It’s not an offense, it’s an identity.
Sounds like an ad for something, doesn’t it? But, so far, the Minnesota Gophers football team is buying. Offensive linemen are happy, running backs are grinning. Even quarterback Adam Weber, whose offensive perspective is changing, is thrilled.
After the regular season ended with offensive inconsistency and a four-game losing streak, coach Tim Brewster took action. Actually, you get the feeling that the wheels were in motion long before the offensive wheels came off in a 55-0 loss to Iowa to end the season.
Two days later, offensive line coach Phil Meyer resigned. By the next day, the Gophers had a new line coach — and running game coordinator — in Tim Davis, stripping Mike Dunbar, who remains the offensive coordinator, of some of his power. Brewster was talking about fullbacks and tight ends, three-point stances and downhill running.
The Gophers, a pure spread team since Brewster arrived last year, have spent their 15 pre-bowl practices adding a power-running facet to their playbook, in the process moving closer to the kind of football Brewster holds dear.
“It’s me, it’s who I am,” said Brewster, who played tight end at Illinois in the 1980s. “I know we need to be balanced. I know we have to run to win. ... I wanted to establish the fact that we were a spread team. I knew we would work toward my identity as a football coach, and that’s what we’re doing.”
That said, don’t forget the spread.
For all the talk of lead blockers and H-backs, the Gophers have not abandoned the spread. Indeed, Brewster seems eager to dispel the idea that multiple-receiver sets will disappear in the offense.
“We are going to continue to be a spread football team,” Brewster said. “There are a lot of teams that have the same ideas and thoughts as I do, of continuing the spread. We will continue to spread the field, throw the football. And we’ll also be able to close the formation and take a physical approach to the running game.”
The bottom line is that Brewster believes teams have to run effectively to win.
The statistics bear that out. The Gophers started the season 7-1. A big part of that was the level of the opposition, but they were running relatively well at the time, too. Minnesota averaged 126.6 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per rush over their first eight games.
But in their 0-4 finish, the Gophers running game evaporated, with those averages dropping to 64.3 and 2.5.
A change was needed, and fans will see it Wednesday when the Gophers play Kansas in the Insight Bowl. The offensive linemen, who previously usually lined up in a two-point stance, will have their hand on the ground more often than not, even on passing plays.
The Gophers will use a fullback, either Jon Hoese or Nick Tow-Arnett. They will use multiple-tight end sets. Not all the time, not even most of the time. But enough so that the Gophers can play a more hard-nosed game, get a new identity.
Or, maybe, a new attitude. That’s the way Weber sees the tweaks in the offense — as a way to promote aggressive football.
“Sometimes, guys just don’t flip that switch,” Weber said. “Coach Brewster is intense, both personally and as a coach, and that attitude needs to be carried over to our players. Some guys naturally have that, some guys don’t. I think there’s been that challenge to develop that attitude.”
Weber sees a more aggressive approach to running the ball carrying over into everything the team does offensively. The new running style promotes that, he said. “These offensive linemen know it starts up front,” he said. “We have the talent, it’s about realizing it.”
Brewster sees a better running game helping everything, period. It will keep the offense on the field longer and provide the Gophers defense — which wore down at the end of the season -more rest.
It has meant Weber has needed to relearn the art of taking a direct snap from center, take the rust off his drop-back skills and get used to the perspective of scanning the field from a different point. The running backs have relearned the art of the true tailback, 7 yards deep in the backfield. It’s a point of view DeLeon Eskridge, Shady Salamon and Jay Thomas like.
For offensive linemen, it is a chance to play a kind of football that might remind some of the Glen Mason years.
“It’s all good stuff,” center Trey Davis said. “As offensive linemen, we like being in that three-point stance, getting off the ball, hitting people. It’s nice to have the changeup, from spread to the power run game. It will make the other team prepare for more.”