clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Case of Minnesota’s Aggressively Mediocre Special Teams // B1G 2022, Minnesota Potluck #3

Plus, let’s grab a pint and a pie down by Waseca.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Guaranteed Rate Bowl - West Virginia v Minnesota Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Aggressive mediocrity” feels like where we’ve settled with the Gophers, doesn’t it? This is an 8-4 team, maybe 9-3, but no one’s actually expecting them–outside BoilerUp89 and probably WSR–to be good. Right?

And, if you’re looking on the Gophers’ roster for aggressive mediocrity, look no further than special teams. Look at the numbers:

  • P Mark Crawford: 47 punts, 41.7 ypp (10th in the B1G)
  • K Matthew Trickett: 17/25 FGs (10th), 4/6 from 20-29 and 4/6 from 40-40
  • KO Dragan Kesich: 63.6 ypko, 42 TBs (both 4th)
  • KR Mar’Keise Irving: 8 returns for 194 yards (8th total yards)
  • PR Brock Annexstad: 9 returns for 71 yards (13th), 26 fair catches (2nd)

There’s nothing…wrong…with that, and special teams didn’t actively lose the Gophers any games in 2021 maybe save the Iowa game, when Crawford averaged just 36 ypp and a 53-yard Kesich field goal got blocked and the subsequent Hawkeyes drive was a back-breaking TD to make it 24-16. Gophers special teams just kind of…existed.

Of course, there’s the 2020 game in which the Gophers lost to Maryland on a missed OT PAT:

Or the 2020 Iowa game in which a missed FG and kick-catch interference penalty gave the Hawkeyes short fields…both of which they converted into points.

Now that we reference two Iowa losses in which special teams played a role, maybe I actually stumbled onto something here? The Gophers had been good on special teams in other areas, as special teams coordinator Rob Wenger’s bio brags about the Gophers’ elite punt defense in 2018 and 2019 – but Ryan Santoso, Emmit Carpenter, and Jacob Herbers have moved on, and Minnesota’s special teams boat has foundered a bit since.

Riddle me this:

1. Any Gophers special teams memories or hot takes you’d like to provide? Preferably, here, we’re talking about games Minnesota lost, obviously, but do you.

2. Where do you stand on the need for every team to have a special teams coordinator? How do you feel about your team’s STC?

BoilerUp89: Minnesota special teams won them the Purdue game last year so I reject the premise of this question. Everyone except apparently Scott Frost needs a special teams coordinator. Purdue just got a new guy so ask me in 6 months how I feel.

MaximumSam: I had to get Google’s help for this one. I recall Minny blowing a game to Michigan during the Tracy Claeys era. (Tracy Claeys, First of His Name, Long Live His Soul). The big mistake was messing up the clock at the end of the game, and getting off two plays when he could have had four. But apparently there was also an issue where he benched his punter during the game, and put in his kicker to punt. The kicker booted a 29 yard shank to give Michigan great field position for the winning score. Long live Tracy Claeys.

I’m not sure who is the special teams coordinator for Ohio State. I googled that too, but forgot who it was and don’t feel like googling it again. That said, Urban and Tress were stalwarts of special teams, and that kind of investment in the low pegs on the totem pole really does pay off for the rest of the team.

Kind of…: Really @mnw? You’re really putting this on a tee for me? Gophers special teams memories? [I was indeed, Kind of…] Sure, here’s one.

2005. 5-1 Wisconsin comes to the Meterodome to take on 5-1 Minnesota. Laurence Maroney dominates the game (43 carries, 258 yards) and Gary Russell chips in 19 for 139. As a team the Gophers outrush Wisconsin 411-131!!! But, after scoring with 3:27 left to push the lead to 34-24, the Gophers prevent is too accommodating, and UW goes down the field in a hurry (can you believe that?), cutting the lead to 34-31 with 2:10 to go. The onside kick–coming from midfield because of a Minnesota personal foul (that won’t matter, though, right?)—bounces around and ricochets off the shin of a Badger so, while Minnesota covers it, they do so at the 8. The Badgers hold Maroney to 9 yards on his three carries, but with only one timeout, the clock is at :35 when Minnesota calls time out to set up their punt:

Of course, one reason why I’m basking in the glow of a Minnesota fuck-up from 17 years ago is because UW doesn’t have a ST coach this year (or it’s, er, by committee), and UW’s special teams have been average at best for a long time. It makes no sense to me, and I’ve already complained about it a couple of times in the last two weeks.

But Minnesota really fucked up Laurence Maroney’s career day, so I’ll always have that.

BRT: You know, some of us would kill for “aggressively mediocre” special teams. “Didn’t actively lose… any games in 2021” would have been kind of a dream scenario from where I sit.

Does every team need a special teams coordinator? I mean, probably not–I’m sure there are some teams who get by just fine without one. I would not say Nebraska is one of these teams. The evidence is fairly damning. See the most Nebraska way to lose a game...

misdreavus79: I do not want to talk about special teams mishaps. Instead, I want to talk about all the offensive pass interference calls that have directly led to Minnesota wins. I only remember two, but that’s two too many. I think Minnesota needs to work on that, if I’m being perfectly honest.

As per the general need for a special teams coordinator. Well, if the best coaches in the country have special teams coordinators, then I trust that it’s a thing that most, if not all teams, should have. I mean, we’re literally talking about all the games Minnesota could have won if they’d just had better special teams. In a game where the most simple of mistakes can cost you a whole game (read above for a 2005 example), any advantage you can have counts.

MNW: One of my favorite Minnesota special teams memories, since misdreavus just went, is Dan Nystrom’s walk-off winner over Penn State in 1999:

And, of course, Tim Brewster opting not to continue using his special teams and instead going for the win at Northwestern in 2008:

Pat Fitzgerald fired himself as special teams coach, added old buddy Jeff Genyk in that spot, and somehow our specialists have gotten even worse (though coverage has improved marginally). So…yeah.


How do you feel about YOUR team’s special teams?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    (22 votes)
  • 55%
    (43 votes)
  • 16%
    (13 votes)
78 votes total Vote Now

The Food

Minnesota Week might as well just be “fun things I do in Minnesota,” since I’m about tapped on ideas for this entire B1G 202X thing.

But speaking of stumbling onto things in Minnesota that are nice (and seeing as how I’m apparently accidentally doing a whole week on outstate–fine, Gov. Walz, “Greater”–Minnesota), let’s talk pizza farms.

A pizza and two beers on a table with a silo along a farmhouse road at Half Pint Brewery in Waseca, MN.

Head south from the Cities on I-35 toward Waseca, where you can visit Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, a delicious spot for outdoor pizza and music on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. In full disclosure, the picture above was actually taken at nearby Half Pint Brewery, a brewery farm a mile down the gravel road that has delivery and sharing agreements with Pleasant Grove. It was a beautiful evening of beer, pizza, cribbage, and barn cats, and if you have a weekend to burn in Minnesota, I’d highly recommend it.

So, writers:

1. What Minnesota foods have you not learned about this week that you want to learn more about?

2. Any of these farm-food pairings near you that you’d recommend stopping at? What’s the locally-grown food of choice there?

3. Anyone want to take next week’s potlucks?

BoilerUp89: No. No. I don’t know. And no.

MaximumSam: I’m just happy to learn Minnesota has food. I thought they lived on ice seasoned with gravel.

Kind of…: I just did the math, and I haven’t been to Minnesota since 2014. The pizza farm seems awesome. Rural America is dying, and not every farm can be a pizza farm, but I’m glad some folks are figuring out ways to draw folks to the fresh air and unobstructed views for a weekend on occasion.

BRT: For the readers out there, there is a novelist who specializes in Minnesota food/beverage. His name is J. Ryan Stradel, and his first book was Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Each chapter of this book is based around a specific food (the first chapter is “Lutefisk”) and in the end, all of these chapters are connected. My favorite is the chapter on “Bars,” a hilarious look at both church lady culture and our cultural tradition of serving things in 9x13” pans. Stradel also wrote The Lager Queen of Minnesota. As the name implies, this one’s about beer.

One of the delights of these books as a Midwesterner is that Stradel is clearly one of us, and you can tell it in how he writes his characters. The speech cadences, attitudes, and reactions are all dead-on, and once you read it, you realize how rare it is that someone can capture that so well on the page. Sometimes, authors (or filmmakers) plonk a character down in Ohio or Iowa because they’re trying to communicate that they’re not from the coast. Well, fine. But sometimes it’s equally clear that that creative choice doesn’t know anything more about Ohio or Iowa beyond the fact that they are not on a coast. Stradel knows what it actually means to be from these places.

misdreavus79: Well, I don’t know what foods are Minnesotan, so I’mma have to pass on that one. As per eating out, I don’t normally do much of it as most but there’s this tapas place a block from where I live that’s pretty cool. But, like, if you’re in MA, you’re most likely going to go to some seafood place and you’ll be just fine.

No, I do not want to take next week’s potlucks, thank you very much.


Will you take next week’s potlucks?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    No, but I’ll show up and eat.
    (13 votes)
  • 75%
    No, it’s more fun watching MNW have a breakdown every Thursday.
    (40 votes)
53 votes total Vote Now