Know Thy Opponent 2012: Minnesota Golden Gophers

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 05: MarQueis Gray #5 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers looks to throw a pass in the fourth quarter of the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on November 5, 2011 in East Lansing, Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Gophers 31-24. (Photo by Mark A. Cunningham/Getty Images)

This year's Purdue schedule is very interesting. If the Boilers somehow take two of their first three Big Ten games it looks like, at least on paper, they'll be right there for the leaders Division Title. The remaining five games of the Big Ten slate are much more manageable, but a four games in five road trip starting with the Ohio State game is a difficult challenge.

For Purdue to contend it cannot afford to lose the conference games that it won a year ago. The Boilers got back to a bowl game on the strength of the bottom of the conference. Two out of 12 teams in the league did not play in the postseason and Purdue beat them both in Indiana and Minnesota. Purdue also beat 6-6 teams Ohio State and Illinois, who both barely qualified for postseason play. All four of those teams are schools Purdue faces in the last half of the season. Although Ohio State will very likely not be 6-6 again, Minnesota is one of those games that Purdue absolutely needs after dominating the Golden Gophers in West Lafayette.

2011 Record: 3-9, 2-6 Big Ten

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher

Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 33-32-3

Last Purdue win: 45-17 at Purdue on 10/8/11

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

Last Season for the Golden Gophers:

An important distinction in this game is that Purdue can tie the all-time series with the Gophers. As it stands now, Purdue only has a winning record against Indiana, Northewstern, Iowa, and Nebraska in the Big Ten. Minnesota and Illinois are relatively close that can tip our way over the next few seasons.

Last year was a 45-17 dominant victory for Purdue which was 45-3 at one point late in the third quarter. The Boilers barely gave up 100 yards of total offense, Ricardo Allen had his third career pick-six, and we spread offensive touchdowns around to Akeem Shavers (twice), Raheem Mostert, Ralph Bolden, and O.J. Ross.

Everyone did a little bit of everything. Both Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve threw touchdown passes as this was our most comfortable win of the conference season. It was an enjoyable game that was never really in doubt.

The Gophers got better after this game. The overall record was 3-9 in Jerry Kill's first season. The results were very similar to the final Tim Brewster season. Minnesota started 1-6 with a loss to a 1-AA team (we really need to talk about this, Minnesota. STOP SCHEDULING DAKOTA SCHOOLS!) before beating Iowa and Illinois again in conference play to salvage something.

Progress was made, however. Minnesota was impressive in playing a tight game at USC to start the year. They also pushed Michigan State in East Lansing. There is some hope for a bowl game this year assuming Goldy holds serve against a weaker non-conference slate of at UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse.

Minnesota Offense:

If you were to rate the Big Ten's running quarterbacks you would have Denard Robinson at the top, followed by Braxton Miller, then MarQueis Gray. The fifth-year senior is on his final go-around in Minneapolis after playing as a wide receiver before moving back to quarterback. The numbers weren't bad last year. Gray had 966 yards rushing and six scores to go with 1,495 yards passing and eight more touchdowns. More telling was the fact he had eight interceptions and he completed only 50% of his passes.

The passing simply has to get better, otherwise the offense is again going to be Gray running around trying to create something. He was already the team's leading rusher, and he won't be helped by the loss of Duane Bennett (639 yards, 3 TDs). Donnell Kirkwood (229-3) is the top running back left from last season. The running game was never the problem, however.

DaJon McKnight (51-760-4) played the Eric Decker Memorial Role of "I am options A, B,C, D, and probably E on every passing play." That's great as long as he was open. If he was covered, however, the passing game froze. Collin McGarry was the next highest receiver with just 16 catches for 120 yards and two scores and he is gone.

Minnesota simply needs someone, anyone, to be a threat to catch a pass other than McKnight now that he has graduated. Malcolm Moulton (14-174-0), Ge'Shun Harris (Ed Note: I was unaware he was kicked off the team, but Commenter GAUpher helped with fixing many of these errors), Devin Crawford Tufts, John Rabe, and Marcus Jones have to do more.

Gray will likely have time to throw. He was only sacked 22 times last year and his elusiveness allows him to keep plays alive. Ed Olson, his brother Tommy Olson, Zack Epping, and Caleb Bak return with starting experience.

Minnesota Defense:

The unit gave up over 400 yards and almost 32 points per game. Minnesota could be equally bad against the run and the pass. Many starters are now gone, however, and there is not a new depth chart out listing this year's probable starters. We rushed for 217 yards against them last year between 10 ball carriers. Akeem Hunt and Shavers combined for 112 yards on 19 carries and a score.

It is safe to say that Minnesota's defense will be fluid. Keanon Cooper had 77 tackles as the third linebacker, and is the leading returning tackler. The team only intercepted four passes as and in addition to not intercepting passes Minnesota had very little pass rush. Projected defensive end starters D.L. Wilhite and Ben Perry only had four sacks between them.

It's really hard to say much on the Minnesota defense. Not many starters are back, but it is not like we're breaking up the 1985 Chicago Bears here. The Gophers are either going to have to ask the same players to be significantly better or hope that inexperienced newcomers can come in and play lights out from the beginning.

Other key returners are Troy Stoudermire and Mike Rallis, but there are a lot of empty positions given that there were nine seniors on offense and defense each last season.

Minnesota Special Teams:

This is an area that we did get burned by the Gophers last year. Kick returner Marcus Jones took one back all the way for their first touchdown. Bennett also returned a kickoff for a score. Dan Orseske comes back as the experienced punter, but he averaged a paltry 37 yards per kick last year.

Chris Hawthorne and Jordan Wettstein each hit six field goals last season and both have range from 50 yards. Hawthorne is listed as the starter for now.

Game Outlook:

Not many people are expecting much out of the Gophers as they lost a lot of experience from a team that wasn't really good in the first place. Coach Kill has a lot of holes to fill on a defense that regularly got scorched and a passing game that did very little. Honestly, as an outsider looking in I see a team that is MarQueis Gray as an excellent player and very little else. It is almost like facing the old Indiana teams with Antwaan Randle-El.

Jerry Kill is clearly building in the long-term here. They are hoping to get through a non-conference season without a bad loss or two before they worry about bowl games and such. They have to be looking at our game as a possible win, however, since we sit between games against Wisconsin and Michigan.

This still needs to be a Purdue victory. The running game was successful last season, so we need to hit them with the Akeems early and often. Defensively our mission is simple: contain Gray. Last year we held him to 20 yards rushing and 104 yards passing. He threw more touchdowns to our team than his own.

Prediction:

I think the defense has a big day here and Purdue earns a nice road victory. Again, it is hard to predict given that so many positions are still up in the air. There are a bunch of junior college guys on their way, but if they don't work out it could be a very long season. Purdue took care of the ball with no turnovers last season against three for Minnesota. As long as Purdue takes care of the ball again it should win easily. Purdue 31, Minnesota 13

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