Would all the playmakers please stand up?
MINNEAPOLOS -- So, do you remember the score that mattered Saturday at Ohio State? Try 11-3. That was Ohio State's edge in explosive plays, defined here as runs of 12 or more yards and passes longer than 17. To Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, this ...
MINNEAPOLOS -- So, do you remember the score that mattered Saturday at Ohio State?
That was Ohio State's edge in explosive plays, defined here as runs of 12 or more yards and passes longer than 17. To Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, this was the biggest reason Minnesota came home with a 13-point loss.
Brewster is convinced that better tackling will defuse more big plays on the defensive side. But, on offense, he's still looking for someone other than wide receiver Eric Decker to put the word "big" into the Gophers' offensive plays.
"We know Decker is a playmaker," he said. "We know (quarterback Adam) Weber is a play-maker. OK, who else?"
Time to produce
Try the young and the restless. When Brewster brought home his first full recruiting class, it was full of young, fast, receivers: Brandon Green, Brodrick Smith, Xzavian Brandon, De'Jon McKnight. Through five games fans have seen glimpses of them, the occasional catch, even a highlight play or two, including McKnight's TD catch in Columbus.
But it's time for this group to produce a consistent playmaker to take the pressure off Decker.
"We need guys to step up and be explosive," Brewster said.
This is not a knock on players who have done well during the Gophers' 4-1 start. Tight end Jack Simmons has proven an adept receiver on crucial downs. Freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge has picked up where Duane Bennett left off as a smooth receiver out of the backfield. Junior receiver Ben Kuznia has been steady and reliable.
But big plays? Simmons had a 53-yard TD catch in the Gophers' first game but has averaged 9 yards on his other nine catches. Eskridge and Kuznia both are averaging a little more than 8 yards per reception. The other starting wideout, Ralph Spry, has six catches for 42 yards. Neither Spry nor Kuznia have had a reception longer than 19 yards.
The Gophers' offense needs to get another consistent big-play threat on the field. This week Weber said it could happen soon.
"The amount of talent we have on this team, I don't think we've shown it quite yet," Weber said. "These young guys, we've been saying since day one that they're very, very gifted. But it's about time they put away their rookie cares and start playing like veterans."
Practice makes perfect
So why hasn't that happened yet? Nobody questions the talent of the young players, but it took some time for them to realize what it took to get game minutes: good practices. Brewster has been saying since August training camp that the freshman receivers were struggling to grasp that concept.
"It was really long and stressful," Smith said of the process. "Just coming from high school to a Division I program, everyone here is good. You have to work extra hard to get in the game. It takes a lot of work, more studying. This is probably the hardest I worked in my whole life."
It was McKnight who has made the biggest impact, with his 22-yard reception Saturday. And he was perhaps the least heralded of the incoming receivers. But he was ahead of the pack when it came to practicing well. Now Brewster and offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar say the others have been following suit and that it's just a matter of time before fans start seeing it in games.
The Gophers could use the speed. Saturday the Buckeyes did more than any team this year to limit Decker, who still finished with five catches for 52 yards.
"It was the first game where a team did so many things," Decker said.
The answer might be more speed, a player who can stretch a defense. In Columbus, Weber responded to the coverage on Decker by checking down to Eskridge, who caught eight passes. If there also had been a deep threat, there might have been more room for everyone.
It might be coming.
"It was hard," Green said of having to wait his turn. "But I realized I had to be more consistent in practice."