My golfing partner today was a friend named Kris Krzyminski. Kris played Division 1 basketball at Oakland University and then played in Europe. On the way home from the golf course, we discussed the individual nature of basketball versus the team nature of football. After I espoused my usual belief that basketball depended on the brilliance of 1 or 2 individuals, he countered with this statement: "Wouldn't you say that the quarterback is the most important player on the football field? Isn't his individual worth pretty damn high?"
In Minneapolis, Kris's statement rings true. Adam Weber's inability to improve as a field general has helped hamstring the Golden Gophers offense. Of all 11 quarterbacks qualified for passing efficiency, Weber ranks 10th in the Big Ten, just ahead of Juice Williams, He's thrown the most interceptions and his completion percentage is the lowest in the league. I've studied his mechanics (sound), but you can't deny he tosses too many balls into coverage and doesn't know how to throw the ball away.
These are just statistics and old talking points; I will make a cohesive argument as to why MarQueis Gray should be the starter for the last four Gopher contests in 2009.
The Offense System
Minnesota cannot pass block this year. They've got some big boys who can run block, led in size by the 375 lb. Jeff Wills. Weber has got sacked 17 times and it's been awhile since I saw some cohesive drives highlighted by the passing game. I'm harping on this fact because Weber has been taking 5-7 step drops behind a line that...can't...pass...block. So the gameplan isn't working, let's do something different shall we?
Fisch's offense is most effective when a power run game is being complimented by screens and misdirection.That's his MO, he's done it everywhere. It's no accident that Nick Tow-Arnett, the tight end who has caught so many dump downs and screens, is the Gophers second leading receiver. Gray went 5-6 for 51 yards and a TD last week at the end of the OSU loss. But it's not his throwing statistics that make me want him at the helm of Jedd Fisch's offense. It's his effectiveness in carrying out what Fisch really wants to do. Gray can bootleg with or without blockers, run the read option, throw on the run, and take a hit on that 6' 4'' 215 lb frame. The polish will come along with experience, which leads me to...
For the remainder of this season, Minnesota plays MSU, South Dakota State, Illinois, and Iowa. I would say L to Iowa, L to MSU...and I am waffling on SDS (6-1 in the FCS, beating a UNI team that should have beat Iowa) and the Middling Illini. So we're looking at anything from 4-8 to 6-6 most likely. Queso Bowl or the Pizza Pizza Bowl seem like valid options...But why am I harping on this fact?
Thoughts on my article and the QB situation in Min, courtesy of Daily Gopher:
- The Gophers have a triangle of problems and IMO Weber is third on the list of things to fix. Here is my mulligan offense post from a few weeks ago. Essentially the play-calling has been suspect, penalties have killed drives AND Weber has been inconsistent. If you watch last week's OSU game Weber actually played well in the first half. There were at least 3 dropped balls that were routine catches. All three would have resulted in a first down instead all three resulted in punts.
- All of this gets to the fact that replacing Weber with a freshman (who hasn't really played since 2006) isn't going to solve the other problems. Gray broke his leg early in his senior season, didn't play in what would have been his freshman season so he hasn't played consistently since his junior year. So because he is athletic, won't solve our offensive problems. Weber has been good at times this year, people easily forget that. And the offense has often stalled for reasons he cannot be held accountable for.
- Ultimately this is a no lose situation for the Gray camp (everyone except me). If he plays well then obviously everyone was right. If he stinks then who cares cause he's doing no worse than Weber. Problem is, like I said, Weber has played well this year so that won't be true. But it will be the "logical" conclusion by the masses. Really, I don't care. I like Gray a lot and want him to be great, so if he plays and plays well I'm happy. But I fear he does not give us the best chance to win on Saturday.
installing Gray into the offense right now would allow this explosive freshmen to get a feeling for a full college football game. Starting Gray Saturday will give him a chance to exercise leadership and proclaim "this is my team ya'll." Although pulling a three year starter in Weber is bound to raise controversy, I can't imagine the boosters and players being too upset about trying something to end the offensive doldrums. What is Mini gaining from another 10-24, 132 yd, 2 interception performance by Weber?
More importantly, it would give Jedd Fisch a chance to experiment with the offense that he will be running in the future. And here is the kicker: Minnesota already runs all the plays that Gray could successfully run. Quarterback draws, tight end screens, quick slants that don't require the OL to hold their blocks for a long time. These plays are already in the system.
Here is a great quote from Daily Gopher (message board or article, I don't remember):
Sadly, they will beat South Dakota State and either Michigan State or Illinois, win six games, and go to a crappy bowl and some fans will point to this as a successful season. At this point, the only way you could consider this successful is if they run the table, including a win over Iowa, or they win three games with MarQueis Gray at quarterback.
You remember Todd Boeckman of course, weighed down by having to noodle arm throws into coverage. Jim Tressel was ballsy enough to turn to his frosh quarterback, simplify the system to a power running attack (Oh Jedd should love that), and essentially go back to basics. I'm not asking Brewster to pull a Ron Zook and take a ride on the quarterback carousel. I just want Tim to take a long look at what he's got in front of him: A physically ready quarterback who fits perfectly in the OC's schemes and an offense that's bogged down horribly. Breathe some life into TCF, show some nuts like Tressel in '08.