The Jerry Kill era came to an end, and so did a trophy case nearly stocked full of rivalry trophies. However, 2015 was far from a lost season, instead it will go down as one of the strangest in Gophers history.
From a mid-season coaching change to a complete uprooting of a coaching staff once the interim tag was removed from Tracy Claeys’ title, there was plenty of drama on and off the field.
Close wins were the norm, as were blowout losses. Simply put, it was a complete roller coaster ride in Minneapolis in the fall of 2015. So, what were the good, bad and ugly of said season?
Before we get talking about 2016, lets look back at where things last left off in Gophers-land.
Winning a bowl game is always a nice treat…and the Gophers got that treat despite a 5-7 regular season. Tracy Claeys’ program took down Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl and ended the season a high note.
Given all the confusion, change and drama surrounding the program all season long, it was a nice reward for the players to go out with. Winning at the end of a hard season could prove to be a very nice catalyst going forward.
Losing 5 of the last 6 regular season games certainly wasn’t a positive mark on a program that had seemingly begun to hit its stride under Jerry Kill. A close loss to nationally ranked TCU in the opener gave false hope as it turned out.
Instead, the Gophers lost to every team that could’ve given them a chance at legitimacy in the final six weeks of the season. Minnesota lost to the likes of Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin to round out the season.
Only a win against a battered Illinois team saved them from a six-game losing streak to end the regular season. Yet, despite that disaster of a finish…the Gophers still went bowling (always look on the bright side of life).
Remember how we talked about that rivalry trophy case? It went from nearly full to completely empty in a matter of a year. With a division full of some heated rivalries involving the Gophers, wining one or two of them usually means the season is going to be a success.
Instead, Floyd of Rosedale is in the hands of Iowa, a $5 bits-of-broken-chair is in the hands of Nebraska and a decade-long streak is now inching closer to two decades without Paul Bunyan’s Axe anywhere outside of Madison.
It is seriously difficult to imagine a more ugly scenario playing out for Gophers football, and if they want to pick things up in 2016 they’ll need at least half of these trophies back in their home at the football facilities in Minneapolis.
What it All Means for 2016
After 4-plus years of the Jerry Kill era things seemed like they were plateauing. Having a mix of the old school and the new school to help reinvigorate this program is exactly what was needed and what happened in the offseason.
The 2015 season itself showed us all that at least Mitch Leidner is still working hard to become a true dual-threat quarterback. Given the new system in place, that is big news and should be interesting to watch in fall camp and beyond.
However, more than anything, this past season showed that Minnesota’s program is deeper and better equipped to handle losses on the roster. This team is far from a blank canvas, and Claeys and Co. are going to have a lot of parts to mold and work with in 2016.
Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut
Plenty of people were curious about the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback coming in to the season opener. After all, it’s not often that a true freshman walk-on gets the starting nod.
But, the attention and pressure of the first college game was not too much to handle for Gophers quarterback Zack Annextad. After a few shaky moments early on, Annexstad looked like he belonged on the field in the Gophers 48-10 victory over New Mexico State.
Annexstad wasn’t super accurate, completing just 48 percent of his passes. But, he more than made up for it with a blistering 220 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he kept the Aggies from picking him off all game long.
Perhaps the best bit of news is that it appears the Gophers may have more than one good target for Annexstad to work with. Veteran wide receiver Tyler Johnson was on point, catching five passes for 100 yards and both of the touchdown throws.
Rashod Bateman caught five passes and Chris Autman-Bell had four to his name as well.
Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Seth Green looked dangerous as an all-around player. He touched the ball in the backfield twice and scored on both of those touches, giving future opponents plenty to think about when it comes to game-planning for the Gophers.
Minnesota also showed off an impressive run game after a rocky start on the ground. Star running back Rodney Smith racked up 153 yards and the Gophers ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns as a team.
Add in a defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground and only 10 points and there is a recipe for success going forward.
Of course, one has to take in to consideration the caliber of opponent, but for a team with a lot of question marks on offense, there’s little doubt this was a confidence builder.
While there will be plenty of improvement needed in order for Minnesota to be competitive come Big Ten play, this offense looks and feels different than it did a year ago.
As far as debuts go, there certainly was promise shown from Annexstad and that’s really all you can ask for from a freshman making his first start.
Gophers, Huskers could have games altered by Oregon wildfires
Mother Nature could wreak havoc on college football this upcoming weekend, but the majority of the news has been focused on an impending hurricane barring down on Florida.
A look out West and things are just as dangerous and deadly, as wildfires are raging in California, Oregon and Washington. That could present a big problem for the Minnesota Gophers game on Saturday night with the Oregon State Beavers and Nebraska’s visit to the Oregon Ducks.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites sources within the Pac-12 saying that the game time may be moved or the game moved all together.
While the fire isn’t the problem, it is the air quality in the Eugene area that is. Oregon has already had to move practice closer to the Pacific Coast and the air in Eugene appears to be a major issue.
The smoke in Eugene, where an air protection agency listed the air quality as “hazardous,” prompted Oregon to move its Tuesday practice to Florence, near the Pacific coast.
The good news is that the smoke cleared enough a day later for the Ducks to return to practice in Eugene. But, there is reason to believe the game could still be an issue as smoke is expected to return.
The smoke is supposed to return at some point. But we just don’t know when. … There are too many variables for us to look that far ahead of time.”
Yes, that means we won’t know about the status of Nebraska-Oregon until Saturday itself.
Meanwhile, things don’t look as precarious for the Gophers matchup, but that doesn’t mean change would be out of the question.
“Based upon the information provided by the air protection agency and the expert health and safety advice of the respective University medical professionals, a decision will be made on whether or not to adjust game times and/or dates with the safety of student-athletes and fans as a priority,” Andrew Walker, the Pac-12’s vice president of public affairs, wrote in an e-mail to the (Portland) Oregonian.
Once again, it appears things are going to be in a wait-and-see mode in Corvallis as well.
It hasn’t affected Minnesota all that much, as they are more worried about playing at game that would kick at 9pm in Minneapolis if it were being played at home.
Head coach P.J. Fleck has talked this week about making sure players are staying up later as the week goes on to adjust their bodies. That’s especially important as practices are taking place first thing in the morning this season.
Either way, both of these programs are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now and that may be the biggest hurdle to get over when prepping for Week 2.
Fleck smart to let QB battle play out in actual game action
P.J. Fleck continues to row the boat at his own pace, deciding on not one, but two starting quarterbacks for the season opener against Buffalo.
What is better than one starting quarterback? Two starting quarterbacks.
At least that is the theory Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is going to test out for his first season at at the helm of the Gophers.
It’s a bold strategy (insert meme here), and one that hasn’t exactly worked out well for just about anyone in the past you say? Heck, even with two potential NFL draft picks it didn’t work out well for a program like Ohio State and a coach like Urban Meyer back in 2015.
The history of bad news coming with dueling starting quarterbacks heading in to the season hasn’t stopped Fleck from doing just that though.
It shouldn’t be surprising however. After all, P.J. Fleck is his own man, and many of the decisions he makes on and off the field demonstrate just that.
But, on Thursday Fleck made a pretty bold decision at quarterback — he’ll go with both Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda as starters entering the season.
— Nadine Babu (@NadineBabu) August 17, 2017
To be fair, the two quarterbacks haven’t exactly separated much in fall camp.
To the outsider that could be bad news, but according to the head coach himself, it was due to both earning the opportunity on the field.
“Every time I think I see one nudging the other out, the other one closed the gap and passed him.” Fleck said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “And they’ve continued to do that. That tells me this late in training camp that both of ’em deserve to play.”
Fleck also brought up a very good point in his talk to the media — neither have a wealth of game experience to draw on and that makes separating based on practice alone a bit of a crapshoot.
“If I was to tell you that I knew exactly how those quarterbacks are going to play in a game, that’s a guess,” Fleck noted, while also pointing out just how little game experience exists.
There is a grand total of 17 passing attempts in a game between the two of them and 15 of them belong to fifth-year senior Rhoda. He went seven of 15 for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Fleck is also thinking ahead with this decision, because we all know every team in America is just one big hit away from having to go to the backup quarterback. Why not get whomever that will ultimately be some game experience while sorting things out?
It was part of Fleck’s reasoning to the media on Thursday as well.
“If we think we can go through the Big Ten and not need two quarterbacks at some point, I think we’re crazy to think that,” he said. “We’re gonna need ’em.”
With a new energy and style around the Gophers program, it seems almost fitting that Fleck would buck most of recent history — whatever he wanted to claim about two-quarterback systems working.
For every Alabama in the past few years, there is an Ohio State or Wisconsin or others to show Fleck the dangers of a prolonged QB battle.
The hope has to be that the separation that didn’t happen in spring or fall camp does happen once the games go live. Otherwise this could be one interesting first season in Minneapolis.
WATCH: Gophers describe personality of 2017 team
P.J. Fleck says Rodney Smith is the personality of the 2017 Minnesota Gophers. So, what exactly is Smith’s personality and why is a fit for the Gophers?
At Big Ten media days on Tuesday, Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck opened up the day by announcing that the personality of this team was that of running back Rodney Smith.
However, Fleck left that statement wide open to interpretation. What is that personality and why is it Rodney Smith? I mean, he is one of the best returning running backs in the Big Ten, so having him be the focal point of the team on the field is just smart.
So, curious as to why Smith was the one singled out by Fleck at the podium during his initial press conference, we went to his teammates to find the answer. They all seemed to have one common answer — happy.
Well that and plenty more..Check out the answers from Smith himself and his teammates. All that
and more from the highlights of Day 2 at Big Ten media days.