Know thy Opponent 2010: Minnesota Golden Gophers

This year's Minnesota game should be a special time. It will be Homecoming, an event we haven't won the past two seasons. We will also be honoring the 2000 Big Ten championship team with throwback uniforms. That should bring plenty of good karma. Drew Brees threw for approximately 2,976 yards in all three games against Minnesota during his career. Minnesota could have a similar gathering of its last Rose Bowl team, but it is hard to find many that are still alive, plus the throwback uniforms and leather helmets would be dangerous.

I kid, of course. This game feels like one we should get. The past two seasons have seen a lot of losses, but both losses to Minnesota have been games in which we have played terrible football. It is a lot like the situation with Northwestern. We need this game to be a victory if we are going to return to a bowl game.

2009 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten

Bowl Result: lost Insight Bowl 14-13 to Iowa State

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher, Gopher Football

Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 33-30-3

Last Purdue win: 45-31 at Minnesota on 9/22/07

Last Minnesota win: 35-20 at Minnesota on 10/10/09

Last Season for the Golden Gophers:

Minnesota may have been the worst bowl team in the country last year. Their best wins were at home over Michigan State and Northwestern. Those were good teams, but hardly great. They also squeezed past Syracuse in the opener by three and had to survive a close call with Division 1-AA South Dakota State 16-13. I am sure the Jackrabbits are a good team, but no Big Ten team should struggle to get by them. Among the losses were a home loss to Illinois, a two touchdown loss to a highly overrated California team, and a 12-0 loss to Iowa. It was the second straight year in which the Gophers were shutout by the Hawkeyes, proving that you need to at least score in order to consider it a rivalry.

As a result, Tim Brewster is on the hot seat. The Daily Gopher recently argued whether this was fair or not. He has seen some marginal improvement. After going a sad 1-11 in 2007 he has rebounded with seasons of 7-6, 6-7, and consecutive Insight Bowl losses. Like his predecessor, Glen Mason, he has a habit of good starts (7-1 in 2008, 4-2 in 2009) and poor finishes.

This season there does not appear to be room for a good start. They play a road game to start the year at a dangerous Middle Tennessee State. The Gophers lost their last road game at a Sun Belt school too. USC and Northern Illinois also come to the Bank, meaning a 2-2 non-conference season could be a success. The home Big Ten slate is brutal with conference favorites Ohio State, Penn State, and Iowa all making their first visits to TCF Bank Stadium.

Minnesota offense

The good news is that Minnesota has one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference with Adam Weber. The bad news, as The Rivalry states, is that he has yet to be put in the right situation. He has been a starter in each of his three previous seasons, but he has yet to put up eye-popping numbers. Indeed, in last year's Purdue game he was 5 of 9 for 74 yards and two interceptions. 47 of those came on one play to Eric Decker that set up a key touchdown. He had only two games last year with 20 or more completions. He has 52 career touchdown passes against 42 interceptions while seeing his yardage dip every year. He struggled behind a line that gave up 40 sacks and didn't create anything in the running game. As a team, Minnesota barely averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game. The Gophers have virtually no versatility on offense.

That running game was buoyed by the Purdue game, where our crappy run defense gave up 207 of the 1,293 yards Minnesota gained on the ground in 2009. We also gave up 4 of the 19 touchdowns. It was a sad, sad effort that must change this year. We will not get better as a team if we can't prevent poor running teams like Minnesota and Notre Dame from running so much. Duane Bennett was the leading rusher with only 376 yards and six touchdowns. Kevin Whaley was second on the team with 367 yards and two more scores. DeLeon Eskridge was the third back with 294 yards and three scores, but as the numbers tell, none of the three was a huge threat for 100 yards. MarQueis Gray, a former Ben Davis star in Indianapolis, can be an X-factor in the run game. He might see a few snaps at quarterback and he did run for 265 yards last year. As one of the biggest recruiting gets of the last few years there is pressure to get him involved in the offense more.

The passing game will struggle with the loss of Decker, who was far and away the top receiver of the past two years. The top returning receiver is Troy Stoudermire, who caught just 26 balls for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Da'Jon McKnight (17-311, 0) and Brandon Green (21-293-1) saw extensive action as well. Weber must rely on other receivers with Decker's departure. He had a tendency to rely on Decker way too much, and now his safety blanket is gone. Hayo Carpenter is a former four star receiver that may contribute more.

The good news is that all five starters return on the offensive line. The bad news is that they were awful a year ago. That could mean for wholesale changes along the front and even allowing 4-star recruit Jimmy Gjere to play immediately. For the record, Dominic Alford and Jeff Wills are listed as the tackles. Wills is a massive 6'7" 375 pounds. Chris Bunders and Matt Carufel are listed as the guards, with D.J. Burris as the center. You have to think the line is fluid though. While the five starters are all comfortably over 300 pounds, their Rivals depth chart lists no backup over 300 pounds.

Minnesota Defense

As bad as the situation is on offense, it is worse on defense. No fewer than nine starters are gone from a defense that gave up nearly 2,000 yards rushing and 2,800 yards passing. In fact, if we hadn't given them three turnovers and a blocked field goal for a touchdown in last year's contest it would have been very different.

The only experienced returning starters are safeties Kyle Theret and Kim Royston. The duo combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions, and a sack last year. They are two nice seniors to build around in the secondary, and will undoubtedly be called upon to lead a depleted defense. Johnny Johnson and Michael Carter were listed as #2 at both corner positions last year. Carter did appear in all 13 games as a reserve and he notched 11 tackles. This secondary won't be quite as new as our own, but it should be ripe for Robert Marve and experienced receivers like Keith Smith and Cortez Smith to find some room.

The group of linebackers is completely gutted, with only Keanon Cooper and Gary Tinsley returning with any experience. Cooper had 43 tackles and a sack as a top true freshman reserve. He didn't start, but he appeared in all 13 games. Tinsley had 21 tackles and a sack. Some players, such as Sam Maresh, have been highly recruited, but are no longer with the program.

All four starters along the defensive line must be replaced, and this is from a unit that did not generate a great pass rush in the first place. The rushing numbers were also poor, though Purdue barely rushed for 100 yards. Marve should have time to through and Ralph Bolden and Al-Terek McBurse should have room to run. Anthony Jacobs will probably be a starter after gaining two sacks as a reserve end. Brandon Kirksey may draw a starting spot as well. Ultimately, with so many open positions it is hard to judge who will get them.

Minnesota Special Teams

The biggest moment of last year's game was a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown by Traye Simmons. Eric Ellestad will return as the kicker after hitting on 13 of 17 attempts, but he only had a long of 39 yards. His weak leg allowed opponents to average 24 yards per kick return with one touchdown. Of course, Minnesota's offense would have to score a lot in order for him to kick off.

The punter's position is wide open after the graduation of Blake Haudan. Dan Orseske will likely take over after sitting as a freshman last year. Bryant Allen handled punt returns quite well as a true freshman by averaging better than 12 yards. He and Stoudermire will also likely handle kickoffs. Allen is also a speedy receiver that could factor into the passing game.

Intangibles

This team is picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big Ten with good reason. They are a lot like us last season. They face a good (if depleted) Pac-10 opponent and a very good Northern Illinois team. They're defense is young and inexperienced. The offense was mostly punchless late last season. They only positions in which they have a lot of experience is quarterback and offensive line. Both of those units underperformed in a season that barely resulted in a bowl game.

This is also our homecoming. Coach Hope will remind this group they played like crap in the past two games against the Gophers. In 2008 Minnesota won because Curtis Painter got hurt, Justin Siller had no experience running the offense, and the Gophers hit two big plays to set up scores. Last year We went up 10-0 and fell apart on the road. We can't do that again.

Game Outlook

We have to get this one at home. With Ohio State the following week we have an excellent chance to start 2-0 in conference play. Do that, and we go to Ohio State where one shocking upset can change the Big Ten race in our favor. On paper we look better than Minnesota. Ryan Kerrigan and Gerald Gooden should be able to get to Weber. Our experienced linebackers like Jason Werner, Antwon Higgs, Chris Carlino, Joe Holland, and Dwayne Beckford should be able to stop the run. The secondary won't be tested greatly. Kawann Short can even be a force in the middle. If we're a bowl team this should be a win.

Prediction

The homecoming crowd and the presence of the 2000 team on the sidelines is only an added bonus. We should roll in this one and avenge a pair of crappy games. Purdue 31, Minnesota 17

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