Since conference play began, the Minnesota Gophers have been in a downward spiral. More specifically, the passing attack led by Conor Rhoda.
A key to a healthy football offense at any level is a successful blend of run and pass plays. This keeps the defense guessing, not allowing them to get too comfortable in their game plan. The Minnesota Gophers do not have that blend.
Sure, they have a terrific tandem of running backs in Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. However, the Gopher offensive line is not able enough to overpower a front seven consistently. Thus, the Gophers are forced to pass, and they have fallen totally flat in that regard. What is to blame for this problem? And perhaps more importantly, can it be rectified?
Much of the blame for this lack of passing success has been put on quarterback Conor Rhoda. In Minnesota’s most recent loss against Purdue, Rhoda threw for only 101 yards. Couple the low yardage with a 44 percent completion mark and a costly interception that was returned for a touchdown too. All of these numbers factored in to Rhoda’s abysmal Raw QBR of 4.4 against the Boilermakers. Please do excuse me while I vomit like Brian Griffin at the sight of that number.
It’s no secret that Rhoda is not what one would call a “star” quarterback. He may even be further from that term than I originally thought. He will have some shining moments, but he has far more bad throws than good ones. At times you wonder who he was attempting to throw to because he missed the mark so badly. Just take a look at a few examples, this first one was his interception against Purdue:
And this one, another game-sealing interception against Maryland:
These are only the throws that resulted in takeaways. Rhoda consistently puts bad balls on the receivers and sometimes misses them completely. At some point, these drastic overthrows and under throws will result in more and more turnovers.
It is so clearly evident that Rhoda cannot handle the responsibility by himself. He is just not a capable enough quarterback skill wise. Regardless of Rhoda’s leadership ability, I believe moving Demry Croft back into the mix again would be a smart idea.
The unfortunate thing about this situation is that Croft may not be brought back due to his conduct. As I’m sure you are aware, he was suspended after the Oregon State win for violating team rules. Because of this, he may not be brought back at all outside of a true back-up role. However, his athleticism brings so much to a stagnating Gopher offense. It’s just clear that Conor Rhoda cannot lead this team through the air alone.
It’s not as if Minnesota has lackadaisical pass catchers either. Tyler Johnson, Brandon Lingen, Eric Carter, and Nate Wozniak have proven to be valuable targets. Since opening their conference schedule, they have failed to get open consistently. Perhaps some of this has to do with the improved defenses they are facing. However, that is a cheap excuse for not being able to get open.
When the Gophers choose to pass, a vast majority of those plays seem to break down at the line of scrimmage. A lack of pass blocking forces Conor Rhoda out of the pocket and to make plays on the run while evading the rush. Believe it or not, this is where Rhoda is at his best as a quarterback, which is befuddlement in its own right.
However, it seems the Gopher receivers cannot get open outside of their originally planned routes. This causes an issue for Rhoda as he is on the run. Most of the time you will see him either throw the ball away, or throw it along the sidelines. When a play breaks down it is on the receiver to give the quarterback an opening to throw to. Minnesota’s receivers have failed to do that for the most part.
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Lastly, it comes down to the play calling. Listen, I understand that the Gophers want to run the ball as much as possible. It seems that whenever a defense forces them to pass, they are completely unprepared. It’s as if they fly by the seat of their pants when calling pass plays.
If you are calling plays for Conor Rhoda, you know he does not have a terribly strong arm nor is he extremely accurate in the pocket. Kirk Ciarrocca knows that Rhoda is a better quarterback on the move though. So why not call some plays that get Rhoda on the move, like a bootleg or something utilizing the play action? We saw just a little bit of it in the Purdue game, but if it’s Rhoda’s strength, why not play call to his strength? Seems simple enough.
Obviously, I am not P.J. Fleck nor am I Kirk Ciarrocca, but I would like to think I understand football offense to certain degree. I understand the Gophers lack the true weapon (quarterback) to be successful in the passing game. To say that they cannot find ways to thrive through the air is asinine however. If Minnesota cannot properly blend the pass with their great running attack, it will be far too effortless for a defensive coordinator to game plan for them. On top of that, perhaps most importantly, the Gophers will not be seeing too many wins either.