every big game at home for over thirty years erodes a fan base to a monumental degree.  So no matter how average, injured, or flawed Nebraska is, the importance of the Gophers finally taking such a team down cannot be overestimated.
  • Speaking of flawed, the Cornhusker defense is not one you brag about scoring on.  We've never especially liked Taylor Martinez or the offense he runs, but it is vastly superior to its porous counterpart.
  • We'll address this further on Thursday, but when you have two quarterbacks, one of whom is clearly quality while the other average or mediocre, you play the good QB.  You start the good QB, too, don't you?  We're not talking Nebraska here anymore.  But we will go back to their best feature...
  • He had some gaping holes to run through, but Ameer Abdullah is the real deal and has the look of someone who might play at the next level.  Very impressive.  A clear step down from Abdullah is our own David Cobb, but Cobb is impressing, too.  His vision in finding holes to squeeze through is a trait we haven't seen around here for a while.
  • Ra'Shede Hageman has been criticized a lot here.  It's not really his fault.  He was just a Gopher trying to do his job.  It was the the coaches and media who kept hyping him for doing nothing, and the delusional Gopher fans so wanted to believe it.  We couldn't let that go.  It's true Hageman clearly played better in the nonconference portion of the schedule in 2013 than he did in 2012, but he still didn't play especially well, save for getting his paws up a few times or making a couple plays that stood out in contrast to most plays where he did nothing .  Then he seemed to completely disappear against Iowa and Michigan.  We were shaking our head thinking what a waste when suddenly in the span of the last ten days Hageman became the player fans wanted to believe he was all along.  His facemask penalties take nothing away from what is important here: Ra'Shede Hageman is playing ball now.  Finally.  He's disrupting the opponents' game.  We're all about giving credit when it's due, and it would be remiss to not mention his positive impact after paying so much attention to his weak play for so long.  My guess is he will now be legitimately double-teamed and open things up for his linemates and LBs.  That's been talked about as if were true, but it never has been.  The downside, of course, is that we weren't going to miss him next year, and now we will.
  • The Gophers caught Northwestern at the perfect time.  The Wildcats were a deflated team and playing without its best two players, the two who clearly raised their team to one of the best in the nation.  Nebraska could have been in better shape, too, but these two wins made this statement more than any other: Jerry Kill has laid his foundation of concrete, because a team experiencing the adversity of losing its coach for an unknown length of time, possibly forever, while the coaching of at least one of its coordinators was highly questionable, should not really win both games.  Concrete, not sand.  Not anymore.
  • One thing you could always count on over the years is Gopher teams and individual players tightening up in big games, scared of success, realizing they are Gophers.  The first game we remember seeing this loser mentality was at home against a worse Michigan team in 1987.  It's not often Gophers have had an advantage over a traditional power, but 1987 was a year in which Minnesota was truly the better team.  Poor coaching and poorer execution were responsible for a 30-20 loss that day to the Wolverines, who haven't lost in Minnesota since 1977.  Two years after that disappointing loss the Gophers weren't quite as good but found themselves up 31-0 on Ohio State.  Final: 41-37 for tOSU.  Many years later versus Ohio State Jamal Harris streaked down the field all alone with a blocked field, only to drop it as he got close to the end zone.  Interceptions dropped that would have secured games, punt snaps dropped, fumbles lost...the Gophers found a way to lose.  
  • Of course, nothing beats the three TD 4th quarter lead squandered against Michigan in 2003.  It's arguable, but we think our Gophers could have won the national championship that year had they won that night.  They would have followed it up with a victory against MSU (instead of a flat loss), and the unsuccessful trip to Iowa later that year would have held a different meaning, though the Hawkeyes did stick it to our men.  Still, 11-1 and a conference championship would have been everything we hope for.  What is noticeable about our lads under Jerry Kill is that he has his players thinking they deserve to win.  Rarely have they squandered games where they had leads and real chances.  And that tendency for individuals to make mistakes at precisely the wrong moment?  Mostly gone.  We say mostly because Philip Nelson clearly tightened up on a few late passes that would have cinched the game.  Hey, it's hard to justify beating Nebraska at home after the last thirty years.
  • Minnesota travels to Indiana on Saturday, a trip that hasn't been kind to the Gophers over the years.  Unless we've missed something in our research, Lou Holtz in 1985 was the last Gopher coach to bring home a win in Bloomington.  There's a lot of good feeling surrounding the Gophers right now, but the Hoosiers can put an end to that quickly.  Theirs is a high-powered offense the Gophers will have to play extremely well to avoid a rout.  If our rodent defense puts the clamps down, though, a win is very possible.  Our opinion is much the same as it was prior to the Iowa game: we're not sure what to expect this coming weekend.
  • Friend of Twinstalker Bobby O expressed the opinion a couple of weeks ago that Jerry Kill probably has to go, as much as we all respect the guy.  We weren't as certain, though coordinator Matt Limegrover had us feeling maybe it was time to fold the current hand.  Kill was sick, Limegrover was horrible, and the two are clearly paired together.  It's strange how the landscape can change so quickly.  Limegrover actually does have at least some of the smarts he's been credited with, and the Gophers are now winning.  Bobby O's opinion?  We'll find out.  He's a practical man.
  • Pat Reusse is a great writer, and usually his opinions are sound, though he doesn't always get it.  Jim Souhan is...well, he borders on incompetent.  From stating that an afflicted Jerry Kill must go to determining Glen Mason is the savior for Minnesota football, Souhan plays the fool.  He believes Mason should be brought in, not in a coaching capacity, but as the director of the football program.  The very first question we had when we saw this was: well, if you were thinking Kill couldn't/shouldn't coach, why would you go the Mason route instead of putting Kill himself in that director position?  Certainly epilepsy for an associate athletic director can be tolerated.  Right, Jim?  Personally, if Jerry weren't coaching Minnesota, we'd want him overseeing the program anyway, with our only worry whether or not we have the right coordinators/coaches under Kill.  That worry has been relieved considerably since Limegrover woke up.
  • The essence of tomorrow's entry is how profoundly disappointed we were with what we'd seen of the Gophers in nonconference play.  It was written two days prior to the Big Ten opener against Iowa, and it received the normal backlash of criticism from a few of the delusionals that are loud and can sometimes dominate at when the rational crew isn't posting much.  One such board member commented about what a waste of space Twinstalker was, devoting a blog to cutting down a team we're supposedly fans of.  Part of the delusion, we suppose.  We don't set out to unnecessarily castigate any of our local teams, we want to praise them where appropriate.  But this space isn't about praise, either.  It's about understanding what's real and what isn't, what's being done to undermine our favorite teams' chances, and to speculate what might be the issues at hand and their solutions.  You might not get that all at once.  You might just get a rant, or you might get an entry that is an expression of how disappointed we are.  Because we are fans.  And our goal is to win championships, not just pretend we're good when we're not (see Twins 2001-10, Gophers 1962-present for prime examples).  Fans' responsibility is not to delude themselves, it's to yell loudly, like an ignored child, when the product we pay and cheer for is sub-par.  Unless you're parents of the players.  There's some leeway there.