After a year of offensive struggles, coaching to blame

Questionable playcalling and underdeveloped game plans have haunted the Gophers in 2009

by Josh Katzenstein

To better understand the poor decision making that has been haunting the Gophers coaching staff recently, letâÄôs look at MinnesotaâÄôs fourth quarter red zone possession, which began on IowaâÄôs 2-yard line and resulted in no points. First down: Quarterback draw by MarQueis Gray . All season the Gophers have used their âÄúbest playmakerâÄù in different scenarios during the game. In nearly all of them, he has run the ball with absolutely no trickery whatsoever. No gain on the play. Second down: A handoff to running back Duane Bennett when Iowa stacked the box. No gain. Third down: A fade route to the 5-foot-10-inch Troy Stoudermire . Down by 12, a jump ball to the shortest receiver on the team who was matched up with a corner back who was taller than him. No gain. Fourth down: Quarterback Adam Weber looked to pass, tried to run up the middle but was stopped. Turnover on downs, Iowa football. When the Gophers left Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, they left behind a display of offensive impotence and ineptitude that will undoubtedly be worked on before their bowl game. But how can the same Minnesota team that scored 42 points against Michigan State go two straight weeks without scoring an offensive touchdown? One word: coaching. The Gophers had four chances to score on that early fourth-quarter drive. Four opportunities were marred by the questionable play calling that has hindered the squad all season. Head coach Tim Brewster may not be directly at fault, but the Gophers are a more talented team than the likes of Arkansas State (2-8, 1-5 Sun Belt ), which managed to put up 21 points against the HawkeyesâÄô stingy defense. Minnesota had a winning game plan for the Michigan State game, which resulted in a touchdown on the first play of the game. Weber said they knew they were going to run the play that resulted in a 62-yard Duane Bennett touchdown reception the Sunday before the game. Watching video and trying to plan a game beforehand clearly worked in a game the Gophers desperately needed to win. That planning and coaching can spell the difference between a December and January bowl game. While the Gophers will likely play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl or return to the Insight Bowl, itâÄôs hard to forget that nearly every game was winnable. Of course, Penn State and Ohio State are the class of the Big Ten (Iowa is also making a case); that is undeniable. Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel had their teams ready to beat the Gophers. Cal, on the other hand, almost welcomed a Gophers comeback. Stopping Jahvid Best was obviously a tough task, but how does a Big Ten team not prepare to make Cal win by passing? During the GophersâÄô press conference before the Wisconsin game, Brewster mentioned his hopes of winning games left-handed, implying that they are a pass-first team that would like to be able to win games on the ground. The BearsâÄô hopes and dreams run through Best. It took the Gophers coaching staff two quarters to realize that the focus had to be stopping him. In the Wisconsin game, it seemed neither team wanted to win Paul BunyanâÄôs Axe, but the story played out similarly to that of the Cal loss. Running back John Clay destroyed the Gophers for 184 yards and three scores . Apparently, Minnesota forgot that the Bears exploited its subpar run defense and did nothing to focus on stopping the Big TenâÄôs top back. The loss to Illinois doesnâÄôt offer much to dispute, as the Gophers were outplayed, outcoached and beaten by a worse team âÄî something that happens quite a bit around these parts. Then there was the South Dakota State win. The Gophers managed to beat the Football Championship Subdivision opponent by a whomping three points en route to becoming bowl eligible. If coaches canâÄôt get players firing on all cylinders for a game that most people see on the schedule and hope for a 55-0 affair, then when do they force the excitement? Brewster has yet to figure out how to light a fire under the Gophers. In his three years they have won zero trophy games and have never beaten a ranked opponent. MinnesotaâÄôs landmark victory in 2009 was a 35-24 win at Northwestern, one of just two road victories this season. In 2008, the Gophers had two statement victories: a 31-27 win over Northern Illinois and a 37-3 romp of Florida Atlantic . On paper, the 27-20 victory at Illinois during homecoming was great, but the Huskies and Owls made bowl games last season. BrewsterâÄôs first season as head coach offered one win that was clearly the building point of 2007. The GophersâÄô Sept. 8 win over Miami was the only one of the season. The trademark wins have gotten better in BrewsterâÄôs three years, but itâÄôs tough for Minnesota fans to rally behind a squad that is most proud of beating Northwestern, despite the Wildcats actually having a good season. Few people expected the Gophers to beat Iowa, but in a game of inches, Minnesota is yards behind. Missed opportunities tell the story of 2009. Luckily for Brewster and the Gophers, they will have one more chance to make up for the many problems displayed all season.