Playbooks may belong to long-rumored defensive backfield.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In the continuing debate over the origin of the extinct "defense" of Minnesota, a team of scientists says it has found evidence in the team's locker room of people it contends are members of the Golden Gopher secondary.
The researchers describe the new findings in a report published today in the journal "Science," just seven days after Minnesota allowed 463 yards passing and 42 points in a loss at Florida Atlantic. Most scientists have long considered rumors of a Gopher secondary mythical, and based on the most recent game and previous outings against Bowling Green and Miami, Ohio, in which Minnesota allowed well over 60 points and 800 yards passing, critics disputed the researchers' interpretation, saying the new findings were not clear evidence for the existence of a secondary in any of those cases.
An artists' rendering of the controversial "Minnesota secondary," discovered earlier this week.
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"We're looking at the data," said Paul Ingram, an analyst at Purdue University's Tiller Institute for Spread Offense, "and nothing in it suggests a defensive backfield might have been present."
The discovery, in a back corner of the Bierman Fielding Athletic Center, of uniforms and playbooks of the diminutive people was a sensation when it was announced earlier this week. Some scientists contended that these were more likely to be one-time high school quarterbacks who suffered a developmental disorder that causes a switch to receiver or special teams, but insisted it did not provide evidence for the somewhat radical notion that Minnesota has fielded a secondary at any point over the past five decades.
In the new study, scientists examined playbooks from the lockers and found that, while undoubtedly primitive, the schemes were recognizable as the early stages of a structured pass defense. For example, the field appeared to be divided into two or three areas that could be the precursor to the contemporary "zone," though there did not seem to be any overall structure to which players, if any, might be responsible for an area, and they did not attempt to cover the entire field, as in a modern zone defense. Critics said these "zones" were closer in shape to those drawn in another study by apes.
This evidence, the scientists wrote, indicated that the individuals were not merely outside linebackers "with an undiagnosed pathology or growth defect." Rather, they represented a distinct position group that descended from a safety-like player that branched off from the school's linebacker lineage at least 55 years ago, the scientists concluded.
Dr. Theodore Blackstone and his colleagues said the distinct species emerged from ancestors "that migrated out of the box before the evolution of the spread offense morphology that is characteristic of modern multi-receiver sets and their last common ancestor, the extinct run-and-shoot."
But Kenneth B. Newhart, a professor of developmental strategies at Pennsylvania State University and one of several critics of the full-fledged secondary designation, took issue with the new research. He said the playbook study appeared "to be an exercise in the presentation of misleading ideas in an obfuscatory manner."
Dr. Newhart noted, in particular, that there was "a lot of variation in the formation of the zone defense," which the so-called playbooks in the Fielding Center did not demonstrate. Some variations, he said, are normal - such as the cover two or three - and others occur "as the result of various pathologies, such as from injuries or from the introduction of a new system," such as the spread offense at Purdue. But while other Big Ten defenses adapted to various degrees to their new surroundings, there is very little evidence of any such evolution at Minnesota.
"All evidence suggests the Gophers have allowed more than 550 yards per game to offenses from the MAC and Sun Belt," Newhart said. "Until it sees hard data to suggest otherwise, the mainstream scientific community cannot accept that a secondary exists at the University of Minnesota."