Three keys for Minnesota in 2015
How does Minnesota follow up what might’ve been its best season in half a century? Well, by doing it again, of course. The Gophers played in what turned out to be a Big Ten semifinal in Madison last year. Here’s how they can return to that game and get over the hump.
Fill big skill player holes
The NFL departures David Cobb and Maxx Williams leave Minnesota without its two most consistent options on offense. Wide receiver Isaac Fruechte is playing for Minnesota’s NFL team and versatile threat Donovahn Jones transferred. That means K.J. Maye and Drew Wolitarsky are the only returners who had double-digit catches in 2014. That prompted Jerry Kill to switch former four-star running back Jeff Jones to receiver. Kill went so far as to say backup quarterback Chris Streveler could see practice time at wideout. Kill might also mix things up at tailback, where he’ll have to replace Cobb’s 1,626 rushing yards. Rodrick Williams Jr. emerged as the favorite out of camp, but Berkley Edwards (brother of former Michigan All-American Braylon Edwards) and Rodney Williams will also have regular roles in the backfield. The Gophers don’t lack skill, but they will have relatively unproven options all over the offensive depth chart.
More efficient quarterback play
Kill’s offense doesn’t need a signal-caller to throw for 300 yards a game to be successful. It does, however, need somebody that can manage a game and stretch the defense. Mitch Leidner was a game manager in his first full season as the Gopher starter. But despite only attempting less than 20 throws per contest, he was last in the Big Ten in completion percentage. Without the likes of safety blankets Cobb and Maxx Williams, that’ll have to change in 2015. Kill acknowledged that Leidner needed to become a more confident passer and said he showed noticeable growth after attending Peyton Manning’s camp. If the Gophers want dethrone a high-powered team like Wisconsin, they’ll have to get more consistency under center.
Midseason mode in Week 1
There’s two ways to think about Minnesota’s season opening showdown against No. 2 TCU. The first is that the Gophers benefit from having an entire offseason to prepare for what many feel will be the nation’s best offense. The other is that they’ll have to be in midseason form immediately, or they’ll be embarrassed at home on national TV. Whichever perspective Gopher fans have, they wouldn’t mind seeing a better showing than last year’s 30-7 drubbing against TCU, one Kill called the worst loss of the season. With Heisman favorite Trevone Boykin leading the Horned Frogs, the room for error will be small again. Minnesota was one of the best in the country against the pass last year, and with the return of Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray, the secondary will be the defensive backbone. Plenty of hype will surround the headliner matchup. Minnesota will need a nearly flawless effort to live up to it.