Head Coach: Glen Mason
2004 Record: 5-0, 2-0 Big Ten
Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense, punter, and kicker
Offensive Stat Leaders
Passing: Bryan Cupito: 52/94 - 895 yds - 55.3% - 1 INT, 7 TD - 157.74 eff.
Rushing: Laurence Maroney: 98 att. - 670 yds. - 6.8 avg. - 5 TD
Receiving: Jared Ellerson: 16 rec. - 254 yds. - 15.9 avg. - 2 TD
Stat-Big Ten Ranking
Scoring offense (2nd) 38.6 pts
Pass offense (9th) 191.0 yds
Rushing offense (1st) 323.4 yds
Total offense (2nd) 514.4 yds
QB: Bryan Cupito (So.) Adam Ernst (Jr.)
RB: Marion Barber III (Jr.) Laurence Maroney (So.)
FB: Justin Valentine (Rs Fr.) Jason Lamers (So.)
WR: Jared Ellerson (Jr.) Jakari Wallace (Jr.)
WR: Ernie Wheelwright (Fr.) Paris Hamilton (Sr.)
LT: Rian Melander (Sr.) Steve Shidell (Fr.)
LG: Mark Setterstrom (Jr.) Brian Goblirsch (So.)
C: Greg Eslinger (Jr.) Tyson Swaggert (So.)
RG: Brandon Harston (Sr.) Mike Nicholson (Jr.)
RT: Joe Ainslie (So.) Tony Brinkhaus (Fr.)
TE: Matt Spaeth (So.) Jarod Posthumus (Jr.)
Offense MVP: RB Laurence Maroney
Key to success: Running game
Surprise player: WR Ernie Wheelwright
It’s well documented the Golden Gophers like to run the football and it’s a big reason for their offensive success. It stems from two things: A successful zone blocking scheme and two GREAT backs. The Gophers run at nearly a 3:1 ratio. The passing game is made a lot simpler for QB Bryan Cupito thanks to the outstanding ground game. The strategy throwing the ball is simple; let the defense load up the box to stop the run, then take advantage of personnel mismatches. They have those kinds of weapons as well. Jared Ellerson has game breaking ability, as does big Ernie Wheelwright. Plus, not every Big Ten linebacker can matchup with tight end Matt Spaeth (who coincidentally has seen a lot of balls come his way lately). The Gophers also incorporate the fullback into the running game more than most teams. Expect Justin Valentine to mix some things up with a few touches. Also don’t be surprised if Maroney and Barber are on the field at the same time in a split back set.
Bryan Cupito has done a decent job managing the game and being efficient which is about all that has been required of him so far. Cupito has a pretty good arm from what I’ve seen, He ran a shotgun-based system in high school and the seasoning shows in his accuracy. He doesn’t have the running ability of Asad Abdul Khaliq, but he can do some good things with his arm that Khaliq wasn‘t capable of. Cupito will be looking to improve on last weeks performance against Penn State where he only completed 8 passes and threw an interception. His backup is transfer Adam Ernst, who has a cannon for an arm but isn’t nearly as accurate as Cupito.
The tailbacks, Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, form probably the top running back duo next to Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown (Auburn). Barber is very assertive running the football and brings a premium blend of power and quickness to go along with his vision and cutback awareness. He has been a reliable runner but hasn’t performed nearly as well as Maroney has so far. Barber has averaged only 3.9 and 4.2 yards his last two games. Can he bounce back this week?
The guy that has been the stud of the offense is Laurence Maroney. He hasn’t turned in a bad performance yet. In fact, he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in every single game thus far. His lowest yards per carry average was 5.8 against Penn State. In my opinion, the Gopher offense would much better if Maroney got the majority of carries because he has been ridiculously consistent. What makes Maroney special? Speed. The kid has some serious wheels and can shake defenders all game long. Maroney won’t hit it up the middle like Barber, but he brings the “take it to the house” possibility to the offense Barber lacks. The knock against both of these kids is they lack great hands. Don’t expect them to see more than a catch or two. Also look for Amir Pinnix and Gary Russell to rotate in for some carries. Both youngsters have explosive running ability.
The Gophers have some gunners on the flanks that can break a game open quickly. 6’5 Ernie Wheelwright and blazer Jared Ellerson have done an excellent job so far and have been the teams deep ball threats. Ellerson came into the season as the Big Ten’s 2nd returning receiving leader and averaged an amazing 20.7 yards off 44 catches last year. He has been asked to shorten his game up somewhat this year, but he still has to be a playmaker. Wheelwright has been a surprise, to say the least, after sitting out last year due to academics. He has come on strong this year. He uses his big frame well in traffic and he’s a superb athlete. He’s still noticeably raw with his zone reads and route running, but he has the talent to make plays (over 23 yards a catch!). Look for little man Jakari Wallace to line up in the slot in hopes of a mismatch (which he gets on most occasions with his tremendous speed). Paris Hamilton is a talented transfer that could make an impact. Matt Spaeth is a versatile tight end. He’s a fairly good finesse blocker in Minnesota’s zone scheme, but also stretches the field nicely with his speed. Plus he doesn’t drop many passes thrown his way. Ben Utect’s understudy is quickly developing into a reliable threat for the Gophers.
To go along with their two standout running backs, the Golden Gophers also have formidable offensive line that works well in unison. The left side can be down right dominant at times with dual run-blocking demons Rian Melander and Greg Setterstrom. Both move well in space and are well seasoned working next to each other. That is the key to the zone blocking scheme. At center is All-American Greg Eslinger, who is one of the leading candidates for the Rimington award given to the nations top center. Eslinger is a very athletic lineman that also works well in space. He isn’t a guy that will lay a defender out in the run game, but he is a perfect zone blocking center because he is great at helping his linemates out. He also excels at disengaging and getting to the 2nd level linebackers. The right side has done a good job with Brandon Harston and tackle Joe Ainslie. Both need some work technique wise and are not as athletic as the left side lineman, but they do a good job of pass protecting.