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2015 Citrus Bowl: Minnesota doesn't try to fool you on offense

The Gophers are going to hand to running backs 30+ times, throw to tight ends 5-6 times, and hope that's enough. It often is.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As we discussed last week, the Minnesota offense is precisely what it is, and nothing more.

Minnesota runs the ball 79 percent of the time on standard downs, sixth-most in the country and second-most among teams that don't run some form of the flexbone. For every five standard-down snaps (first downs, second-and-6 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer) the Gophers take, they're running on four of them. And when they do pass, tight end Maxx Williams is easily the most frequent target. Taking out garbage time, Williams has 31 standard downs targets; No. 2 is receiver Issac Fruechte with 18. (Other tight ends and running backs have combined for 23 targets on these downs. So basically, Williams is the No. 1 guy, Other Big/Backfield Dude is No. 2. [...]

First, Minnesota will keep right on running the ball on passing downs until it has no other option. Mizzou will have to guard against the draw play, but when Leidner does drop back to pass, he's looking downfield. Dump-offs are few and far between -- Cobb has only seven passing downs receptions, and the top five passing downs targets (including Williams) are averaging almost 17 yards per catch. But they also don't catch a high percentage of balls ... and Leidner gets sacked. A lot. There are pluses and minuses to having a fullback play quarterback.

The Gophers list two tight ends on their depth chart, and with the dismissal of receiver Donovahn Jones, they now have as many tight ends with receptions as wideouts. That tells you almost everything you need to know.

Mitch Leidner (6'4, 237, So.) (101-for-206, 1,540 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT, 17 sacks, 6.3 yards/attempt; 100 carries, 598 yards, 10 TD)
Chris Streveler (6'2, 219, RSFr.) (4-for-11, 37 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3.4 yards/attempt; 36 carries, 235 yards, 1 TD)

The "fullback as quarterback" thing is an overstatement, but just barely. Mitch Leidner rushes once for every two pass attempts, and when Leidner missed the San Jose State game, his replacement, Chris Streveler, completed one of seven passes for seven yards while rushing 18 times for 161. It's easy to say that the objective should simply be to make Leidner pass or whatever, but that's really hard to do. The Gophers are probably running on second-and-9 and third-and-6, too.

David Cobb (5'11, 220, Sr.) (294 rushes, 1,548 yards, 13 TD; 15 targets, 12 catches, 129 yards)
Donnell Kirkwood (5'10, 206, Sr.) (30 carries, 92 yards, 2 TD)
Berkley Edwards (5'9, 190, Fr.) (30 carries, 140 yards, 2 TD; 4 targets, 2 catches, 3 yards)
Rodrick Williams Jr. (5'11, 247, Jr.) (22 carries, 94 yards, 2 TD)

Miles Thomas (5'11, 235, Jr.) (7 targets, 5 catches, 37 yards)
Tyler Hartmann (6'3, 255, So.)

Cobb isn't a particularly explosive back, but he's all sorts of efficient. Forty percent of his carries gain at least five yards; backup Berkley Edwards is less efficient (30 percent of at least five) but has shown some explosive potential. But really, big plays would take away from Minnesota's keep-away mission. They want to control the ball and hopefully make your own offensive antsy by sitting on the sideline. (Remember how Navy did that in the 2009 Texas Bowl? That's what Minnesota wants to do, only without the flexbone and cut blocking. Thank goodness for no flexbone and cut blocking.)

There isn't a ton of diversity here. Cobb will rush about 25 times, the quarterback will rush about 11 times, backup running backs will rush about seven times, and Leidner will pass about 20 times, about five or six times to the tight end. It's a steady, reliable plan, and despite predictability, it works quite a bit.

K.J. Maye (5'10, 195, Jr.) (34 targets, 13 catches, 223 yards, 1 TD)
Logan Hutton (6'1, 180, Sr.) (1 target, 0 catches)

Isaac Fruechte (6'3, 202, Sr.) (33 targets, 15 catches, 278 yards, 1 TD)
Donovahn Jones (6'3, 200, So.) (26 targets, 11 catches, 253 yards, 2 TD)
Eric Carter (5'11, 176, RSFr.) (1 target, 1 catch, 4 yards)
Drew Wolitarsky (6'3, 226, So.) (18 targets, 10 catches, 106 yards)

Maxx Williams (6'4, 250, So.) (54 targets, 29 catches, 471 yards, 7 TD)
Brandon Lingen (6'5, 244, Fr.) (2 targets, 2 catches, 18 yards)

Drew Goodger (6'5, 269, Sr.) (5 targets, 1 catch, 9 yards)
Lincoln Plsek (6'4, 269, Jr.) (6 targets, 3 catches, 40 yards)

Donovahn Jones was dismissed from the program this week, which takes away one of Minnesota's big-play threats. But the injured Drew Wolitarsky appears to be practicing with the team again after missing quite a bit of time; his return would more or less account for the targets Jones was getting.

One thing you notice here: this is a low-efficiency passing attack. Very low. The top five targets, including All-American tight end Maxx Williams, have combined for only a 47 percent catch rate, 46 percent on passing downs. Twenty of KJ Maye's and Isaac Fruechte's 28 catches have gone for first downs, and they've averaged nearly 18 yards per catch, but so much of Minnesota's passing game is used as basically misdirection from the run game.

(And yeah, when the Gophers get into the red zone, they're going to throw to Williams, and it's going to work.)

Josh Campion (6'5, 317, Jr.) (38 career starts)
Foster Bush (6'5, 304, Jr.) (9 career starts)

Zac Epping (6'2, 318, Sr.) (46 career starts)
Isaac Hayes (6'2, 320, So.)

Tommy Olson (6'4, 306, Sr.) (27 career starts)
Jon Christenson (6'4, 305, Jr.)

Joe Bjorklund (6'5, 305, Jr.) (7 career starts)
Connor Mayes (6'5, 306, Fr.)

Jonah Pirsig (6'9, 320, So.) (6 career starts)
Ben Lauer (6'7, 315, So.) (10 career starts)

We talked about the line last week. It's experienced on the left and enormous on the right. There has been a bit of shuffling on the right, but this is the lineup they've established, and it's a good one. Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover, a Kill guy since their Emporia State days in the late-1990s, is one of the best in the business at teaching his guys to do what Minnesota wants to do. Mizzou has a drastic advantage in pass rush situations, but Minnesota goes out of its way to avoid those.