Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Game Preview: Gophers vs UNLV Runnin' Rebels

Pop Quiz Hotshot.  Who are the best UNLV Runnin' Rebels football players of all time?

Give up?

They have one number retired and it's Randall Cunningham.  He was pretty f'n good.  They also had Ickey Woods and Keenan McCardell.  They had music mogul and Vanilla Ice Dangler Suge Knight play for them a bit.  Kenny Mayne apparently was a quarterback there too, which gives us some insight into recruiting strategy. Check out super-sized Ickey doing the Ickey Shuffle below:

Current alumni that are in the NFL include: Isaako Aaitui, Joe Hawley, Frank Summers, Martin Tevaseu and Eric Wright.  Never heard of them except for Wright.

Sherry's lips do look a little purple here.  Just sayin'

Coach Bobby Hauck has set a team goal for UNLV to play in their first bowl game since the year 2000.   Sophomore QB Nick Sherry is excited about the offense saying they'll be "fun to watch and fun to play."  I have no information on how much purple drank each consumed prior to that statement.  The team does return 19 starters from last year.  Besides Sherry, the team relies on running back Tim Cornett to provide punch on offense.  The senior is just 700 yards away from the all time school record of 3,149 yards.  He ran for over 100 yards in eight games last season.  Cornett also takes care of the ball; he has just one fumble in his career.  Junior left tackle Brett Boyko returns after an injury riddled season last year where he played only 4 games.  For the seven minutes of the game that I'm sober enough to pay attention, I'll watching how Boyko (6'7", 310) holds up against our defense.

On the defensive side for UNLV, end Sonny Sanitoa had 5 sacks and 28 tackles in 9 games as a redshirt freshman last year.  He's Samoan, so you know he's good.  Senior Tim Hasson (6'2", 215) is an undersized linebacker that is the leading returning tackler.  His half brother Tahj is nearly as big as him (6'1", 195) and is one of the starting corners.  Look for the Gopher offensive line to frequently get to the second level and mow over these dudes.

Here's a strange and interesting story I found on the Las Vegas Sun UNLV blog:  Their starting right guard is a converted tight end named Nick Gstrein.  That in and of itself isn't super odd, but he got there by speaking to Hauck in the spring and asking where he could get more play time.  Hauck tried him at guard, center and HALFBACK, but eventually the 6'4", 285 Gstrein landed the starting job at right guard over last year's starter, Ron Scoggins.  That's just...odd.

UNLV Roster All-Namers

#68 Tui Fakauho
#32 Mike Horsey
#57 Roscoe Kalilikane
#66 Bryson Mook
#63 J'Ondray Sanders
#42 Peni Vea

Some impressions from watching video of their fall scrimmage:

- Lots of multiple wide receiver shotgun sets shown.

- Nick Sherry is prone to a (more) horrible pass when he goes to a second receiver.

- No fans are in attendance.  Hot sun watching crappy football or deliciously cool casino playing cards?  That's no choice at all.

- When they did manage to complete a pass, the tackling was miserable.  Now imagine the bowling ball Kirkwood is running at them.

- I found myself staring at the mountains in the background a lot.

- Jerry Rice Jr. is on the team I guess.  Not a starter.  The video I watched called a pass out flat to Rice by Herring that he broke two tackles on and turned it into 15 yards the "offensive play of the day".


If I felt completely comfortable with our passing game I would say this is a 50-10 type of game.  While I like how Nelson has been throwing the ball in practice, I need to see it in a game before I jump in with both feet.  That being said, I didn't think much of UNLV before watching some video and reading up on them and I actually came away thinking they were worse than I originally thought.  The Gophers should be able to run at will and the defense shouldn't struggle too hard with Sherryball.  That poor converted tight end might have to go up against Hageman for the few plays he's able before his chest is caved it.  I'll say Gophers 34, UNLV 13.

What Others are Saying
These guys are saying it will be close and to take the +14 based on last year's game.  They don't know about #YEAR3 I guess.

Our guy Reusse keeping it classy.

So is he an idiot?  Here's his picture, decide for yourselves:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gopher Football Preview: The Defense

As usual, high levels of procrastination and just plain shitty planning have forced me to do one big defense preview rather than separate previews by position like I did with quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and offensive line.

Last season, the Gophers D was 45th in points against, allowing 24.7 points per game.  They were 33rd in yard allowed per game (358.6).  They were 12th in passing yards allowed per game (186),but were 72nd in rushing yards allowed per game (172).  On one hand you might say teams don't need to pass much when they're leading and are able to run the ball so well.  However, I tend to think that the offense didn't do them any favors, which left the defense on the field more than you'd want.  This isn't exactly a big time passing conference either.

The defense loses both starting cornerbacks in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudemire.  They also lose starting linebackers Keanon Cooper, Mike Rallis and more importantly, Mike Rallis's hair.  Finally, they lost starting defensive end DL Wilhite.  These losses are significant given that Stoudemire and Rallis were the top two tacklers, Carter was the team leader in interceptions and Wilhite led the team in sacks.

The Secondary

In reaction to losing Stoud and Carter, the secondary shuffled the deck a little.  The team's best returning tackler, Junior Derrick Wells, has been moved from safety to cornerback.  Unfortunately, Wells has shoulder and hamstring issues and is questionable for the UNLV game.  He's the best player of this group and is a key to make sure there isn't a drop-off from losing the two starting corners.  Sophomore Eric Murray is the other starting corner.  Both of these guys are 6 feet tall and can hit; they should be effective in helping against the run.  The starting safeties are Sr. Brock Vereen and Junior Cedric Thompson.  Cedric is straight outta Compton, which is pretty awesome.  Jr. Briean Boddy-Calhoun, So. Damarius Travis, Sr. Martez Shabazz and So. Antonio Johnson should provide depth in the secondary.  Freshman Jalen Myrick has also impressed, but you have to wonder if he isn't going to redshirt.  Boddy-Calhoun would likely get the start if Wells can't go -- he's a quick, aggressive corner that has impressed coaches in practice.  I think him of him as more as a cover guy than a tackler.  In a nickel formation, Boddy-Calhoun would move to the outside and Wells would bring his hard-hitting presence to the nickelback.  

This group has a lot to prove, but it *feels* like they have a great deal of talent.  I could just be drinking the Golden Kool Aid but I like the veteran presence of Wells and Vereen along with some athletes like Eric Murray and Thompson.  Wells needs to get healthy, and if that involves him missing the first game against UNLV, so be it.  A lingering shoulder issue could really affect his season. 
The Linebackers

Similar to the wide receivers on the offensive side; the linebackers are the area I have the most concern for on the defense.  It's not that Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis were all-world players, it's just that there is a lot of unknown and we're potentially looking at two players starting that weren't with the program at all last season.   Returning is RS Sr. Aaron Hill (6'2", 231) will definitely be a leader on the defense.  Last year he tied with Wells for 3rd on the team with 74 tackles; he also had three forced fumbles and two interceptions.  Hill's story is pretty cool because he started as a walk-on and is now one of the more important dudes on the team.

It looks like JuCo Jr. transfer Damien Wilson will start at the middle linebacker spot, but nothing is confirmed and redshirt freshman Jack Lynn may also see the field even if he's not named the starter. Wilson is bigger at 6'2, 254 -- Lynn is a more lanky 6'3", 234.  Claeys is playing this one close to the vest, "Like I’ve always said, if [Wilson] doesn’t practice well the next few days and Jack ends up starting, that’s the way the ball bounces,” Claeys said. “We don’t decide until the morning of the game." (source)

At the other outside linebacker spot there's another battle between Sr. James Manuel and JuCo transfer RS So. De'Vondre Campbell.  Manuel played in all 13 games last season and has actually appeared in every game in his three years at Minnesota.  Despite being fast, he is a converted safety after all, I've never got the feeling that he's totally comfortable at OLB and that at times he gets a little lost out there and maybe lacks immediate play recognition and quick reaction.  Manuel recorded 50 total tackles last year.  While Manuel will likely start on Thursday due to his veteran status, it's De'Vondre Campbell that has the coaches abuzz.  (abuzz?)  Like the MLB situation, Claeys has indicated that Campbell will get time even if he's not starting.  He's 6'5" and 225lbs and with his dreads has a bit of a MarQueis Gray look to him out there.  He's super long and rangy and coaches have been impressed with his ability to correct mistakes and see in infrared like the Predator.

Other linebackers that will likely see time include RSSo Jephte Matilus and RSFr Nick Rallis.  Freshmen Ray Dixon, De'Niro Laster and Chris Wipson have been mentioned by coaches as potentially earning playing time as well. 

The Defensive Line

The D-line starts but doesn't end with redshirt senior Ra'Shede Hageman.  If you follow this blog you already knew I was in love with him based on this blog post.  After he wrecks fools this year, you'll be watching him on Sundays.  There's more to like about this year's line beyond Optimus Prime though.

The other starter on the interior is RS Jr. Cameron Botticelli (6'5", 290).  Cameron started alongside Shede most/all of last season and recorded 21 tackles and a half of a sack.  He's a year older and likely better/stronger/faster and he continues to hold off the players behind him; so that's probably a good thing.  The depth at defensive tackle includes Sr. Roland Johnson (6'1", 286), So. Scott Ekpe (6'4", 281) and RS Fr. Yoshoub Timms (6'2", 276).  Roland played in 10 games last year and had 21 tackles and 2 sacks before blowing an ACL.  He's healthy now and will rotate in with Botticelli quite a bit I would imagine.  Ekpe is likely Hageman's backup, so we hope he doesn't play much.

As for the ends, the starters are RS So. Theiran Cockran (6'6", 238) and Jr. Michael Amaefula (6'2", 244).  Amaefula had 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season as a starter.  Cockran is new to starting, but had a couple of sacks in the August scrimmage.  The backups are So. Alex Keith, RS Jr. Ben Perry and freshman Hendrick (Hank) Ekpe. Perry has had his chances in the starting lineup and is a solid rotation option.  Ekpe (6'5",251) has impressed so much that there is no longer any doubt that he plays right away.  Another freshman, Owen Salzwedel (6'6", 240) has the potential to get playing time, but they might want to hold off and preserve his redshirt. 

Year 3 of the Jerry Kill regime seems to continue to trend upwards as we climb out of the Brewster cesspool. There seems to be so much more depth at all positions and stars and leaders are emerging on the team.  The B1G schedule did not get any easier this year though; and in order to really show that this team is making another big step forward, Kill will have to get a big win or *gasp* two over the legitimate Big Ten power programs.  I'm conditioned to say this won't happen because I've had my heart torn from my chest cavity too many times from this team.  However, there is a buzz not just locally, but nationally, about the strides the team is making.  "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." -Ronald Reagan

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Musings

A lot has happened recently.  I am writing about some of it.

-  Josh Perkins, #25 player in the class of 2014 and one of the top point guards committed to Gonzaga on Saturday.  This is meaningful because his final 3 were Gonzaga, UCLA, and the Gophers, even if the Gophers were a long shot given that he hadn't visited Minnesota in over a year.  Although the Gophers still remain in the running for many top 100 type recruits and others and are on a few Top 5 type lists, with each player that commits elsewhere you can feel Gopher fans' collective butthole pucker just a little bit tighter.

See, that's the thing about taking a gamble such as hiring a 31-year-old head coach with only 1 year of head coaching experience at a mid-major, it only ends up being a good gamble if it works out.  As much as it has been awesome seeing the Gophers pop up in a bunch of conversations with stud recruits, it's all for naught if the team ends up with nothing but a bunch of plan C fallback types it's going to add a lot of fuel to the fire that this was a bad hire for a Big Ten school, even if I don't believe that to be the case and I'm pretty sure all those people are either really old or really dumb (Dawger hi!) or big fat assholes.

I also don't think losing out on Josh Perkins is any reason to panic either, because the Gophers were pretty unlikely to get him anyway.  At this point a class of J.P. Macura, Lourawls Nairn, Wade Baldwin, Isaiah Whitehead or Rashad Vaughn, and Reid Travis, Paul White, or Josh Martin is both realistic and one of the best classes in Gopher history.  There are plenty of back-up options still out there that I'd be happy with as well.  Really, we're nowhere near time to panic.  Although as a lifelong Gopher fan I completely understand the impulse.  Really, I do.  I'm actually typing this while hiding under my bed. 

-  Speaking of Nairn, he's going to be on campus this weekend for an official visit, one of only three he's planning on taking (the other two are to Oklahoma and Indiana).  He'll be attending the big Gopher/UNLV football game along with two other recruits, 2014's J.P. Macura and 2015's Alex Illikainen so needless to say, it's a pretty big football game for Gopher hoops.  Not to mention that with Rashad Vaughn transferring to Findlay Prep in Nevada for his senior year UNLV has wormed their way into his Top 11 so there's a very real possibility that the winner of this game will vault to the lead for Vaughn's services.  Is it likely?  No.  It's a near certainty. 

-  In other commitment news class of 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay committed to Southern Methodist over the weekend.  This is significant for many reasons, but the main one is that the #2 PG and #5 overall player in the class (according to ESPN) will be attending SMU which is not Kansas or Duke or Kentucky.  SMU is his home school in Dallas, and no doubt that had a ton to do with it, as did the fact that the coach is Hall of Famer Larry Brown, but this is absolutely huge.  Not only is SMU about to have the best player in their history (I assume) but with Mudiay on board this early he can start working on other big-time recruits and sell them on Brown, SMU, and Dallas.  Now, no matter how fast the program rises Brown will get bored and bail in no more than 3 years because that's what he always does, but the next few years just got pretty interesting.  Tyus could do the same thing for the Gophers, but unfortunately I'm fairly certain that ship has sailed to Duketown.

-  I took WonderbabyTM, who is five years old now by the way, to see the movie Turbo over the weekend and I was pleasantly surprised.  Any time you can work in House of Pain's Jump Around, We are the Champions, Snoop Dogg, Eye of the Tiger, and an homage to Bad News Bears in Breaking Training you're generally looking at a winner.  Even if it was kind of stupid.  Because snails can't talk, you see.

-  Remember all that excitement about seeing some young Twins' prospects hit the major league level?  Ok maybe not excitement but it something more than boredom.  Interest, maybe?  Anyway, how horribly has that worked out?  Aaron Hicks - demoted twice, hitting .176 at Rochester and now on the DL.  Kyle Gibson - good debut, horrible since, no command whatsoever, and now back at AAA.  Only Oswaldo Arcia could be considered a success among the rookies mainly due to his young age (22) and his bat (6th in the AL among rookies in batting WAR), although his fielding has been such a disaster he's technically actually been worse than replacement level.  Chris Parmelee probably proved he's a AAAA guy once and for all, Vance Worley and Scott Diamond were disasters, Liam Hendriks was Liam Hendriks, and Cole De Vries disappeared.  You could get a little bit excited about Sam Deduno if you want, but really only because there's nothing else to grab onto here.  It's 2am at the bar, nobody better panned out, and suddenly taking Sam Deduno home is starting to look attractive.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Twins are drunk.

- It seems with E.J. Manuel hurt and Kevin Kolb's career possibly over there is the very real possibility that the Buffalo Bills will start undrafted free agent QB Jeff Tuel in Week 1 vs. New England (over Matt Leinart, which is in and of itself hilarious).  Tuel went to Washington State where he must not have been too shitty.  The real issue is for those in survivor leagues.  I have always made it a hard and fast rule to never take a road team in those, but with no real clear cut home team to pick the Patriots on the road against Tuel is really tempting.  Sometimes breaking the rules is exciting.

-  I just started watching Breaking Bad (I know, I know).  It's really freaking good.  Turns out sometimes the masses are actually correct.  I'm only 4 episodes in, but it's good to see Walt see the error of his ways and give up the drug trade.  I'm interested to see where the show goes from here with the drug angle eliminated.  Must be something pretty awesome, considering how much everybody loves the show.

-  Yesterday was my 13th Anniversary with Mrs. W (yes, we got married pretty young).  She's still hot, and she's still awesome.  Pretty cool.

-  I'm weirdly excited about college football, more than I ever have been before despite knowing almost nothing about it, to a shameful level.  All I really know is that the games are fun to gamble on, the player props are super fun to gamble on, the games are fun to watch before college basketball starts, and I'm rooting my ass off for Florida this year.  Why Florida you ask?  Good question.

Last year, probably February sometime, I was perusing one of the gambling sites I used and saw Florida at 20/1 to win the National Championship.  This was when the Gators were rolling and ranked in the top 5 and I was like whoa, 20/1 those are great odds!  Let me throw $50 down on that and we're goin' Sizzla!  A week or so later I go to look at what all bets I have pending and I notice that I accidentally bet on the Gators to win the FOOTBALL National Championship.  I don't even know if they're good, but they're in the SEC so as long as they can lose only once or less they should be in ok shape.  Also yes I was drinking that night.

-  Finally, this:

Also, this Skylar broad is kind of a buzzkill.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gopher Football Preview: O-Line

Campion Before
Campion After
One of the things that usually jumps out to me and my buddy @Frothygopher when we get down to practice is how fricken huge the offensive linemen are.  I've probably said it before, but I think Coach Klein and his guys really work wonders building the size and strength of their players.  To quantify this, let's look at their weights from when they were freshmen on rivals and what they're listed at now on the team's website. Also, I'm using the two-deep from our good friends at The Daily Gopher - see their projected two-deep depth chart here.  They know stuff, you should check out all of their shit.

Gopher Linemen Grow Big Like Bulls

Position Year Player HS Ht/Wt Current Ht/Wt Weight Gain
LT1 RS SR Ed Olson 6'7" 285 6'7" 309 24
LT2 RS JR Marek Lenkiewicz 6'5" 250 6'5" 289 39
LG1 RS JR Zac Epping 6'2" 274 6'2" 321 47
LG2 SO Joe Bjorklund 6'5" 285 6'5" 288 3
C1 SO Jon Christenson 6'4" 288 6'4" 306 18
C2 JR Tommy Olson 6'4" 275 6'4" 301 26
RG1 JR Caleb Bak 6'3" 255 6'3" 302 47
RG2 RS FR Isaac Hayes 6'3" 270 6'2" 304 34
RT1 RS SO Josh Campion 6'5" 265 6'5" 326 61
RT2 RS SO Foster Bush 6'5" 270 6'5" 303 33

Even with Bjorklund blowing the curve, the average weight gain is 33.2 lbs per player.  Campion's 61 pound increase is awesome.  Hayes going up 34 pounds in a year is just sick, but that guy is a monster anyway.

Two of the more interesting stories regarding the offensive line involve the Olson brothers.  At left tackle, Ed Olson has been pressed in practice by Marek Lenkiewicz and although there has been no announcement one way or another yet, many believe that Lenk will get the start against UNLV.

Tommy Olson after losing his job at left guard was asked to move over to center in the spring.  This move helps strengthen the team's depth after losing Zac Mottla to injury and with Brian Bobek looking like a medical redshirt this season.  Now the rumblings are not only is Olson doing a great job in practice, but he's also pushing Christenson for first team snaps.  Christenson had a nice year at center last season so I'm inclined to think he'll continue to hold the job, but it's a great thing to have competition in practice and to have some backups that aren't just another one of Brewster's 185lb sons or something.

Another note is that this team might not have a single starter that is a senior unless Ed Olson ends up back at LT.  Even so, many of them are experienced due to being pressed into action early in their college careers.  Besides the LT battle, I (and everyone else) can see Isaac Hayes playing sooner rather than later as the guy is just a bulldozer.  The feeling here is the line is trending up in year three and hopefully this shows on the field. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Welcome Aboard, Rakeem Buckles!

 In a move that has been long confirmed without being confirmed due to some academic hurdles that needed to be taken care of, Rakeem Buckles has now officially joined your Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball squadron (according to, uh, someone), and is now awaiting clearance from the NCAA to be immediately eligible to begin play next season (which would be his one and only year of eligibility left which is good because of all those top prospects fighting to join the team in 2014).  Because this is clearly a case of a player wanting to play for a specific coach who keeps moving around (Buckles has followed Rich Pitino from Louisville to FIU and now to Minnesota) I'd say this is a slam dunk waiver case, but the NCAA is a bunch of misguided fascists who once banned the world's greatest receiver for an entire year because he had lunch with Deion Sanders, so who knows.  I'd still say he's likely to join the team, and that's good news because depth up front is the #1 issue for the team this season.

Buckles is a slightly undersized four at 6-7, 215 lbs. but can make up for that with elite athleticism if his knees will allow him to not be Maurice Creek.  He's dealt with two ACL tears so far in his short career, and the health of those knees should decide if he's a major contributor and key to the team, or merely a rotation player.  Either way, this is a big pick-up for the team because it gives them a fourth interior player, but hopefully he got the Kobe blood platelet thing and he's back to 100%, because he certainly flashed a lot of potential prior to the knee thing at Louisville.

Buckles joined Louisville his freshman season as the #78 recruit in the country and 26th best power forward according to ESPN.  He was described as an incredible athlete who was too quick for power forwards to handle and too strong for small forwards to deal with.  His biggest strength was his ability to combine that athletic ability with his great ball-handling skills for someone his size in order to get to the rim almost at will.  That season he played 11 minutes per game for Louisville, averaging 4 pts and 3 rebounds per game, finishing first on the team in offensive rebounding percentage and second in defensive.  He looked like he was starting to put it together in his sophomore year, averaging 7 pts and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes and adding an outside shot to his game (42% on 3s after attempting just six the prior year).  He was the top rebounder percentage-wise on both sides of the ball for the Cardinals, and his DR% was 2nd in the Big East and then bang crash oops knee = dead.  After coming back post-injury he played in limited minutes and limited games for Louisville before transferring to FIU at season's end where it happened again.

There are a million questions with what Buckles can do.  If he had never gotten injured and was just transferring here I'd be like omg, but he did get hurt not only once, but twice.  Maurice Creek basically lost all his athletic ability when that happened to him, but plenty of other players have been able to bounce back to be either the same or near it.  And if he did lose that elite athletic ability, what if he's a dead eye outside shooter now?  He clearly worked on it between his freshman and sophomore year, so who's to say that will all these missed games and a season on the bench he hasn't been doing nothing but shooting?  And what if he did add the jumper and managed to keep the athleticism?  What if he didn't improve his jumper and also can't jump?

Buckles could literally be anything from the fourth big man to a star and I wouldn't be surprised.  It mostly depends on the knees.  I couldn't even begin to guess, but a fourth option in the paint is a definite good thing.  Perhaps I should be more optimistic considering Buckles becomes the all-time leading college scorer among the four options (Buckles 273, Eliason 174, Walker 111, Buggs 0) but two knee surgeries in a little over two years scares the hell out of me.  I can't shake Maurice Creek.  I just can't.  I hope he's healthy, and I hope if he's not 100% he's reinvented himself as a shooter.  Either of those are good.  I'll just concentrate on those things.

Gopher Football WR/TE Preview

AJ Serpico

This is the preview that should strike fear into the hearts of all Gopher fans.  Last year, our top WR went Serpico on the team and faded off into bolivian.  With Barker laying fingers to keyboard to let us know coaches yell sometimes; the team was forced to move on with a freshman QB learning on the job and throwing to a group of WRs that were all asked to do more.

In Nelson's second game at QB he threw for 246 yards and 3 TDs.  Barker caught two of the TDs and accounted for 125 of the yards.  The next 5 games were without Barker and resulted in passing totals of 142, 78, 59, 61 and 138 yards for Nelson.

So, we need dudes to step up in a big way if we expect to have any kind of passing threat in 2013. There are some veterans that haven't caught any/many passes in their careers and there are some underclassmen that are either coming off of injuries or love the sweet sticky icky.

One must also pay close attention to the tight ends in Matt Limegrover's offense.  This could be an area of depth and strength for the Gophers and really be a safety valve for Phillip Nelson.

Senior Derrick Engel is the returning receiver with the most yardage in 2012 amassing 375 yards on 18 catches.  He had a great Meineke Car Care Bowl with 4 catches for 108 yards and became a solid deep threat.  Engel is  6'2", 187 lbs out of  Chaska and transferred to the Gophers from Winona State.  He has good hands and seems to be able to find open spaces in the defense.  By no means does he overwhelm you with speed and athleticism though.  He's confident in this team's receivers though, “It’s definitely motivating to us to prove people wrong,” Engel said. “Our goal is to lead the Big Ten in receiving. We’ve got to shoot for the stars, if we want to make a run at this thing [as a team].” (source)

Junior Isaac Freuchte is a more imposing wide receiver at 6'3" and 204 lbs.  His 19 receptions in 2012 are the most for a returning receiver.  Freuchte has value as a run blocker and should be able to use his size to make plays.  Again though, this is not a player that has a lot of explosion.  I saw in that sourced link above he was listed as a 4.4 in the 40 yard dash (as was Engel), but I'm not buying it.

Jamel Harbison blew his knee in his first game as a freshman against UNLV last year and was granted a medical red-shirt.  Harbison is the perfect slot receiver.  He's 5'11", 199lbs and has great agility, quickness and hands.  Getting a full year out of Jamel and production from the slot could be a huge boost to this offense.  I'd really like him to step up and be a top receiving option.

KJ Maye is even a bit smaller than Harbison and also operates in the slot, but he's more compact and low to the ground like a running back.  Maye is a swiss army knife of a player; playing running back, receiver and returner.  He'll even throw the occasional pass or two due to his HS quarterback background.  As a freshman he had 17 carries for 57 yards and 11 catches for 49 yards.  He's a good option on screens and in the flats and has some ability to break plays open, although we didn't see a ton of that in his first year.  Both he and Harbison will see a lot of time on the field.

Andre McDonald caught ten balls as a freshman last year but was suspended for the bowl game for violating team rules.  He missed the entire spring dealing with "personal issues", but returned for fall practice.  He's 6'2" and 200lbs and is a vertical threat.  Unfortunately, in the last few days he's once again found himself suspended -- this time for the remainder of fall camp.  So sound the sad bugle and look elsewhere for explosive deep threats.  He's still on the team at this point and I pray to the sweet baby Jesus he gets his shit together and can get on the field; but it doesn't look pretty.

There are a ton of other names on the roster; some of which are upperclassmen that have the opportunity to step forward and show something after a few lackluster years with the Gophers where they either haven't had the opportunity or haven't done anything when an opportunity was presented to them.  RS JR Logan Hutton, RS SR Victor Keise and RS JR Cameron Wilson are vets to watch -- and by watch I mean probably watch them stand on the sideline (but you never know!).   Freshemen Drew Wolitarsky, Brian Smith and Eric Carter some new blood to look out for.  RS SO Aaron Marmer is a transfer from Air Force, which is a WR hot bed.  Obviously it would be ideal if you didn't have to keep burning red-shirts, but the Gophers will reach for anyone that can make some plays at this point.  Marmer and Wolitarsky are white dudes, so keep an eye for them as they appear to pop up like weeds in this system. 

The tight ends are big, athletic and I think pretty deep with both blocking and receiving options.  Junior Drew Goodger (6'5", 265lbs) returns after recording 13 grabs last season playing alongside John Rabe.  Goodger can both block and catch the ball.  Lincoln Plsek (6'4", 265lbs) returns after playing 8 games as a freshman last season; recording 3 catches.  Redshirt Freshman Maxx Williams (6'4", 254lbs) gets his first crack and looks to be a dynamic threat in the receiving game.  He really goes up and gets the ball nicely.

RSJR Alex Bisch (6'6", 251lbx), RSSR Sahr Ngekia (6'4", 236lbs) and RSFR Duke Anyawu (6'4", 241) fill out the group and will handle some h-back work as well.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention 6'9", 258lb freshman Nate Wozniak.  He looks like a skyscraper running across the middle in pass patterns and it's awesome.  He needs to add weight, especially in the upper body and I'd be shocked if he didn't redshirt.  Just hope that you don't have to sit behind where he's standing on the sidelines at home games.

Popular opinion is that this team is going to grind it out in the run game and not rely on the pass much.  Running the ball certainly seems to be a strength.  However, one dimensional teams get eaten alive, especially in Big Ten play.  The Gophers don't need to throw it 30+ times or be bombing the ball deep, but they do need to be efficient and need to at least have threats in the passing game in order to progress up to and beyond a 6 win team.  Personally, I'd like to see them use these first four games against teams they should beat to develop the passing game more and hopefully find out what works and more importantly who can get the job done out there. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Is Andrew Albers like, good?

Ok, let's get the obvious out the way right up front - he's had two starts, one he he lasted 8 and 1/3 innings and gave up no runs, and another was a complete game shutout.  That's pretty crazy.  He's just the 63rd pitcher to give up zero runs in his first two career starts, and the combined 17.1 innings is the 17th longest scoreless streak ever by a starter to begin his career, and the longest since the immortal John Hiller in 1967.  Crazy, crazy stuff, especially coming from an unlikely source.  Of course the downside is that the list isn't exactly full of big names (Phil Niekro and Mike Norris are probably the biggest) and some of the more recent pitchers to pull the two game thing off haven't exactly gone on to bigger things (Josh Collmenter, Vin Mazzarro, and Alex Sanabia, to name a few).  So the big question - is Andrew Albers, like, good?

He was never really considered any kind of prospect, signing with the Twins as a minor league free agent after a year with the Padres' rookie ball squad and spending a season playing for Quebec in an Independent League in Canada.  His minor league numbers are fantastic, however, putting up a career ERA of 2.64 and WHIP of 1.15 in 5 seasons, and while limiting walks and homers and striking out 7.7 batters per nine innings including 7.9 per at Rochester prior to being called up.  Setting up like a nice diamond in the rough story, eh?  And his pro results obviously have been a fantastic, but let's look at this with some nerd stats.

A fastball topping out at 87mph and a K/9 mark of 2.09 right now both scream fluke, as does being a starter who pitches from the stretch at all times (what's up with that?).  Add in a BABIP of .113 and a LOB % of 100% and everything says regression to the mean is going to hit this kid and hit him really, really hard.  Then again, that's what I thought after start #1, and start #2 was even better.

Now, if you aren't striking batters out, the other way to have some success is to get a ton of groundballs and not to walk anybody.  His 49% ground ball rate would put him at 21st in the majors if he had enough innings.  Very good.  His walk rate of 1.7% would be the best in the majors, halving the 3.4% of major league leaders David Price and Adam Wainwright.  Perhaps even more importantly to his success this far is when he's not getting ground balls he's not getting hit hard, with a line drive rate of just 11%, 5% better than league leader Stephen Strasburg.  And, of course, he has yet to allow a fly ball to leave the yard, despite even the best pitchers usually seeing about 5% of their fly balls going out (he's only allowed 21 fly balls period, so this is one to watch).  Could he sustain this? (Obviously not, but I mean something close enough to it to be a permanent fixture in the rotation)

Albers so far has thrown 58% of his pitches in the strike zone, which would be by far the highest percentage of all starting pitchers in the majors.  Of those strikes, 63% have been swung at which is a pretty low rate, and he's getting nobody to chase the balls out of the zone (just 27% have been swung at).  Batters are also making contact with the balls they swing at in the zone at a 94.5% rate, worse even than noted soft-tosser Bronson Arroyo.  Everything about his advanced stat profile screams to me that he's getting extremely lucky so far.

That being said, I'm not going to write him off either.  If he can continue to not walk anybody (likely), continue to get a lot of ground balls (pretty likely), and keep the ball in the park (less likely) he could still find some success.  If he can figure out how to strike batters out, we could really have something here.  I would say he's got no chance at bringing up the Ks with that fastball at this level, but his AAA numbers were good so maybe there's something back there somewhere.

I guess the answer to the question, "Is Andrew Albers like, good?" is "probably not."  But note the "probably".  His two starts are historically amazing, but it's likely once teams get more tape and figure him out and his luck evens out he's going to get pounded.  There does, however, exist the possibility that he's one of those rare pitchers who defy the advanced metrics, as he has so far.  Hope for a back-of-the-rotation mainstay who can give you a season worth of 4.00 ERA year after year.  But expect worse.

OTHER TWINS NOTE WORTH NOTING:  In the blockbuster Drew Butera trade the Gophers received the infamous "Player to be Named Later."  That player has now been named and it's Miguel Sulbaran.  Sulbaran is a lefty starter at the Dodgers' Single-A affiliate, and at just 19 years old put up some pretty solid numbers - 3.01 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and an 85/27 K/BB ratio.  He started young at 17 in rookie ball and through these years has an ERA of 3.21, WHIP of 1.19, and K/BB ratio of 206/59.  Awfully good numbers for his age and level.  He was actually named the #14 prospect in the Dodger system earlier this season.  All this for Drew Butera?  Considering getting anything other than "cash consideration" would have felt like a win, this feels like an outright steal.

GOPHER NOTE WORTH NOTING:  According to a source close enough to know, since the Richard Pitino hire Reid Travis is now "seriously considering" the Gophers.  I know this is sort of something everyone has kind of pieced together and some recruiting experts have said the same thing, but it was kind of cool to hear it confirmed.   Plus I wanted to act all cool because I have a source.  A one time only source, but a source.  I'm so big time.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gopher Football: RB Preview

Pop Quiz:  Who was the last 1,000 yard rusher for your Golden Gophers?

Answer: In 2006 Amir Pinnix ran for 1,272 yards.  2006 was the last of 8 consecutive seasons with a runner getting at least 1,000 yards under Glen Mason.  Some quick "where-are-they-now-according-to-googling" shows that Pinnix now works as a commodity trader for Cargill in his home town of Raleigh.  So he's putting that business marketing degree to good work.

What followed of course was that Glen was let go and left the recruiting cupboard pretty bare.  Then Brewster showed up, took a shit in the cupboard, and set it on fire.

2013 has the potential to see a return to those 1,000 yard rushing days.  In 2012, Donnell Kirkwood ran for 926 yards and 6 touchdowns.  Now a red-shirt junior, Kirkwood is a 5'10" 223lb bowling ball that does damage between the tackles.  He averaged 4.25 yards per carry last season and is more of a grinder than a big play guy.  Here's his longest run of 2012:

Kirkwood has the right attitude about the upcoming season, "Everybody keeps talking about this is a 1,000-yard season," Kirkwood said. "As long as I'm a productive running back, it really doesn't matter how many yards I get." (source)  He seems like a humble, hard-working guy and that makes him fun to cheer for.  Follow him on twitter @Tonka_Toy20 believes Kirkwood could draw some NFL interest due to his style of play: "Thick, powerful, between-the-tackles runner who led the team in rushing as a sophomore with 926 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 218 carries. Possesses some natural explosiveness and good vision, and could draw attention from NFL teams looking for a one-cut, zone-scheme runner to add to their backfield."

Kirkwood apparently got those powerful legs in part because of Donnell Sr's welding skills. In this Joe Christensen article we learn that Donnell Sr. built a sled out of steel for his son to drag around. 

Donnell isn't the only power back on the roster though.  As a freshman last year, Rodrick Williams ran for 261 yards and 2 touchdowns.  His 4.6 yards per carry was better than Kirkwood's and I think that he has a little more flash to his game.  At 5'11", 235 lbs he has a similar build to the starter.  Nugget's biggest game was probably the Meineke Car Care Bowl game against Texas Tech where he ran for 60 yards and a TD on 12 carries.  Williams was pressed into service rather than red-shirting last season.  This was due to other players, namely James Gillum not being able to carry the load that was originally expected.

Oh, and if you don't already know, he's nicknamed Nugget because he apparently ate 50 chicken nuggets in a sitting when he visited the school.  Which is pretty awesome.

With two bruisers the Gophers are in need of some speed in the backfield.  Last season, we saw David Cobb, Devon Wright and even wide-receiver KJ Maye attempt to fill that change of pace rolem, but all were largely ineffective.  This year, we might very well see a lot of true freshman Berkley Edwards in that role.  Edwards is a diminutive 5'9" and 190 lbs, but has exceptional acceleration and speed.  Coming from Novi, Michigan Edwards was a 3-star recruit and a top 70 running back in the nation.  His older brother, Braylon Edwards said it was a big mistake that Michigan didn't recruit 

Additional depth will be provided by James Gillum (Sr), David Cobb (Jr), Cole Banham (RSJr) and JoJuan Harper (RSSo).  Although I believe Harper is not on the 105 man roster.

Of course, a big part of the Limegrover offense is a running quarterback.  Between Gray (390) and Nelson (184) there was nearly 600 rushing yards (you add it) to be had from the QB position. I expect we'll approach that number again with Nelson and Mitch Leidner scampering about.  

Other Preview(s) available:

QB Preview

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gophers Recruiting Update

PG Ja'Quan Newton, a big Gopher target and a player who seemed like a pretty realistic get (and was ranked as the #41 recruit in the country) committed to Miami.  Although this makes sense considering Miami is coming off it's best season in history, their offensive system just turned Shane Larkin from an afterthought to an NBA first round pick, the weather is awesome, and the coeds are hot, it also doesn't make sense because god dammit I wanted Newton. 

At one point it seemed like Newton and Isaiah Whitehead, the #35 recruit and #10 shooting guard in the country, were considering playing together in college, even tweeting hints out to that effect, and it was looking like the Gophers were the leader for the package deal with some recruiting experts predicting that would be the outcome.  With Newton off the board, suddenly predictions are that Whitehead ends up at Syracuse, although the Gophers did make his Top 6 list when he narrowed it down (or maybe he didn't, depending on who you ask) so they're still in the mix, but suddenly things look less rosy.

There's plenty of recruiting news, good and bad, going on right now as well (and you can read up on a lot of the players involved right here).  Sandy Cohen committed to Marquette (probably to get away from that drunk Kirsten).  Kaleb Joseph narrowed his list to three and it did not include the Gophers, as did Abdul-Malik Abu.  Terry Larrier put the Gophers in his top 10, but when he listed the four schools he definitely wants to visit Minnesota wasn't included, although Josh Robinson did say he was planning on visiting Minnestoa.  Josh Perkins cut his list to five and did include the Gophers, and he's an interesting case because from what I've read it sounds like his two leaders are Gonzaga and UCLA, and he's a kid who was talking package deal with Rashad Vaughn at one point.  If Perkins picks Gonzaga, that's good news because Vaughn isn't considering going to the Zags.  If he picks UCLA, that should make Gopher fans just a tick more nervous since the Bruins are on Vaughn's list.  Of course, if Perkins picks the Gophers?  Well, then we dance.

The Gophers still haven't signed anybody for 2014 and as much as I hate to admit this because it's really, really stupid my panic meter has ticked up just a tiny bit.  As optimistic as I am about Pitino and like a lot of the positive recruiting things he's doing, there's still a little part of me just waiting for this whole thing to blow up in the bad way.  I just want one signing.  What can I say?  I've been a Minnesota fan my whole life, expecting the worst is second nature.

Since Richard Pitino doesn't sleep, a few more offers have gone out for 2014.  The players (rankings are ESPN and Rivals):

SF Kyle Kuzma, Burton, MI (NR/NR):  Kuzma is a late riser who has suddenly been garnering a ton of attention from schools like UCONN and Missouri recently.  Kuzma grew up a short point guard, but grew to 6-7 between his freshman and senior years and as such brings perimeter skills to a front court body which makes me love him a little tiny bit.  It's impossible at this point to say who I would want on the Gophers the most because there are so many good players on the list, but I would definitely be happy with Kuzma.  The scouting reports I've read and description of his game reminds me a lot of Francisco Garcia, and man did I love me some Francisco Garcia. 

PF Bonzie Colson, New Bedford, MA (NR/NR):  Colson is undersized for a PF at just 6-5, but is described as a "crafty" scorer with an "old school" game which means he likes to use the backboard.  The descriptions of Colson remind me a lot of Kuzma in that he may not be a highlight reel waiting to happen but he has the skills to get things done against players who maybe pass the eye test a bit more.  I love that Pitino is shooting for the stars and going after 4 and 5 star guys who are highly ranked, but if that doesn't work out you can build a really nice team out of guys like Kuzma and Colson.  Plus Colson also ranks high on the "hard worker" and "does the little things" meter and Minnesota fans eat that shit up.  I am pretty sure I read he was planning on giving the U one of his official visits but I can't find where I read it now so I could be wrong.  Let's assume I'm right.

PG Quentin Snider, Louisville, KY (#28/31):  Speaking of shooting for the stars, Snider is the one of the highest ranked players Pitino is going after, but with good reason.  Snider originally committed to Louisville after his sophomore year when Richard Pitino was coaching there so there's already an established relationship.  When Snider de-committed from the Cardinals a couple weeks ago the first coach to reach out to him and offer was the Gophers' Pitino.  That is all great stuff and hopefully gives the Gophers an extra advantage.  They're probably going to need it, because a player ranked this highly is going to draw major interest from some very good programs.  The stench of Tom Crean is already creeping about.

SF Milik Yarbrough, Zion, IL (NR/NR):  Anywhere you look for info on Milik he's described as a scorer with a pretty diverse offensive game.  That's the positive descriptions.  The negative go more along the lines of "never met a shot he didn't like", "inconsistent effort", and "streaky" which are all code words for chucker which makes sense because his brother is Vincent Yarbrough, formerly of Tennessee and the Denver Nuggets, and he was an all-time chucker.  Now, chuckers aren't all necessarily evil (Vincent Grier was a chucker) but in general I'll pass on that type of player.  Then again, I usually hate weird alternate spellings of names but I kind of dig on Milik so who knows. 

PF Josh Martin, Bothell, WA (#92/NR):  Despite being a west coast guy, Martin recently narrowed his list and his home school of Washington was the only one to make the cut from out there(others:  Minnesota, Florida State, Pitt, and Oklahoma State - that is a crazy weird diverse set of schools).  Martin sounds like the perfect big for the system Pitino wants to install since he's described as an athletic player who can run the floor and can step out and hit a perimeter jumper.  I can't find any more information on him because Josh Martin is way too common of a name. 

PG Lourawls Nairn, Bel Aire, KS (NR/#61):  Yet another point guard reciprocating Pitino's love, Nairn goes by "Tum Tum" and I actually can't decide whether that would be more or less awkward than calling him Lourawls.  Nairn sounds like he's out of the T.J. Ford/Jacque Vaughn (well ok, probably more like Lewis Jackson) mold where he's short and lightning quick with a terrible jumper.  Obviously that can work in college basketball and work well, depending on the player's ability and willingness to use that quickness to get into the paint and then find open teammates.  According to his scouting reports that's pretty much his game, so you can sign me up.  I just have to figure out what to call him.  Maybe the Fresh Prince since he's from Bel Aire, Kansas.  Don't act like you don't love it.

PG Nate Mason, Snellville, GA (NR/NR):  What a surprise, another point guard.  Not that I disapprove, it's just like, whoa.  I can't find a scouting report for Mason anywhere without having to pay for it, but his nickname is apparently "The Assassin" which obviously is pretty cool.  The majority of his offers right now are from schools like Virginia, Clemson, LaSalle, and George Mason, so right now I would have to assume Mason is more of a back-up plan than a true priority target.  So hopefully he's not a Gopher next season.

PG Omega Harris, Bethany, OK (NR/NR):  Another unranked point guard, Harris at least has offers from Wichita State and Oklahoma and an actual scouting report so I already like him better than Mason.  And reading said scouting report this guy sounds like Pitino's perfect point guard,

"Harris is an attacking point guard that is a very good athlete that excels on the break where he is a crafty finisher. He beats defenders off the bounce with a an excellent first step. Harris can get to the rim and hit the rythum dribble pull up or three in addition to knocking the open three off the catch with time. Harris has a good handle and matching court vision in drive, draw and kick or drop off situations. He gets teammates scoring opportunities with his ability to penetrate and create help situations. Harris can score but is very unselfish as well. He also sets the tone with his ability to pressure the ball defensively."

I'm pretty sure that's exactly how he'd draw up his dream point guard.  Plus, again, sweet name.

Clearly this latest group of recruits to get offers is a step down from the previous batch that went out like crazy, but it's a good solid approach by Pitino.  Try to hit the home run (or multiple home runs) but also make sure to cover the players' who may not be the tops nationally but whose skills fit what you're trying to do.  The next step down is players who don't fit what  you're trying to do or who kind of suck, so it would be very good to try to avoid those.  Seriously though, if he ends up missing on all his high profile targets, a recruiting class of SF Kuzma, PF Colson, SG Macura, and PG Nairn or Harris won't crack the national rankings and might feel like a disappointment, but that would be a pretty solid group to build around.

I'm already rationalizing.  I hate being a Gopher fan sometimes.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is Brian Dozier like, good?

Back on June 19 I wrote about some of the Twins' and how they'd looked so far this season and said I had pretty much given up on Brian Dozier being a future building block for the Twins.  Lately, it seems like Dozier has been in the news almost constantly and pretty much always positively, always seeming to be getting big hits.  It made me wonder if I was wrong, and maybe Dozier was starting to figure some things out at the plate.  So I checked it out:

Pre All-Star Break:  .235/.310/.386
Post All-Star Break: .226/.273/.403

So yeah.  I'm still right and this guy still sucks.  He's just been "clutch" in the past week or so and it's making everybody fall in love with his scruffy beard scruff.  Turns out his future is maybe as a utility guy in the mold of Denny Hocking or Jeff Reboulet with less plate discipline and more power.  And he's hitting lead off this year.  Obviously everything is going according to plan.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Minnesota Gophers Football: QB 2013 Preview


In 2012, the Gophers started the season in a somewhat comfortable position.  With senior QB MarQueis Gray back at quarterback there was hope that he would live up to high expectations and have a big final season with the Gophers.  Of course, it all went to hell and we ended up with true freshman Philip Nelson picking up the pieces and starting in his first bowl game; a very close loss to Texas Tech.

Injuries forced Jerry Kill to adjust and thanks to a solid defense and some early wins, the Gophers ended up 6-7.  In the end Philip Nelson got 7 games under his under his belt and gained valuable experience. This is especially important since the Red Romper Max Shortell decided to transfer to Jacksonville State when he saw that he wasn't Chandler Harnish-y enough.

2012 Passing
Peter Mortell211100.055.000
MarQueis Gray11593457.64728.025
Max Shortell71166556.08537.456
Philip Nelson71527549.38735.788
KJ Maye11100.000.000

Nelson led the Gophers in passing yardage, TDs and INTs despite completing just 49.3% of his passes.  Nelson also ran for 252 yards (184 net) which is an important piece of Matt Limegrover's offense.  Last year we saw him Leroy Hoard his head into the line repeatedly like a fullback. 

His consistency obviously needs to improve in order for the Gophers to reach new heights in 2013.  At times his touch was immaculate and he was able to put the ball right in the receivers hands.  Check out the touch on these long passes against Purdue last season:

Ah glory day - man they were great that game.  By all accounts Nelson has been a leader in the off-season and continues to improve in practices.  Kill mentioned that with Nelson getting some experience last year and Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler behind him, "[W]e feel good about our quarterback situation and we feel like that's going to be a strength down the road here."  Nelson was on point in the Gopher spring game, completing 10-10 passes in the first half and 13-17 for the game (thanks to some awful drops).  His 179 yards passing exceeded each of his last 4 starts in 2012.  He also ran for 31 yards int he spring game. 

Red-shirt freshman Mitch Leidner is the back-up to Nelson.  He's listed at 6'4" and a beastly 233 pounds out of Lakeville, MN.  Leidner is a guy that gets a ton of credit from coaches for his work ethic and ability in practice. 

Matt Limegrover describes Leidner's improvement in the running game (source):  "But he's a great example of a guy who, if you just looked at the stopwatch, you would not think he's a very good runner," Limegrover said. "Mitch is that rare case when he puts the pads on he maintains if not gets a little (faster). I can't explain it. He knew to be able to run our offense he had to be able to run and be more athletic. I give him credit because he really worked on it."

Recently the coaching staff has given more and more indications they want to use Leidner from time to time in games.  "You don't want your starter getting hit all the time," coach Jerry Kill said at his pre-camp news conference Tuesday. "If there's a deal where you can sprinkle somebody in there, then that helps you later on down the road." Henceforth, we shall call Mitch "The Sprinkle".  

It gets a little murky after the top two.  Freshmen Chris Streveler and Donovahn Jones are possibilities, but they are also going to be tried at WR.  This scares me for our WR group considering we have several with experience that are seemingly brushed aside.  Streveler is a 6'2", 209 lb dual threat type QB out of Marian Central Catholic in Illinois.  As a senior he combined for 48 total TDs with just 4 INTs.  He had 1200+ rushing and nearly 2700 passing yards.  At this point he's more of a runner than QB, but he's a freshman.

Streveler at the Spring Game

Donovahn Jones is a 6'3" 190lb quarterback out of Stockbridge, GA.  Jones is also a 3 star guy according to Rivals and a dual threat QB.  He had 1600 passing and 600 rushing as a senior.  He also caught a few passes, so maybe he has some receiving skills that can be honed.  Ideally, neither of the freshman QBs are relied upon so they can be red-shirted this season.  If both Nelson and Leidner go down, we're screwed, people.