If there is no gameplan, everything is permitted
Coming in to today’s game with Iowa, I think we all knew how mightily their defense had struggled this year. In games against FBS opponents this season opposing QBs put up a QB rating 27.18 points better than their averages against teams other than Iowa. Gray was no exception in benefitting from their lack of pass rush and poor containment.
OPPONENT CMP/ATT YDS CMP% Y/A TD INT RATING
Not Iowa* 9/19 125 47.3 6.6 .5 .667 104.3
Iowa 11/17 193 64.7 11.3 1 0 179.5
* Average per game
Who hates Iowa? Not opposing QBs.
That’s over a 75 point jump in QB Rating. However, before blame is pointed at Iowa’s secondary it’s worth noting what the Iowa fans I talked to before the game both online and off had to say. They insisted that the key to defeating Iowa was taking advantage of their poor defensive line and struggling linebackers with the run. Commenter “Bejamin Surepants” in particular wrote an excellent comment to that effect.
Ultimately that did end up being one of the deciding factors as Duane Bennett, who seemingly has been at Minnesota since Wacker was in charge, put up a pretty big game by his standards gaining 104 yards on the ground on 18 carries.
In the 43 games in which he’s had carries as a Gopher Bennett has cleared 5 yards per carry on more than 10 carries only 7 times including today:
DATE OPPONENT ATT YDS AVG TD
09/02/10 Middle Tennessee 30 187 6.2 0
09/11/10 South Dakota 18 104 5.8 2
11/27/10 Iowa 11 63 5.3 1
09/24/11 North Dakota State 13 74 5.7 1
10/27/07 Michigan 20 106 5.3 0
08/30/08 Northern Illinois 18 92 5.1 1
10/29/11 IOWA 20 101 5.1 1
That makes only his 3rd 10/5+ game against major conference opponents.
Iowa also again struggled with containment allowing Gray to rush for 62 yards on 11 carries and put up that 11.3 YPA number, more than 5 yards above his season average.
There’s bound to be celebrations in the Limegrover household tonight. 22 points scored AND the McRib is back? Halcyon days.
Still the yardage and even the points aren’t huge surprises for Minnesota. The numbers indicated Minnesota should be able to move the ball on Iowa and 23 points isn’t exactly leaps and bounds over their average season output.
And it wasn’t all good news for Minnesota they yet again came out of the gates flat on offense and relied as much on Iowa failing as their own gameplan succeeding.
The Gophers converted only 3 of 11 third downs dropping their conference worst third down conversion percentage to 33.3%. Coming in to today Minnesota ranked 103rd among FBS teams and today’s performance should drop them a few slots lower.
Additionally Minnesota opened the game with four straight drives of 4 plays or fewer and had managed only two drives of 5+ plays before the fourth quarter:
Q PL YDS RESULT
1 3 9 Punt
1 3 6 Punt
1 4 21 Punt
2 2 28 Fumble
2 7 81 Passing TD
3 3 8 Punt
3 5 39 FG Good
4 11 80 Rushing TD
4 12 59 Rushing TD
4 5 11 End Of Game
Heading into the fourth they were averaging less than 4 plays per drive before Iowa’s improbable collapse.
Winning is always a great thing, doubly so when it’s a trophy game like Iowa, but sputtering out on offense for three quarters then relying on an onside kick to help generate 40% of your yardage on two drives is more a sign of good luck than good planning.
This game cemented three things in my mind:
- MarQueis Gray is clearly the starting QB over Shortell.
- Iowa’s defense is even worse than advertized and with games remaining against Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska their bowl eligibility isn’t a given.
- Denard Robinson may put up a million yards on Iowa.
Does this game change my mind about Kill? Not really, and it wouldn’t have had a major impact on my view of him even if he’d lost big. I don’t place too much importance on single games over trends. There are too many variables in one game that can swing the outcome one way or the other, especially in a contest between two such deeply flawed opponents. Overall season statistics and trends tell us a lot more about performance and remain far more valuable for projection.
Based on the statistics we’ve seen so far this year this is an outlier, albeit a fantastic outlier. Things like Iowa struggling on third down, missing two short field goals and failing to recover an onside kick are not the kind of things you can count on if you want to win games consistently.
Still, Kill should be congratulated for equaling Jeff Horton’s 5 game win total in just 8 games.
All kidding aside Minnesota will improve next season and over the next few years. I don’t doubt and have never doubted that Kill is a better coach than Brewster. That is of course damning with faint praise. I still have yet to see anything that convinces me that Kill is the kind of coach that can take a down program like Minnesota and build them to a point where they can challenge for a Big Ten title.
I look at running a program like Minnesota being somewhat like running a small market franchise in pro sports (in this example we’re pretending college sports is not a business). You’re going out onto the field every week against teams with more money, more resources and more draw than you. Competing with teams like that requires having a man in charge who can put players in situations that both consistently maximize their talents and put the opposition at a schematic disadvantage.
This requires a man who is not only football smart but smart generally. A football equivalent of the cerebral Billy Beane. Beane is a man who though he chose not to attend was accepted at Stanford, a place of great education that celebrates science and literature.
While I respect Kill’s minor in biology from a school that thinks the earth is 10,000 years old he doesn’t strike anyone as an intellectual.
I’d wager if you ask Billy Beane what his favorite Dostoyevsky book is he’d probably have an answer while Jerry would think Karamazov was a delicious soup with funny dumplings in it.
Still, tonight is a night for celebration. Sincere congratulations to Jerry and the Gophers. Tonight a bunch of kids who have been through a lot of tough times are smiling and feeling good and Iowa is one pig poorer.