Davis restores Minnesota's identity up front

December, 29, 2008
12/29/08
5:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The hire didn't make waves around the country and barely registered on the Big Ten radar.

When Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster replaced offensive line coach Phil Meyer with Tim Davis on Nov. 25, it was deemed a solid and necessary move for a struggling unit. Earth-shattering? Not quite. That's what happens when head coaches or coordinators are hired and fired.

How much impact could a new position coach possibly have, especially with a bowl game only a month away?

Minnesota is about to find out.

"This is no exaggeration," junior guard Ned Tavale said. "We have changed our whole identity. Right when he set foot, he made his name known. He basically came in, took us all by the collar and just told us, 'This is how it's going to be. Whatever you learned in the past, take it off because I'm going to teach you guys from square one.'"

The Golden Gophers likely won't be a finished product when they face Kansas on Wednesday in the Insight Bowl, but the front five will have a decidedly different look, thanks to Davis, who also will oversee Minnesota's running game.

The West Coast offense is being reduced, while the power run is back at Minnesota. The two-point stance is out, and Tavale and his linemates will have their hands in the turf against the Jayhawks. Outside runs are being phased out, in favor of between-the-tackles power plays. Tavale and his fellow guards are constantly on the move, occasionally two or three at a time.

Minnesota football is starting to look a lot like ... Minnesota football.

And Davis is just getting started.

"To think, we had all our calls for the entire year, two years, and then within a matter of days, he basically said, 'You know, forget that. This is what you've got to do,'" Tavale said. "He wasn't being unreasonable. He was just being honest. We know where we want to go. We've all got to buy into the system."

After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (105.8 ypg) this season, the Gophers had no choice. Brewster admitted his team got beat up down the stretch, when it lost its final four games, and a new philosophy up front was necessary.

Minnesota had to return to its roots and Davis, who has coached offensive lines at USC, Wisconsin, Alabama and in the NFL, became the obvious choice.

"He's made an unbelievable impression," Brewster said. "He's got so much experience. His energy, his enthusiasm; he's a perfect fit for me."

Minnesota assistant coaches weren't available to the media before the Insight Bowl, but talking with Tavale, it's easy to understand Davis' impact.

At first, some linemen were skeptical and stubborn about starting over just weeks before a bowl game, but after researching Davis' credentials, they bought in. The timing of the change, just three days after a 55-0 loss to archrival Iowa in the regular-season finale, also hit home for the players.

"Coach Meyer was a great man, we all respected him a lot," Tavale said. "But the message we saw when we saw him leave was that what we did during this season, as far as being as physical as coach Brewster wanted, wasn't good enough. We didn't meet his expectations of acceptable performance.

"We somehow blamed ourselves for that happening. All together, we picked it up."

It hasn't been easy. Practices have become "10 times harder" since Davis arrived, and linemen are being forced to understand everything going on around them.

Finals ended at Minnesota on Dec. 18, but the tests were just beginning for Tavale and his crew.

"The difference between [Davis] and our last coach is he doesn't explain to us what to do, he explains us the scheme," Tavale said. "We're studying the quarterback's movement, the running back's movement, the wideouts. Last time, we just studied what we had to do. Now we know every position.

"Everyone's got something to prove: The linemen, coach Davis. So we have to work extra harder."

It might not fully come together in time for the Insight Bowl, which Minnesota enters as a heavy underdog. But Tavale looks forward to the game and next season, and he's already seeing some encouraging signs.

"As an offensive lineman, it's good to see the running back run right by you when you're blocking," he said. "We haven't seen that in a long time. That's what it's starting to be right now.

"We're going back to what the Minnesota Gophers are used to, which is running the ball and running right up the middle."

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