Four months later, the thought of last season's Gopher football team executing a "drive for the ages" is even more comical than on the day it was written. Based on that statement, I would understand if KFAN's Dan Cole shut down his "Preposterous Statement of the Year" selection process right now.
While most offenses improve during the season, last year's Gophers managed to score just one offensive touchdown in their final 43 possessions. They also failed to score an offensive touchdown in 20 of their last 28 quarters. In three games, they scored just one offensive touchdown -- the one vs. Ohio State came against their second and third-stringers in garbage time -- and in three others failed to score any. The offense finished last in the Big Ten in points, touchdowns, total yards, and rushing yards.
This year's offense should be better. While I have heard good things about new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, quarterback Adam Weber will have to do more than "manage" the game, as Tim Brewster recently suggested. Weber will never have a "drive for the ages," but at some point he will have to make meaningful throws late in games. Will those passes end up in the other team's hands like they did far too often last year (13 TDs, 15 INTs)? In addition, one of Brewster's biggest dilemmas will be what to do with quarterback MarQueis Gray. He was brought here to run a spread offense. He is too good of an athlete to not use, but what will Brewster do with him? The bottom-line is he has to find a way to get him onto the field.
Losing the best receiver in the program's history -- Eric Decker -- creates what Brewster would call a "tremendous" hole. Who is the real Da'Jon McKnight? The one with no catches in the first eight games of 2009, or the one with 11 receptions for 187 yards in the final two games. Brewster also needs to find a starting running back (my guess is he is not on campus yet) and above-average left and right tackles.
Last year's defense had its moments, but has to replace all three linebackers. However, after finishing 10th in the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for a loss, improvement, especially with better athletes, should come. This year's defense is intriguing. At Saturday's scrimmage, they looked to have their most athletic front-four in the past five years. The issue will be getting adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman looks the part, but has never taken a snap that matters on defense. He is a physical specimen, but may take a full year to develop, which could be too late for Brewster. Insiders tell me that right defensive end D.L. Wilhite is having a great spring, but will that translate when he has to go against the better left tackles in the Big Ten? If opposing quarterbacks have the same amount of time to throw as they did last year, they will complete 60 percent or better of their throws. None of it will matter if cornerbacks Ryan Collado and Michael Carter don't improve. Brewster needs to find a middle linebacker and also has to figure out if current outside linebacker Keanon Cooper fits better at safety. On Saturday, anytime he got near the line of scrimmage, his lack of size stood out.
After attempting to raise the bar -- although it set a dangerous precedent, which involves winning -- this should be the defining year for Brewster. If we see measurable progress and, more importantly, enough wins with a tough schedule, he might buy himself a few more years. On the other hand, lose and, with a minimal buyout, the Mike Leach to Minnesota rumors will begin in earnest by January. This year's schedule contains nine games against teams that went to a bowl game in 2009. The fanbase has no interest in a repeat of the Illinois and South Dakota State debacles from last year. Putting the wins and losses aside, if Brewster can deliver noticeable improvement, he deserves another year. But will his bosses and the boosters feel that way? He may need to win eight or more games, which would be a "season for the ages."