2008 was split cleanly into two acts for Tim Brewster and his veteran quarterback Adam Weber. Act 1 was full of incredibly efficient offensive production by Weber and even a hint of a running game. This surprising success culminated in an upset of Illinois in Champaign. Act 2 consisted of blowouts and heartbreaking losses. The passing game bogged down as Weber faced intense pressure and the offensive line showed its youth.
Below, Jerdogg1 outlined exactly why the Gophers fell apart last year. In Part 2, I'll outline the prospect of improvement with a new Pro-Form offense in 2009.
2008 - Offensive Efficiency Followed By Immense Ugliness
Football is the ultimate cause & effect sport there is. If your squad can run the ball, it opens up your passing game, and vice versa. If your squad can't run, it also makes it easier to stop the pass. In football, especially on offense. balance is key to being able to move the ball consistently. And that kind of sums up what happened to the Gophers passing game in 2008.
For the Gophers in 2008, you had an o-line that had two characteristics you never want to see in an o-line: youth and injuries. Youth is a problem for obvious reasons. In a conference like the Big Ten, big, physical line play is the norm and absolutely necessary to win. If you don't have guys with some experience in your blocking schemes and taking the kind of abuse that an entire college football season brings, then you get the second problem, injuries. I would expect the Gopher offensive line to be better this year, simply because they will now be more experienced, but also because they will be running blocking schemes that will be more typical of what offensive lineman love to do: move people.
I think early in the 2008 season, when the Gophers were playing less talented and smaller opponents, it was easier for the offensive line to look adequate. Look, I'm not bashing the MAC (Northern Illinois, Bowling Green), I'm not bashing Montana State, and I'm certainly not bashing Florida Atlantic (who handled the Gophers just fine in 2007), but the worst offensive line in the Big10 should be able to out-muscle the defensive line of any of those teams and anyone in their conferences every single time out on the field. It's not a shot at them, it's just a fact that lineman from a major college football conference team should win that battle.
But throughout the season, as that inexperienced line faced better competition within the conference, on a weekly basis, you began to see how out-matched they were...and it just got worse as the season went on. The inexperience of the o-line lead to poor run blocking and the Gophers had a very difficult time running the ball in 2008. The fact that the Gophers weren't a real threat to put up big rushing numbers in 2008, lead to it being tougher to throw because defenses could drop a LB or two into coverage.
Now, having o-line problems is a big deal, and it can lead to a lot more problems, so having a poor, young, injury-riddled offensive line certainly led to some problems for a second year starter like Adam Weber. But you can't just point to the o-line. Weber's got some skin in the game here too. Coming off of a season like 2007, where he absolutely stuffed the stat sheet, a lot more was expected of Weber in 2008.
I like Weber, and I think he's talented, but I was very critical of him last year. I think that Adam Weber is a great sompetitor (sorry Brett Favre), I think he's a gifted athlete, and I even think he's got the potential and size to be a very good Big10 QB. In short, he's got tremendous upside potential (apologies to every analyst who has ever commented on any sports draft in the history of the world).
Weber's first problem is that he lost targets going into 2008. Specifically, Ernie Wheelwright graduated after the 2007 season. Weber had all kinds of confidence in Wheelwright and Decker in 2007, his top two targets by far (each had over 65 receptions in 2007, while the next closest in total receptions had just 23), giving the Gopher offense two dangerous options. But with Wheelwright's receiving abilities and experience gone, Weber had only Eric Decker to lean on. Which actually leads us to Weber's bigger issue...
I know I'm good, but you gotta look at other options...
Eric Decker. Decker is an incredible weapon, and I happen to think he's the best WR in the Big Ten (please don't bother arguing with me about Arrelious Benn, and please don't bother telling me I'm biased, I get it). But the problem that Weber has with Decker is that Decker is so good, and they have such a connection, both on and off the field, that Weber gets tunnel vision. I can't even begin to tell you how many times last season Weber would take a snap, look Decker's direction, and never look at anyone else. He inevitably would end up forcing the ball to Decker. (Weber also happened to do this in last Saturday's scrimmage, "pulling a 2008" and forcing a throw to Decker in the end zone, which resulted in an interception leading me to drink... which I couldn't do until I got to Campus Pizza after the game.) Fortunately this didn't lead to as many INT's as it did in 2007, but it still didn't lead to good things. On the other hand, when Adam Weber is flushed out of the pocket, and he is suddenly required to react to what is in front of him vs checking down routes, he is a MUCH better quarterback. In these situations he is much more likely to just find the open man, than he is to force a ball to Eric Decker.