MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 18: Da'Jon McKnight #6 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers carries the ball into the endzone for a touchdown after catching a pass during the game against the USC Trojans on September 18 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
HEY! Welcome back to B1G 2011... OTE's comprehensive look at each B1G team heading into the 2011 season. I'm your host for today, JDMill, and today we continue our Minnesota series with situational speculation. What if it's 4th & 3, Minnesota is on the opponent's 20 yard line and down by 7 (please suspend your disbelief) with a minute left to play,.. what play does Matt Limegrover call? Flip the situation... Minnesota is trying to stop their opponent who is in the same situation. What kind of defense does Tracy Claeys call?
The B1G game is a bit different than what Kill's group has seen week in and week out in the past, but assuming that the Gophers have the horses to match up with what the opponent is throwing at them, and looking at some past tendencies of this coaching staff, we can make some assumptions about how Kill and his staff will approach things. Let's speculate together after the jump... shall we?
While it's not 4th and 3, we of course have the original Jerry Kill gem when Kill said he is a fairly aggressive coach and described a fictional situation: "I don't know if it's good or bad, maybe it's fearless, but, hey, it's third down and three and they're gonna put nine in the box; let's run play action and try to stroke the post. Let's go!" Let's go indeed!
If the Gophers are, in fact, going to attempt to "stroke the post," Da'Jon McKnight is likely to be MarQueis Gray's go to target based on his athleticism, his proven ability to make tough catches, and his experience. Past Gopher offensive incarnations would likely have used the TE as a weapon in this type of situation, but Limegrover's offense does not use the TE in pass catching situations often, if at all.
But I would venture to bet that the weapons that are the legs of MarQueis Gray will likely be a factor in this situation whether they are getting the first down or drawing defenders away from the play. Matt Limegrover's offense has a history of allowing the QB to create with his legs. Just look at Chandler Harnish who ran roughly 10 times/game as NIU's QB under Limegrover and Kill. MarQueis brings even more athletic ability to the QB position as long as his decision making ability proves to be good as well.
In looking at some Harnish highlight video to see what tendencies Limegrover might have with his QB, I did find a 4th & 2 play against Temple in which the Huskies did in fact run play action, but they used it to freeze the D-line so that Harnish could peel off to his right and around end for the 1st down. The advantage here also being that the QB can get out of bounds to stop the clock. I would expect to see Gray used similarly and think that a play like this would be a prime candidate in a 4th & 3 situation with little time to play.
Again, because of the new coaching staff we have to take some clues from what NIU did in the past.
There are two things we need to know about how Claeys runs his defense in order to answer this question. First of all, he runs a fairly strait up 4-3 in which he expects his players to stick to their assignments. When they do, they are successful. Second, Tracy Claeys can be expected to have an aggressive defense, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be blitzing a lot.
Claeys is a guy who likes to let his down linemen get upfield and create chaos. By strategy he's unlikely to use d-linemen to lock up a blocker so that a linebacker can get free to make a tackle. The success of the Gopher defense will depend on the ability of the d-lineman to get into the backfield and cause problems.
Keeping in mind what we know, in a 4th & 3 situation, we can expect the formation to be a 4-3, we can expect pressure from the linemen to be critical, but what the defense does out of this formation will vary. In plays similar to this situation that I watched I saw a couple of things.
On a 4th & 1 from the NIU 10-yard line against a 3-back set, Claeys blitzed one linebacker. The offense ran play-action and as you would expect, the 5 down linemen got good pressure. The two remaining linebackers did a great job covering the other two RB's. This left the QB with only a couple of more vertical passing options than the play probably called for. Result: incomplete pass in the endzone.
Again, the key here is players sticking to their assignments and chaos from the defensive line.
On another play, a 4th & 4, Claeys again went a base 4-3 in which a linebacker was set to cover the slot receiver. In this case, however, Claeys brought the house, blitzing all three linebackers including the one set to cover the slot. The offense had called a fade, so the timing of the throw was quick, but if the ball wasn't designed to come out so quickly, the QB would have been a sitting duck. Result: incomplete pass out of bounds in the corner of the endzone.
Chaos was again important. Even if the play wouldn't have been a quick fade, there simply would not have been enough time to make a decision on where to go.
The bottom line with Kill's group seems to be that they are going to look to force the action in most situations. Sure they'll have to make adjustments to what the defense is giving them at times. But depending on the situation, and provided the match-ups are at least even, Kill, Limegrover and Claeys all seem to be willing to push the envelope, be aggressive, and try to force something good to happen.
WEDNESDAY | 4th and 3
THURSDAY | OTE Potluck
FRIDAY | Keeping the Enemy Close - Rival Blogger Interview