Sunday, November 07, 2004

Do the Vikings Have Gophers' Mojo?

While tomorrow is always a day a way, Monday will actually arrive tomorrow. That means that tomorrow we will know what we do not know today, whether the Vikings will bring home the bacon bits the way the Gophers did yesterday. If so, the Vikings will complete what many anticipated on Friday.


Yesterday, the Gopher football team lost to the Wisconsin Badgers in convincing fashion. Apologists will assert that the Gophers were facing the number six team in the country, on the road, and that "the Gophers never quit." The first two observations are fact, the latter is sheerly dilusional as the Gophers have failed to show for any game--save the home game against the lowly Illini--since their loss at Michigan.

Apologists will ask us to ignore the fact that at the beginning of the season, Glen Mason and most of the Big Ten coaches considered the Gophers a serious contender for the Big Ten title; that Glen Mason exclaimed that, hyperbole aside, he would be very surprised and considerably disappointed if the Gophers did not win the Big Ten this season; that five weeks ago the Gophers were ranked number 13 in the nation and were a victory over Michigan away from cracking the top 10 for the first time in over three decades; that Glen Mason-booster Joel Maturi softened his expectations after the Michigan loss exclaiming that he would be satisfied with a 5-3 Big Ten record--a statement meant to allow the Gophers considerable leeway in what most observers believed was a soft remaining Big Ten schedule. And never mind that the line on the game at kickoff was Badgers -6.5.

None of this really matters because the Gophers did on Saturday what Gopher fans expected them to do by playing miserably against the Badgers. And, in a game in which statistics often lie, the only statistical anomoly in this game was that the Badgers ended the game with only 38 points.

The Badgers entered the game averaging 21 points a game. They matched that in the first quarter en route to a 31-7 halftime lead. The Badgers scored through the air on the arm of the previously moribound John Stocco, whom the Gophers' defense--as it has done frequently with other suspect quarterbacks in the past two seasons--made look like Joe Montana in his NFL-prime. The Gophers knew that the Badgers' running game would be a challenge, but deluded themselves into believing that the objects that they place on the field in the form of linebackers and a secondary would stand a chance against someone with an arm and a football.

But if elevating Stocco to near-Heisman status in one weekend were not enough to make Gophers' fans bristle, consider some of the other statistics from this debacle.

The most telling statistic for demonstrating the complete disarray of the Gophers' offense and defense is time of possession. The Badgers had the football for an astounding 45 minutes to the Gophers' 15. A ten-minute time of possession advantage is cause for alarm, a twenty-minute advantage is cause for complete re-evaluation of all defensive and offensive schemes. Can anything other than a major house cleaning be in order for a half-hour time of possession disadvantage?

The time of possession statistic both wrote and told the story of the game. The Badgers scored on their first five possessions, usually relying on long drives. The Gophers failed to score on any of their first four possessions, going 3 and out twice, four and out once, and five and out once. By the time the Gophers figured out the Badgers' system, they were already trailing 31-0.

This was certainly as abysmal of a performance as the loss at Bloomington. And, for those who contend that Mason and his $1 million plus tax-payer paid salary is worth keeping around based on where Mason purportedly has led the Gophers after years of misery, it may be time to consider that the Gophers circa 2004 are no better prepared to play football than were the Jim Wacker era Gophers. And, to put a fine point on it, Wacker may even be able to claim an advantage over Mason at this point as, in losing, Wacker's teams usually kept the games entertaining and Wacker was a media savaant. Mason's teams are nearing the ineptitude shown by Wacker's teams in the win-loss and overall performance categories and Mason is not nearly the personable fellow that Wacker was.

For a program that awards $1 million dollars plus for coaching "expertise," certainly it must be time to find someone with some expertise. Despite having self-professed "seasoned" teams in each of the past two seasons, the Gophers have failed to beat a Big Ten team with a winning conference record for two straight seasons (needless to say, I am predicting defeat against the Hawkeyes). Last year, the Gophers most notable victory was at home against the Badgers (.500 in conference last season). This season, the Gophers are 3-5 in conference with victories over Illinois and Penn State (a combined 1-12 in conference) and Northwestern. Northwestern stands at 4-2 and should finish above .500 in conference with games remaining at Michigan and at home against Illinois. But the victory over Northwestern--even a Northwestern over .500 in conference--was not what Mason, Maturi, and Co. sold to the Gopher faithful.


Is it possible that the Vikings are following the lead of the Gophers? Last weekend, the Gophers lost to the woeful Hoosiers in Bloomington. The Vikings followed that loss with an equally forgettable home loss to the NY Giants. Is this a mere coincidence or is something greater at play?

Almost assuredly Mike Tice is not raiding the Mason home for game plans, but it is curious that the Gophers and Vikings have porous defenses. And it is curious that both the Gophers and Vikings lose on the same weekend despite being favorites. And it is even more curious that neither the Gophers nor the Vikings appear capable of defeating teams with winning records.

Will the Vikings detour from the road that Mase built when they face the Colts tomorrow night? Probably not.

Vikings' Achilles

Since Randy Moss went down with a hamstring injury three weeks ago, the Vikings have defeated the Saints and Titans and lost to the Giants. Moss injured his hamstring just before halftime of the Saints' game, that meant that the Saints had little time to reconstruct a game plan to adjust to Moss' absence--particularly since Moss started the second half of that game. That meant that the Saints continued to stay in cover two when Moss was on the field and, when Moss was off the field, the Saints still stayed out of the box.

With Moss' status for the Titans' game up in the air, the Titans prepped as if Moss was going to play. Moss played a few token plays early in the game, drawing double coverage, but his injury soon forced him to the sideline. The Titans nevertheless decided to take away the deep pass rather than to contest the running game. The result was a pedestrian 20-3 Minnesota victory on the strength of Mewelde Moore's 138-yard rushing performance.

The Giants took a different approach against the Moss-less Viking offense, loading up the box against the rush and playing man-to-man against the pass. The result was a dismal rushing performance by the Vikings, pressure on Daunte throughout the game, a poor performance by Daunte, and a decent, but, from the Giants' perspective, acceptable performance by Marcus Robinson.

The Colts have nowhere near the Giants' defensive capabilities, but that will not matter if the Vikings do not play better than they did last week at home. With false start penalties stunting three of the Vikings' first eight drives last week, an indoor road game against a redemption-seeking Colts' team is not what the doctor ordered for this Vikings' squad. The Vikings should score more than 14 points against this version of the worst defense in the NFL, but it is unlikely that the Randy Moss-less Vikings' offense will break the 28-point barrier against the Colts and very likely that the Vikings will cede many more to the Peyton Manning-led home team.

No comments: