Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Closer Look at the Gophers

After looking at the Minnesota Golden Gophers track record of schizo home and road performance the last few years, I decided to delve deeper and determine what facets of their game change so dramatically on the road. To conduct this endeavor, I looked at all 16 of the Gopher's box scores for 2004 and 2005. In this period, the Gophers are 5-3 at home and 2-6 on the road. Just to dispense with the idea that their home schedule has been much easier than their road schedule, here is the combined conference winning percentage of their conference home and road opponents.

Home: 32-32 .500
Road: 36-28 .563

Minnesota has played a slightly tougher road schedule, but it is clear they are much tougher at home. 2 of their home losses include a fluke 4 point loss to Wisconsin in 2005 on a blocked punt and a 2 point loss to a 10-2 Iowa team in 2004. The other loss was a 14 point setback to a top-5 Ohio State team in 2005. On the road, they own a 3 point win over Michigan in 2005 and a 21 shellacking over 4-7 Indiana, but they also lost to a bad Indiana (3-8) in 2004.

Let's start with offense because thats where this team is built. Here are the cummalative offensive data for home and road games the past 2 years.

447 attempts for 2416 yards, 5.4 yards per rush
Pass: 105 completions in 182 attempts (57.7%) for 1576 yards, 8.7 yards per pass, 8 interceptions (4.4% interception percentage).

299 attempts for 1386 yards, 4.6 yards per rush
Pass: 116 completions in 242 attempts (47.9%) for 1660 yards, 6.9 yards per pass, 6 interceptions (2.5% interception percentage)

The Gophers do what they were built to do, run the ball, at home. They also run the ball reasonably well on the road (with a solid 4.6 average). However, the number of rush attempts should tell us something. On the road, Minnesota falls behind very often and therefore must forego running the ball. They average about 56 rushes per game at home and only 37 per game on the road. Part of the Gopher's road struggles appears to be falling behind and making the running game obsolete. The passing number also jump off the page. At home Gopher's quarterbacks complete a solid 57.7% of their passes. On the road this number drops below 50%. Of course, they still are very careful when they pass, actually throwing fewer total interceptions and having a lower interception percentage on the road. Why is the passing so much worse on the road? One reason could be the quarterbacks have to throw in many obvious passing situations on the road. At home, the running game is still a threat, but after falling behind on the road, the quarterbacks deficiencies are magnified when everyone knows he must pass.

Now for defense.

238 attempts for 911 yards, 3.8 yards per rush
Pass: 154 completions in 270 attempts (57%) for 1895 yards, 7 yards per pass, 5 interceptions (1.9% interception percentage).

378 attempts for 1786 yards, 4.7 yards per rush
Pass: 159 completions in 271 attempts (58.7%) for 2058 yards, 7.6 yards per pass, 6 interceptions (2.2% interception percentage)

Here the difference in rushing numbers is significant. Minnesota allows almost a yard more per carry on the road versus at home. Confirming our suspicions from the offensive side, the defensive numbers also suggest Minnesota spends much of their road games coming from behind. At home, Minnesota's opponents only average about 30 rushing attempts, but on the road, this number jumps to 47. This means their opponents are ahead and are grinding the clock by running the ball. The passing numbers are pretty consistent for home and road games. However, this is does not mean they are particularlygood. Minnesota allows opposing quarterbacks to complete a reasonable high percentage of their passes (57% at home and 58.7% on the road), and they rarely intercept the ball (1.9 per 100 attempts at home and 2.2 per 100 attempts on the road).

Summing up these results, it appears the passing game is the Gopher's achilles heal. They are not very good at stopping the pass, either at home or on the road. In addition to this, they are extremely poor at forcing turnovers out of the passing game. They have only intercepted 11 passes in 16 conference games the past 2 seasons. Glen Mason's gameplan since he arrived at Minnesota has been to integrate a power running game and solid defense in order to compete in the Big 10. He has half the formula down. Minnesota runs the ball well both at home and on the road. However, the defense consistently fails them on the road and they are forced to abandon the running game. When this happens, they are forced to win games by passing the ball. Their quarterbacks, who appear solid when they have the threat of a running game, are forced to pass more often and are shown to be extremely flawed. Until Mason is able to fix his pass defense, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will be burrowed a notch below the Big 10's elite.

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