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B1G 2021, Minnesota Potluck #3: Why Minnesota will never win the West...and Hotdish!

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Passive aggression and a leaky run D.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Quick Lane Bowl - Rutgers v North Carolina
When you choose a Rutgers man...
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

PJ Fleck’s teams have always hung their hats on scoring.

When it comes to defense, though, the record has been more mixed. The 2016 Western Michigan Broncos, for example, cracked 30 points in all but two of their thirteen straight wins, but yielded 30 four times along the way. A string of six straight games allowing over 30 points in 2018 got Robb Smith fired, and since then it’s been Rutgers castoff Joe Rossi at the helm of the Gophers’ D.

Joe Rossi’s stats as a defensive coordinator have been...fine.

Joe Rossi: Defensive Coordinator Rankings

Year Team DFEI Rk Effic. EfficRk Adj. Opp. AdjOpp Rk TD Rt TD Rt Rk 1stDn 1stDn Rk Avail Yds AvYds Rk Explos Explos Rk Bust Bust Rk TO TO Rk
Year Team DFEI Rk Effic. EfficRk Adj. Opp. AdjOpp Rk TD Rt TD Rt Rk 1stDn 1stDn Rk Avail Yds AvYds Rk Explos Explos Rk Bust Bust Rk TO TO Rk
2014 Rutgers -0.17 75 -28 92 0.11 35 0.313 95 0.794 115 0.514 98 0.206 115 0.107 75 0.099 99
2015 Rutgers -0.99 120 -1 121 0.02 55 0.418 120 0.836 126 0.624 126 0.213 116 0.066 117 0.123 54
2018 Minnesota* 0.35 33 0.18 46 0.17 24 0.248 49 n/a n/a 0.433 49 0.152 80 0.124 53 0.124 50
2019 Minnesota 0.25 36 0.36 30 -0.11 97 0.216 28 0.664 28 0.395 24 0.086 15 0.129 44 0.138 23
2020 Minnesota -0.77 98 -0.73 100 n/a n/a 0.362 97 0.797 115 0.55 102 n/a n/a 0.058 118 0.101 78
Stats taken from Football Outsiders

It’s not been for a lack of individual star power on the Minnesota defense: LB Blake Cashman heard his name called in the 5th round of the 2019 NFL Draft, followed by S Antoine Winfield Jr., LBs Kamal Martin and Carter Coughlin, and CB Chris Williamson in 2020.

You’ll notice one particular part of that equation missing.

Defensive Line Adjusted Stats Under PJ Fleck

Year DC Adj. Line Yards ALY Rk Std Downs SD Rk Pass Downs PD Rk Opp. Rt. OP Rk Power Succ. PS Rk Stuff Stuff Rk Adj Sack Adj Sack Rt SD Sack Rt SDSR Rk Pass Down Sack Rt PDSR Rk
Year DC Adj. Line Yards ALY Rk Std Downs SD Rk Pass Downs PD Rk Opp. Rt. OP Rk Power Succ. PS Rk Stuff Stuff Rk Adj Sack Adj Sack Rt SD Sack Rt SDSR Rk Pass Down Sack Rt PDSR Rk
2017 Smith 92.7 (tot) 95 3.16 98 2.88 36 41.70% 107 65.50% 52 17.70% 83 82.7* 96 5.70% 41 4.40% 118
2018 Smith/Rossi (Nov. 3) 2.35 31 2.36 45 2.31 25 43.70% 32 71.40% 73 24.20% 11 5.10% 105 4.80% 72 5.50% 110
2019 Rossi 2.6 77 2.58 83 2.64 55 46.40% 63 81.00% 116 16.80% 98 7.40% 40 6.40% 35 8.80% 52
2020 Rossi 2.91 103 3.09 123 2.28 14 55.40% 120 88.20% 120 11.80% 120 3.20% 119 1.60% 124 8.10% 63
Stats courtesy of Football Outsiders

Aaaaand we have our problem.

While the Gophers pass rush has marginally improved under Rossi, Fleck’s teams have a history of not being terribly stout against the run. Which, you know, wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that three of the coaches—and now maybe a fourth!—in the Big Ten West cling to the run like Peejus clings to inspirational slogans.

This isn’t breaking any major news to most Minnesota fans—our friend at The Daily Gopher, Blake Ruane, noted that “Disruptive is not a word I would have used to describe the Gophers’ defensive tackles”—but the experience on the D-line should be a plus in 2021. Micah Dew-Treadway is a gap-filling big man, and redshirt frosh DeAngelo Carter managed 16 total tackles and 1.5 sacks.

The front four will need some help for DE Boye Mafe (27 tackles, 5.5 TFL), as converted LB Thomas Rush struggled in 2020 and the defense is stuck relying on someone to make the jump at DE. Of course, that help has come in the past from LBs like Martin and Cashman...but “musical chairs” in 2020 meant there are a lot of LBs with some experience but none that have proven yet that they can get the job done.

That puts the pressure on a young secondary, where the graduation of CB Benjamin St. Juste leaves sixth-year senior Coney Durr, Justus Harris, and a handful of under-tested backups. Oh, and replacing Winfield Jr. was “easier said than done,” with the Gopher safeties racking up tackles but often on an island with an overmatched front seven.

So...uh...yeah. That’s not ideal. There’s a lot of room for Fleckian progress here—”learn from failure,” “change your best,” “HYPRR your NEKTON,” etc.—but little in either Rossi’s or Fleck’s track record to suggest...well, anything, really.

Tell me, writers:
(1) How can Minnesota make a jump forward in 2020? Do you see the defense improving at all?

(2) Name a Winfield-esque player whose move to the NFL Draft exposed a major flaw in your team’s roster.

(3) Name a Minnesota defender not listed here who you actually remember as...being good?

Beez: Minnesota can hope for excellent fumble luck, I guess? Both in forcing them and recovering them. Other than that...hope the offense scores a ton and also slowly? I really don’t know, but the people I “trust” about Minnesota seem to not be enthused about the D.

I honestly cannot remember the last time Wisconsin had a defensive player get drafted and my thought was “oh no! How are we gonna fill that gap?!?” I guess there have been graduations that hurt more than others, but typically the questions the past few years have been “how are we going to replace the productivity at linebacker?” and the answer is “I dunno, just continue running a 3-4 and two underrated recruits will tear things up.”

My knowledge of Minnesota’s roster includes the big name guys of the past three years, Laurence Maroney, and Marion Barber III. None of those guys played D, right?

Green Akers: Given that Fleck & Co. did NOT respond to last year’s defensive calamity by opening the portal floodgates, their plan has to be counting on improvement from the guys who played a good deal last year. Getting Braelen Oliver back healthy should help their LB situation, and Mariano Sori-Marin can’t possibly look so lost again, can he?

Thinking back, I wonder if Dantonio somehow thought he was going to get another year from Trae Waynes, because despite his overall strong record at finding excellent defensive backs, there was certainly a dip there once Waynes and Darqueze Dennard had moved on. He found his footing after a couple seasons - corner was one of the few positions still well-stocked when Dantonio hung it up - but things were pretty iffy on the backend for a couple seasons there.

I recall Rashede Hageman getting a ton of pub, and then having the misfortune of being a defensive lineman drafted by the Falcons, which meant he was destined to bust in the NFL.

MNW: Ra’Shede Hageman nearly killed me on a football field in high school. So I’ll choose him, too.

Northwestern’s D has been very plug-and-play the last few years, though we’ll see if the graduation of shit-talker extraordinaire Greg Newsome II (now with the Cleveland Browns) leaves a similarly Winfield-sized hole.

As for Minnesota’s defense...the line stats were really surprising to me, but then, I honestly couldn’t tell you a Minnesota defensive lineman since...dear God, probably since Hageman was a Gopher. Unless we’re counting Ryan Santoso. Are we counting Ryan Santoso?

While it’s nice to know Beez trusts me as his Gopher football expert, I really was looking for assurance from WSR or someone that I wasn’t reading too much into these Gopher struggles stopping the run. But honest to goodness, Peejus, how the fuck do you come to the Big Ten and rely on the bold strategy of “eh, we’ll deal with the run if it comes up”?

Kind of...: 1) “Jump” forward? Probably not. But, honestly, they probably have to be slightly better just through luck, right? I have no idea how, but it just seems like they can’t be (quite) so bad again.

2) UW’s only season without a bowl in the era where CFB has had OT (1996-present) was 2001. Not coincidentally, that was the year after Jamar Fletcher left and UW couldn’t just assume half the field was covered. Ranked #81 of 117 in giving up 28.8 ppg. Got picked apart by David Carr, Joey Harrington, and Kurt Kittner that year. And Jeff Smoker.

3) Tyrone Carter was awesome. Outstanding college defensive player. Before that...uh Karl Mecklenburg?

RockyMtnBlue: 1) I suppose it depends on where we set the bar for “jump forward”. On the one hand, Minnesota gave up 415yds/game last year. That’s bad. That’s really bad.

So we wouldn’t expect it to take an act of God or anything to see substantial improvement, right?

On the other hand the Goofs gave up 391yds/game in their glory year of 2019. That 2019 team had Coughlin, Winfield, Williamson, and St. Juste on it. It appears “defense” isn’t really Peej’s jam.

2) There are so many, but the graduation of Ryan Glasgow ended a nice little run where Michigan had at least one really disruptive interior defensive lineman. Don Brown could never hang with OSU, but he usually did ok against the rest of the league. That all came to a halt after Glasgow.

3) I didn’t know Karl Mecklenburg was a Gopher! I’ll take Karl on principal.

RU in VA: 1) Holy crap, did you see that Tampa Bay goal last night at the end of the Second period?

2. Lol. Oh, none. At least no one beat anyone up over an Xbox this year.

3. Didn’t Nagurski play at Minnesota for a spell?

Poll

Does Minnesota’s defense improve in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    By leaps and bounds.
    (13 votes)
  • 48%
    Almost by definition, it has to.
    (69 votes)
  • 29%
    Unless they’ve learned how to stop the run, nah.
    (42 votes)
  • 12%
    Get ready for a second mid-season DC firing in Minneapolis!
    (18 votes)
142 votes total Vote Now

Food: Tell me a hotdish recipe? I don’t know.

(1) You refuse to acknowledge that it’s a hotdish—that’s fine, even though that’s historically what it’s called. Whatever. But are you a tater tot hotdish person? Any good hotdishes that stand out?

(2) Make like the Minnesota congressional delegation and share your own hotdish recipe cook-off.

Beez: Yes, tater tot casserole is exactly what a Midwestern dinner should be. Hearty, technically as veggies, is as much starches as anything else, can be made from ingredients that you’ve had in your house for months if not years. Also it uses a single dish! Win-win-win.

Candystripes: The only good casserole is lasagna. There. I said it. mic drop

Green Akers: Not especially, because, and by all means hop in the mentions on this one, tater tots are the trashiest of the frozen potatoes. Listen up, ya pukes:

  • Cook a pound(ish) of ground turkey in with diced onions, peas, diced carrots, and whatever amount of garlic the spirit moves you to (and then add a couple dashes more, you’re going light on the garlic, guarantee it).
  • Once the meat’s cooked, stir in a can of cream of chicken soup, get it to a simmer, mix in half a teaspoon of cayenne, then get it into a baking dish.
  • Layer shoestring fries across the top, bake at 400 for 15 (preheat it, you Philistines), then remove, top with a layer of the cheese of your choice, back in for another 5-7.

Sufficiently Midwestern to get you to and from the car on bridge night, but use this instead of the ground beef and cheez-whiz-heavy recipes, and your heart might not explode before you’re 50. Down the hatch.

Kind of...: I refuse to participate in this inane debate. Pork Tenderloin Wars or bust.

RockyMtnBlue: No. Just no. There are times I really miss the mid-west. And then discussions like this happen.

RU in VA: I don’t really mind a casserole. Er, hotdish. But I honestly had never had one before I was about 22 years old. They just kinda don’t exist in NJ, unless you consider stuffed shells/chicken parm/penne with sauce.

I’ve recently got on some midwest hotdish trains, like tater tot casserole - some rice + cream of chicken + mushroom soups. But the one that appears at every family function is called “Pink Salad”

  • Crushed Pineapple
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Jello mix
  • Cool Whip

I know there are variations, but this pink monstrosity ends up at the table constantly.

MNW: Like GA, I tend to sub ground turkey for ground beef in my tater tot hotdish, because I am very health-conscious when making salty, soup-based all-in-one meals.

A little time in the air-fryer—while I brown the turkey and onions, of course—solves the problem I usually have with tater tot hotdish, that being that the tots get a little soggy and don’t give me that crunch all the way through. But a minute or two under the broiler solves that problem nicely as well.

My favorite one from the congressional delegation cookoff, though—serious business, I’ll have you know, and from the failures of the reddish “Greater Minnesotans’” recipes, one you’d think the “true Minnesotans” would be better at—was Tim Walz’s 2013 Hermann the German hotdish, using brats and beer in the base. Like a twist on the hotdogs and macaroni of old, but grown-up and with lots of extra Schell’s for me to drink.

Walz won three out of six congressional hotdish cookoffs before returning home, as any good Mankato boy does.

Poll

Choose your hotdish:

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Classic tater tot hotdish
    (33 votes)
  • 8%
    Green Akers’ "health food" hotdish
    (6 votes)
  • 9%
    Candystripes’ hot-take-dish
    (7 votes)
  • 4%
    RU in VA’s "Pink Salad"
    (3 votes)
  • 21%
    Hermann the German hotdish
    (15 votes)
  • 9%
    Another hotdish, that I will tell you about in the comments.
    (7 votes)
71 votes total Vote Now