Leading up to the start of the 2016 season, we’ll preview three key factors for every B1G team to have success.
Here are Minnesota’s:
1. Cater the offense to Mitch Leidner
Minnesota has attempted to be too cute offensively in the past. Even Leidner will tell you that the playbook’s complexity and constant change made it tough to get into a rhythm.
That’s been eliminated. Or so we’ve heard.
RELATED: Can Minnesota be this year’s Iowa?
New offensive coordinator Jay Johnson has trimmed the fat from an overloaded playbook and is instituting a more simplistic scheme that should allow his quarterback to excel. That’s a good thing for an offense that couldn’t quite gain its footing last fall.
Leidner has looked more mobile following foot surgery this spring and his accuracy has continued to improve each season. He’s a multi-threat option and lethal weapon when used appropriately. In a structured system catered to his talents, the senior quarterback should flourish in 2016 which should translate to drastic improvements across the board for the Minnesota offense.
In the B1G, the Gophers ranked 13th in points scored (22.5), 12th in total offense (358.9) and 11th in rush offense (144.1) last season.
2. Sprint out of the gate
First quarters were an issue for Minnesota last year. Outscored 75-37 by opponents, the Gophers were caught in an uphill battle most of the season. Lacking much offensive firepower, deficits in the opening 15 minutes were difficult to overcome.
The Gophers need to be better from the opening kickoff. They don’t have the same talent that other B1G teams possess. The offense isn’t built to score at will and overcome big deficits. For Minnesota to be successful it needs to be within striking distance.
When they won eight games in 2014, they outscored opponents 90-86 in first quarters. That’s going to be a better formula for success in 2016.
In the remaining three quarters, Minnesota played its competition evenly, slightly outscoring opponents 255-252. Getting off to quicker starts is important for the Gophers if they hope to reach the eight-win mark that Tracy Claeys guaranteed in the spring.
3. Identify a defensive leader
Minnesota has some really nice pieces ready to step in for key contributors Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Eric Murray and Theiren Cochran who have departed. But it still lacks headliners on defense.
Jalen Myrick had a breakout year as a junior, intercepting three passes and totaling 27 tackles last year. Rejoining the Gophers is Damarius Travis after missing the 2015 season with injury. That’s a good foundation for rebuilding a depleted secondary. But how will they perform in a more primary role?
Up front, Minnesota has some nice talent, too. Scott Ekpe, Merrick Jackson and Steven Richardson could all become household names if they live up to their potential. Jack Lynn and Cody Poock provide some stability at linebacker, as well.
The Gophers are loaded with good players, but will anyone emerge as a great defender this fall? That question might be answered relatively quickly, but for now, everyone still has something to prove.
Minnesota will have another solid defensive season in 2016. Finding a few guys to exceed expectations could lead the Gophers to their best defensive year in a long time.