Minnesota’s passing regime was nothing more than a footnote in the 2014 season.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner narrowly eclipsed the 50 percent completion rate as the Gophers gained an average of a meager 141 yards per game through the air. It ranked as the eighth worst passing attack in the country.
With David Cobb and an efficient ground game, Minnesota was still able to pile up eight wins and battle for the Big Ten West division and a spot in the conference title game.
Heading into the fall, the expectation is that success under Jerry Kill will continue to be earned using the run. Because Minnesota’s leading receiver from a season ago, Maxx Williams, declared his eligibility for the NFL Draft, there’s been a concern that Leidner and the Gopher offense will face even more difficult challenges throwing the football.
That’s where senior receiver K.J. Maye hopes to be the difference.
Maye concluded his junior season ranked second on the team in reception yardage, catching 16 passes for 298 yards. Williams was Minnesota’s leader in all three major receiving categories, nearly doubling Maye’s production with 36 catches for 569 yards.
Williams also caught eight touchdown passes last year, seven more than Maye.
Running the football will still be Minnesota’s strongest area offensively next season, with a herd of backs capable of carrying a heavy load. But despite depth and talent in the backfield, the Gophers still need to utilize the passing game to create a more diverse offensive scheme.
In an interview with WCCO CBS Minnesota back in March, Offensive Coordinator Matt Limegrover said, “Regardless of if we lost David Cobb or not, we have to continue to progress in the pass game.”
After a strong spring season that culminated in three receptions for 38 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown catch in the spring game, Maye appears poised to be a threat that could catapult the passing attack.
Maye is the most experienced and effective receiver returning to field for Minnesota next season, another reason why Kill and Limegrover are anticipating a much more productive season for the 5’10″, Alabama native.
Success in the passing game won’t fully fall on the performance of the senior receiver, though.
Leidner needs to become more accurate, the offensive line has to show improved pass blocking commitment and the staff has to have some flexibility in its play-calling for the Gophers to fully utilize the talent they have in Maye and some of the other receivers.
A run-heavy approach will still be the forte of Minnesota’s offense in 2015. With three or four capable backs led by Rodrick Williams, Jr., it certainly should. Throwing the football needs to be a threat to continue to compete atop the Big Ten.
In his final season, Maye is going to be the top target for Leidner on Saturday afternoons. Minnesota’s success may be a direct reflection of the senior’s production and effectiveness this fall.