Minnesota needs to find offense again

by Mark Remme

Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito summed up Minnesota’s offensive performance against 25th-ranked Wisconsin Saturday in three words:

“We played terrible.”

From the Gophers’ opening offensive drive that ended with a 50-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, to a quarter-long first down drought, Minnesota produced a fraction of the scoring firepower they’ve shown in recent years.

The Gophers amassed 200 yards in the game, marking just the second time in the past 46 games they’ve failed to eclipse 300 total yards.

Coach Glen Mason looked to his team’s inability to produce when needed by describing the lack of offensive productivity.

“It’s unusual for us to put up 200 yards of total offense,” he said. “There are no secrets in the whole thing – it’s execution.”

Mason said the performance was not indicative of how the team has played offensively and the team took a step back in all phases of the game during its loss to the Badgers.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Eric Decker said the performance Saturday involved different areas of the offense playing well at different times.

The offensive line broke down when receivers were open, and the line had solid blocking when the receivers were covered, he said.

Minnesota needs to play fundamentally sound football against North Dakota State on Saturday at the Metrodome if it hopes to salvage a respectable record after its 2-5 start, a difficult venture considering the Gophers have games against Ohio State and Iowa remaining.

The Bison, who bring their 6-0 record and top-ten ranking in Division I-AA to Minneapolis for the teams’ first meeting since 1937, won’t be a team Minnesota can overlook, Mason said.

“At this point I can’t imagine our team overlooking anybody,” he said.

Cupito said a key to bringing the offense back to form includes getting senior tight end Matt Spaeth more involved.

“Spaeth is the best player on our team,” Cupito said. “He blocks well, he catches well, and he’ll be playing on Sundays next year.”

Complementing Spaeth in the passing game is game-breaking senior wide receiver Logan Payne, who caught seven touchdowns during the first six games.

With two catches for 6 yards against Wisconsin, however, it marked the first time in conference play this season Payne didn’t catch six balls during the game.

The inability to get the ball to Payne proved costly for the Gophers’ attempts to move the ball downfield Saturday, but Mason said shutting one man down shouldn’t stop an entire offensive unit.

“I think that if we’re in that situation, we’re in a bad situation,” Mason said. “(A defense) can take one guy out at this level of football.”

Injuries always play a role in a team’s productivity at this stage in the season, and Decker said shuffling lineman around hurt the blocking as a whole.

A missing anchor in the middle of that line last week was junior center Tony Brinkhaus.

With Brinkhaus out, senior left guard Tyson Swaggert moved to center while redshirt freshman Ryan Ruckdashel filled the gap at guard.

“I think it hurt because having Brink out,” Decker said. “We had to move one of our guys and he only had a day to practice.

“It’s kind of a hard thing when you practice one position your whole life and you get moved over one day and have to play a team like (Wisconsin),” he said.

Heading into its final nonconference game of the year, Minnesota needs to eliminate its own offensive errors in order to breathe life into the remainder of the season.

“To be a great offense, you have to be consistent,” Decker said. “You can’t have stupid penalties, can’t have dropped balls, can’t have things that hurt you.”