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Know thy Opponent takeover: The Daily Gopher

The first entry of the vacation period is graciously being handled by our good friends over at The Daily Gopher. They are working on their own previews at the moment and I answered some questions for them that should be posted later this week. Here is what Tom had to say about this year's Gopher squad:

Hammer and Rails:  In GBI's football yearbook it said that Minnesota was going to go away from the spread and back to a power running offense. Is this true? Will there still be some aspects of the spread to keep folks off guard?

The Daily Gopher: This is true.  The switch was partially made in December between the last regular season game and the Insight Bowl game against Kansas.  Initially I thought this was just going to be an attitude shift, but the formations would essentially remain the same.  But after seeing two TDs by a fullback in the bowl game, 38 rushing attempts in the same game (we didn't even rush that many times against Purdue!), the offensive coordinator being replaced, WRs transferring out and larger linemen being recruited; it has become obvious this is more than an attitude adjustment.

With all of that said, I think you will see multiple formations out of this offense.  When Jedd Fisch was hired as the new offensive coordinator he made it clear he didn't want to pigeon-hole our offense to this or that.  We will attack weaknesses we can find in the defense.  If that means spreading you out, we will (or so I think).  If that means pounding it between the tackles, we will.  This team's best weapons are under center and those receiving the ball so don't expect the days of 40+ rushing attempts.  Except for maybe the Purdue game if they are as bad against the run as they were in 2008.

H&R: What can you attribute last season's late swoon to? How will you guys avoid a similar fate this year?

TDG: It was a number of things like youth, injuries, mistakes, etc.  But essentially it came down to we just were not as good as our 7-1 start indicated.  The first eight games of the season we didn't make many mistakes, we were causing turnovers and making big plays.  The three point loss at Wisconsin is a perfect example of how poorly we played down the stretch.  In that game we committed 10 penalties, had three fumbles and two safeties.  We were good enough to win that game but not when making that many mistakes.

If I were to lean on any excuse it would be injuries, specifically Eric Decker.  He injured his ankle in the second half of the Northwestern game and the Gopher offense was not the same the rest of the year.  I am sure that were he healthy we would have beat Northwestern, Wisconsin could easily have gone the other way and Michigan would have been a different game from the start.  Losing your best player always hurts, but it happens to other teams as well and you have to adjust.

H&R: Obviously the biggest news for Minnesota is the opening of TCF Bank Stadium. Explain how this will become a tough new home field advantage for the Gophers after several teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, etc.) pretty much owned the Metrodome. This is especially true for all the agonizing last second losses suffered up there like Northwestern and Purdue.

TDG: I don't know if it will provide any specific home field advantage other than the fact that it will be full of Gopher fans for at least the first couple seasons.  What was embarrassing in the past was seeing the Metrodome 70% full of Iowa or Wisconsin fans, even North Dakota State had more fans in attendance than Gopher fans in 2007.  Getting beat on a regular basis by Ohio State and Michigan is a factor of them just being significantly better than us.  By my quick math I show that Purdue was 5-8 in the Dome.  Their dominance came later when Joe Tiller owned Glen Mason regardless of the venue. 

The real advantage has been and will continue to come with recruiting.  No doubt it has gone a LONG way in recruiting kids when you can show them the finest facility in all of college football.  

H&R: How do you see Tim Brewster elevating himself above a Ron Zook type? He is already a damn good recruiter, but what does he need to do this year to prove his coaching chops?

TDG: Win, just like Ron Zook, he needs to win.  It wasn't long ago, and it is probably picking up again, when people said the Zooker could recruit but he couldn't coach his way out of a paper bag.  Then he took the Illini to the Rose Bowl.  Brewster is in a very similar position.  He is bringing in talent, but he needs to win.  He needs the big win in Columbus that Zook got or he needs to win a couple rivalry trophies.

Recruiting great talent makes up for a number of coaching mistakes and it makes winning much easier than doing it the other way.  But if you want to truly be respected you need to do both.  This year's schedule is brutal for the Gophers so even finishing with the same 7-5 record as a year ago would be a step forward but winning in the range of 8-10 games would elevate him to being much more than the king of Twitter.

H&R. Finally, what is your take on the more ambitious scheduling that Brewster has jumped toward? Will this be a major benefit in the long run?

TDG: From a fans perspective it is outstanding.  For years Mason was ripped for scheduling cupcakes, finding three wins in conference and then ending up at a meaningless bowl.  The formula worked but we were never prepared (or good enough) to beat anybody respectable in the Big Ten.  Now we go from scheduling Bowling Green and Florida International to USC and probably Texas.  I'm sure there is a happy medium but putting yourself in position for national TV exposure and the chance to play great teams will help with recruiting and it continues to put butts in the stadium. 

Personally, I am all for it.  It is a win-win for the Gophers.  Nobody expects you to win and if you play competitive it almost counts as a win.  Ultimately it will make getting bowl eligible that much more difficult, but if you fancy yourself as an improving team then you get those wins somewhere else (by beating Purdue :)).