Year 4 of the Jerry Kill era officially kicks off with the start of camp today. I think the Gophers make a bowl for a 3rd straight year. I think the program continues to improve and continues to trend upward. I think the offense will once again be able to run the ball and control the clock. I think the defense will continue it’s great play and be better than a year ago, despite losing impact players (including 2 to the NFL). Those are things I think I know as camp starts…here is what I’m not sure about yet:
Will the Passing Game Improve?
Jerry Kill insists that Mitch Leidner has taken over the leadership role on this team. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover believes Leidner has the “it” factor that great quarterbacks must have. Teammates LOVE Leidner. He seems much more confident and outgoing after gaining experience last season. Will all of that translate to a much more productive offense? The Gophers struggled mightily offensively down the stretch a year ago. While the offense will always lean more towards the run, Minnesota’s passing attack ranked last in the Big Ten with just 148 yards per game (for comparison, Nebraska ranked 11th with 196 passing yards a game, Indiana led the league with 306 yards per game). The Gophers return most of their offensive lineman and a running back who rushed for over 1,200 yard last season (David Cobb). Donnell Kirkwood is back (over 900 yards 2 years ago), and a healthy Berkley Edwards will add another dimension to the backfield. The running game will be there. Time for the passing game to reach the next level of production, which leads to…
Who emerges as a pass catcher?
Maxx Williams is a stud and should be good to go after injuring his knee late in the Texas Bowl. He will continue to be a featured option. Finding another option or two at wide receiver will be critical. Senior Issac Fruechte is reliable. Sophomores Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones both earned playing time the latter part of 2013 and have drawn high praise through spring practice and summer workouts. Continued progress from the sophomores would be huge, especially if one of the incoming recruits at wideout can contribute right away. Speaking of…
Which young guys get a look?
Receivers Melvin Holland, Jr, Isaiah Gentry and Connor Krizancic both committed just before signing day, I’m curious to see if they can contribute right away. During our interview at Media Day in Chicago Coach Kill mentioned he’s looking forward to watching freshman tight end Gaelin Elmore and freshman “athlete” Jerry Gibson at camp. On defense it appears that defensive tackle Steven Richardson will get a good look as well, Kill has compared him to Roland Johnson. The Gophers won’t have to rely on freshman as much as they have in the past but it would be nice to get contributions from a few of newcomers right away.
It’s been written and discussed elsewhere but it’s undeniable: the Gophers must get to work early this season to reach a 3rd straight bowl game. The November schedule: home vs. Iowa (trendy pick in the West division), home vs. OhioState (trendy pick everywhere, it’s OhioState), at Nebraska (check the score last time in Lincoln) and at Wisconsin (10 year losing streak). Throw in the non-conference road game against TCU and the conference opener at Michigan, there are 6 games right off the page where the Gophers are probably the underdog. They won 3 games last year as double digit underdogs (yes, they were 10 point dogs at Indiana!), but you get the point. Sweeping the non-conference home games as well as wins against Northwestern, Purdue and at Illinois get you the 6 wins.
Programming note: Cake Show will broadcast live from Gopher Fall Camp on Sunday from 11:00-1:00. Expect to be joined by a coach and player after the 10:25 Practice #3, as well as a few members of the media.