Gophers offense is searching for a winning identity

THe team is more balanced this year offensively but has struggled to score.

Ryan Falk

Watching the Gophers offense this season hasn’t been easy, and their struggles have been obvious.
 
Until last week against Purdue, the offense looked lost. This has begged the question: Why have they started the season off so slowly?
 
There are a lot of reasons, but after looking at the stats, three stand out: 
 
1. Gophers are passing more
 
Through the first half of the season, it’s been easy to see Minnesota is passing the ball more than usual, and it hasn’t been working.
 
This year the Gophers offense has passed the ball 44 percent of the time. Last year the team passed on only 30 percent of their plays.
 
Many of these throws haven’t been for big plays. Most have been shorter throws in an attempt to get redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner in a rhythm.
 
Head coach Jerry Kill said before the game against Purdue this wasn’t the type of offense he wanted to run.
 
“[Passing more] isn’t who we are,” Kill said. “That’s not who I am. That’s not how we’re going to be able to win in the Big Ten.”
 
One of the main reasons their passing game has struggled is the lack of a go-to receiver.
 
The Gophers lost that when tight end Maxx Williams left for the National Football League. Last year Williams had double the amount of receptions as the next receiver on the Minnesota roster and four times as many touchdowns. This year the gap is not as big on the team, with leading wide receiver KJ Maye only one touchdown and three
receptions ahead of the next receiver on the team. 
 
2. Gophers are running less
 
With the increase in passing comes the decrease in rushing, which has been the strength of Minnesota’s offense under Kill.
 
Last year the Gophers rushed on 70 percent of their offensive plays,  but this year they’ve rushed on 56 percent. This includes Saturday’s game against Purdue, where the Gophers seemed to get back to their strengths, rushing 48 times for 326 yards and two touchdowns.
 
For the games before Purdue, Minnesota rushed only 53 percent of the time. 
 
Before the latest game, Kill said they needed to give the ball more often to the two rookie running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. 
 
The two have been counted on to pick up where star running back David Cobb left off before leaving for the NFL.
 
Brooks did just that against Purdue, rushing 17 times for 176 yards and a touchdown.
 
With Brooks leading the way, the Gophers had their highest scoring output of the season Saturday with 41 points.
 
3. Offense plagued with injuries
 
The Gophers have been noticeably undermanned on the offensive line. 
 
Of the five players the Gophers started against Texas Christian University in their first game, redshirt junior tackle Ben Lauer has started only two games; redshirt senior guard Jon Christenson has played only three games; and redshirt senior center Brian Bobek missed Saturday’s game against Purdue.
 
The only players who have started every game are sophomore guard Connor Mayes and redshirt junior tackle Jonah Pirsig, though Pirsig has shuffled between left and right tackle.
 
Minnesota has only had the same offensive line start a game three times.
 
With all these injuries, it’s hard for the offense to build continuity and find success. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said before the game against Purdue that the key to the offense bouncing back is getting the offensive line going.
 
Against Purdue, the offensive line played well with freshman Tyler Moore stepping in at center, opening up holes for the Gophers to rush for 326 yards.
 
“Once [the offensive line] gets worked out and gets back on track, then the other things will start to come,” Limegrover said.