Gophers hoping to keep it goingAfter a humbling first season as Minnesota’s coach, Tim Brewster’s talk was still big and bold. That 1-11 finish, with a three-overtime win at home against Miami of Ohio, made it harder for Brewster to sell hope with the same fervor he’d been peddling it since his hire months earlier.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After a humbling first season as Minnesota’s coach, Tim Brewster’s talk was still big and bold.
That 1-11 finish, with a three-overtime win at home against Miami of Ohio, made it harder for Brewster to sell hope with the same fervor he’d been peddling it since his hire months earlier.
He didn’t stop preaching the positive to his players, however, and for these Gophers (6-1, 2-1) good vibes have gone a long way. They just became bowl eligible after a head-turning win at Illinois, and it’s only the middle of October.
“Just an all-around attitude,” quarterback Adam Weber said. “Last year was new coaches, new schemes, new everything. This year I think everyone’s a little bit more comfortable. Everyone knows what’s expected out of them.”
The spread system installed last season by offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, who had success with it at Northwestern and California, was a challenge for Weber to grasp as a redshirt freshman. He threw 19 interceptions and completed only 57.5 percent of his passes.
This season, Weber has been picked off twice. He’s raised his completion percentage to 67.9. His favorite target, junior Eric Decker, leads the Big Ten with 59 receptions and 782 yards.
“We’ve gotten bigger. We’ve gotten faster and stronger. Guys are getting more confident in their game, and that comes with experience,” Decker said Wednesday at the team’s practice facility, enjoying the team’s bye week.
After that 27-20 homecoming-spoiler at Illinois, Minnesota next plays at Purdue on Oct. 25. Three of the final four games are at home — Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa — with a trip to Wisconsin also on the November slate.
As several Big Ten foes struggle around them, the Gophers are poised to play in a decent bowl game if they can keep this up.
“We’ve set the bar high now,” Decker said.
This is where Brewster’s knack for getting players to buy his teamwork-to-the-extreme philosophy will again be tested. Will they let the spike in praise for their performance distract from their preparation and decrease their edge? Or will they remain determined to heed the advice on the maroon wristbands — “One at a time” — they’ve been wearing since the start of fall practice.
“The two most important reasons why we’re an improved team are player ownership and player unselfishness,” Brewster said. “And it’s extremely evident with our team that players have taken ownership of our team. We don’t have a lot of issues with our team off the field. We’ve got a group of guys that have totally bought into the ‘Are you a great teammate?”‘
He added: “I just think it takes time to get to know each other. Sure it does. It’s a process. It’s a process for certain. You don’t give somebody your trust. You’ve got to earn trust, and that’s an ongoing process at all times.”
Strength of schedule has had a significant impact on the turnaround. Ohio State is the only ranked team the Gophers have faced, and that was their lone loss — 34-21 on the road. The two other ranked Big Ten teams, Penn State and Michigan State, aren’t in this season’s rotation.
Style points weren’t going to matter this year, though. They were just trying to get back to being competitive, as Minnesota was through most of Glen Mason’s 10 seasons before Brewster arrived.
After giving up more yards than any other team in major college football, the Gophers have figured out how to play defense under new coordinator Ted Roof.
Junior college transfers Tramaine Brock, Simoni Lawrence and Traye Simmons have been a big help, as have a couple of position switches — defensive end Lee Campbell to middle linebacker and wide receiver Marcus Sherels to cornerback. Healthy defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, who played with a broken wrist last year, has also made a major impact.
As a result, Minnesota is allowing an average of 18.7 points per game after coughing up 36.7 per game last season. They have 17 sacks, up from 13 in all of 2007. Their turnover margin is plus-12, second in the nation behind North Carolina.
The Gophers haven’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1962, and they’ll always be overshadowed in spending, tradition and allure by the Big Ten giants. Their new stadium is opening on campus next fall, though, and this year has given them a foundation to build on.
“People are starting to get their hopes up,” Weber said, “and it’s just our job to just keep on winning football games.”