This weekend marks the annual Homecoming game for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and the Illinois Fighting Illini will be present to try to ruin the fun in Minneapolis. The Gophers have slid to 3-3 after another Big Ten Loss to Michigan State and desperately need to find a game to get back on track.
This might be that game. Illinois is a young team with plenty of problems of their own, and not nearly the offensive firepower of the Gophers. This is a game the Gophers have to win.
What A Gophers Win Looks Like
Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck has yet to name a starting quarterback for Saturday, saying that he wants to “continue to watch both of them perform”. But if last week was any indication, quarterback Demry Croft is the best shot for the Gophers against Illini.
The blueprint to win was given to the Gophers in week three. South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers threw for 280 yards that week, for four touchdowns,106 yards and another score on the ground in the 47-23 route. Flowers is a really good quarterback, but is also very mobile.
While Croft can’t make some of throws Flowers can, he can still imitate some of the plays that pull the Illini coverage. On play action bootleg plays, Croft’s mobility can open receivers on deep drag routes and crossing routes. But the Illini were more committed at the end of the game to stopping Flowers on the ground, rather than through the air. In open space, Croft cannot just pull the linebackers with his mobility but also the safeties. With the discipline on the Illini shaky, the coverage should jump on the run and get beat deep by the pass.
Croft can do the same kinds of things for his offense, but needs to set the tone early with his legs. Against Michigan State, he had runs of 20 and 12 yards in the second half.
He went on to pass for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, passing for 103 yards to boot. The Illini offense only averages 18.8 points per game to the Gophers 30.5.
Croft feeds into the success of the team everywhere. Rhoda ran the read option but with limited success. Croft, alternatively, could really do some damage on the same read option play. His ability to pull the ball and beat a defense on the backside will keep the front honest against the Gophers running game.
For a defense that has sustained injuries, the return of safety Duke McGhee from his suspension is a huge help. Croft will help the defense too, by going up early and putting more pressure on the Illini defense. Playing from behind will let the defense pin their ears back and really go after the quarterback. Getting to the quarterback will force the young secondary to make fewer plays.
Game management is not good enough for the Gophers to win this game. To put this one away, Croft has to have a great game. Ideally, he should aim to land somewhere around – or over – 200 yards and two scores to keep the Gophers ahead in this game. In short, the passing attack, led by Croft, needs to be precise and consistent. The running game will need to feed off of the Gopher passing attack and it all starts with its quarterback, who needs to be the one to put the quarterback controversy to rest.