One of the reasons for the Gophers big win over Nebraska last Saturday was the physical play of its offense and its creative execution. Minnesota mixed in a hard-nose running attack with a combination of shifts at the line of scrimmage which kept the Huskers defense guessing and on the field. From Cobb’s monster game to Phillip Nelson lining up as a wide receiver only to take the snap for a quarterback sneak, Minnesota’s offense was a big difference maker. GopherHole's Nadine Babu caught up with Minnesota running backs coach Brian Anderson who detailed the effective line shifts, maturation of the running game and the team’s improved conditioning.
NB: You went from 165 to 430 total yards, and 30 to 271 rushing in a month since Iowa, what has changed?
BA: Finishing plays, and guys understanding what we're trying to get done. Not changing what we're doing, talking about finishing a good understanding of the blocking schemes and attention to detail.
NB: What happened during that Iowa game?
BA: Back then we had some success in the first four games, running the ball, and fine tuning things. After having four non-conference games, people are going to study that, and have an answer to that. We didn't have great vision on things, didn't have do a good job of finishing plays, and the result is not a lot of rushing yards when you don't do those things. Our tailbacks were doing a good job of pressing the line of scrimmage, and not varying off course to help the offensive line out, that's what we talked about as a running back group.
NB: How did you stay the course?
BA: Because we've been together so long as a group, as coaches. You go back to the basics, the fundamentals. You tell the kids to do that, and see what happens. We looked back and saw when we were having success, what did we do? It always goes back to the basics and fundamentals. Having that bye week was perfect timing, we were able to have a week to prepare. Coach Limegrover and Nate Griffin did a great job breaking it down, and cleaning it up.
NB: There were lots of shifts in offense this past game vs. Nebraska, what's the thought behind that?
BA: That's what we've always done, since we were at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, we need to get back to that. Kids have fun with that, that's a big part of that. We just wanted to get back into being us, and that's helped our offense tremendously, when you have that personnel to do those things with.
NB: What is different regarding the personnel from when you first began?
BA: A lot of them are the same kids, they are just maturing a lot more now. They understand what we're doing and trying to accomplish. We're still a young football team. That's the great thing about coaching this game, you have different guys coming together.
NB: Does Limegrover have more freedom to make less conservative calls with Kill out?
BA: Nothing has changed. It's according to what the game plan is. When you're not having success, it's hard, you are trying to stay the course. It's all about getting positive yards on the first down, if you're getting yards on the first down, it makes it easier. Nothing has really changed at all.
NB: How much audible flexibility do the quarterbacks have?
BA: They have some, not a lot, we are able to control a lot of it in how we call the game. We want guys out there playing, not thinking so much. There's just a little to keep everything honest and not in harm's way.
NB: Which QB helps the running game the most?
BA: They're both effective. You don't miss a beat with either one of them. Mitch bring mores of an inside presence, Phillip brings more of an outside presence, but they're both really good at running the ball.
NB: What has been the biggest change with the O-line the past few weeks?
BA: I think they're coming together as a unit, when you've got five guys up there they need to be on the same page and talk the same language. It's not just them in the previous weeks that had improvements to be made. You can see it come together up front and their communication is such a key, and that's made the big difference.
NB: Which redshirt freshman in offense has improved the most?
BA: Ben Lauer - he's come along really well. He brings a different toughness to our team. He's athletic for a big man, he's a smart football player, he's just really grown over the last year and is playing really well for us right now.
NB: Can you speak to the emergence of David Cobb, what changed? How did he step up?
BA: His apple was still green, and his apple is starting to turn red, it goes to the maturity part and paying attention to detail. He's athletic, strong, good vision, good hands, good patience, and it's just all coming together for him. He's always had that capability, it's been his work ethic, and it’s coming together. It's not completely red. I think he can be really good. He has a combination of a lot of different tailbacks I've been around. Showing him video from Saturday's game, if you don't have good footwork, that's a little thing, that can turn into a big thing, and trusting the guys up front. The sky is the limit for him, if he's a student of the game and continues to study the game.
NB: Is Donnell Kirkwood 100 percent now? How does it look like he'll finish the season?
BA: He's 100 percent. Last year with him, when he got hot, it was hard not to play him. Kirkwood has been great, he was on the sideline cheering "Cobb, finish the game, finish it off!" He's very valuable to us as a football player. They prepare themselves like they're all starters.
NB: How much of the off-season conditioning played a part in your recent success?
BA: Coach (Eric) Klein is one of the best strength coaches in the country. Our kids sometimes don't know how good of shape they're in. They bought into his system, and believe it in. We've been a good second half football team because of that. I give all the credit to Coach Kline and his staff.
NB: What built the confidence in the players in the past few games?
BA: A lot of it has to do with them trusting us. I show them video of former running backs running the same plays that we do not, showing them to trust me. Show that you care about them not just as football players, finding out about their families, football, etc. They gain confidence when you show confidence I them.
NB: Word on the street is Berkley Edwards bring a new dimension to the team - what does he bring?
BA: He does, he's fast. He's super fast. I'm looking forward to working with him this spring and get him in there, and see what he can do. He's a different back than the rest of them, a get it over back - he can hit the home run at any point in time.
Twitter: @NadineBabu www.twitter.com/nadinebabu
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com