Quick 2014 review: Minnesota started 6-1 last season with only a 30-7 throttling from TCU as a blemish on its record midway through October. Then came an upset loss at Illinois by a 28-24 final score, but the Golden Gophers bounced back by throttling Iowa 51-14 then playing Ohio State tough in an eventual 31-24 Buckeye victory at snowy TCF Bank Stadium. After outlasting Nebraska 28-24, the Gophers had a chance to win the Big Ten West but lost at Wisconsin 34-24 to close out the regular season. Then they dropped a 33-17 decision against Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.
Although the offense showed overall improvement by moving up to sixth in the Big Ten in scoring, it remained a run-oriented outfit that rode stud back David Cobb to a 1,600-yard season. The defense was strong against the pass but had a harder time stopping the run in a league that was full of elite running backs in 2014.
The Football Outsiders advanced stats rank the Golden Gophers fifth overall in the Big Ten, behind Nebraska and ahead of Penn State. The offense and defense both ranked in the 40s nationally in S&P+, a combination of play-by-play efficiency and explosiveness. Not surprisingly, they show the Gophers were an efficient offense that relied more on methodical drives than explosive ones. Defensively, Football Outsiders rate the Gopher run defense a bit higher than the pass and found it better on standard downs than passing downs but not weak in either area. Where the secondary really thrived was making plays as the Gophers led the Big Ten in “DB havoc rate.”
Spring game recap: An announced crowd of 10,100 fans watched the offense take on the defense in a scrimmage to conclude spring practice April 11. The offense got off to a fast start but could not sustain it as reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year Jerry Kill opted to take a look at his younger quarterbacks for most of the afternoon. Returning starter Mitch Leidner completed 5 of 11 passes for 53 yards while his 2014 backup, Chris Streveler, went 11 for 20 for 73 yards. Streveler also had a 64-yard touchdown run. Junior-college transfer Cody Poock led the defense with 17 tackles while Jonathan Celestin added 12 stops.
Issues addressed: More than half of the starters on offense will be new this fall, and so too might be the tempo the Gophers use to attack defenses. They practiced a hurry-up, no-huddle offense in the spring, something Kill sounded cautiously optimistic about on the Big Ten spring football teleconference.
“Yeah we felt good about it,” Kill said. “We felt comfortable. There’s always tweaks and things we need to work out, but most important is the quarterback and I think they felt good.”
He did not commit to how much the Gophers might use the hurry-up when games start to count this fall, however.
In an interview with BTN.com, Kill raved about Rodrick Williams, a junior running back from Lewisville, Texas, who could be in line to grab a lion’s share of the carries Cobb took last season.
“Rodrick Williams had a tremendous spring,” Kill said. “On the first drive of the spring game, we handed it to him four or five times and went right down the field and scored. He has leaned up and looks great.”
Whether or not the passing game can take pressure off the rushing attack remains to be seen, but reports from the spring game were not very favorable for a group of receivers that includes the speedy K.J. Maybe and a lot of question mark.
“Ultimately it's going to be about those receivers and getting those guys comfortable, going through a lot of tape with them, going through situations with them,” Leidner told GopherSports.com. “Myself and the rest of the quarterbacks need those guys to be on the exact same page as us at all times.”