This week we have JDMill of SB Nation's The Daily Gopher here to talk to us about Saturday's trip to Minneapolis. At 5-1 the Gophers are naturally excited about their prospects. Here is what JDMill had to say:
T-Mill: The Minnesota passing offense has struggled mightily, while Purdue's pass defense has been suspect. Does Mitch Leidner get things moving on Saturday?
Jeremy: Mitch has been pretty good the last couple of games against Michigan and Northwestern going a combined 24/37 for 320 yards, 1 TD & 1 INT. Those numbers aren't all that impressive for most QB's, and are probably a decent single game for a lot of QB's, but for this offense, Mitch has been doing exactly what we need him to do. As long as the run game is doing it's job, Leidner is going to be asked to throw the ball about 20 times/game. The throws are typically going to be short and often coming out of play-action. If Mitch can complete 60% of those passes, keep defenses honest, and be a potential threat to run as well, he's doing exactly what we need him to be doing.
T-Mill: Minnesota is 5-1, but a somewhat suspect 5-1 given their schedule. Just how good are the Gophers?
Jeremy: Suspect because we gave up 30 points on the road the to 3rd highest scoring offense in the country? Suspect because we rushed for 208 yards on the road against the 8th ranked rushing defense in the country? I guess I'm not sure how our 5-1 record is suspect. If you're saying it's because our 5 wins haven't come against anyone impressive, fine, but show me a B1G team that impressive wins on their schedule. The Gophers lost to a MUCH more talented TCU team, dominated a down Michigan team, and beat an evenly matched Northwestern team. All we can do is play the games on our schedule. Every team in the conference has at least 1 loss. The consensus two best teams in the conference, MSU & OSU, I would argue, have one (semi-)impressive win between them: MSU over Nebraska. Other than that, pretty much nobody has beaten anybody, so I'd argue that if Minnesota's 5-1 record is suspect, so is everyone else's.
How good is this Gopher team? I think the Gophers fall into the 2nd Tier of four that I think define the B1G as of today.
Tier 1: MSU, OSU, Nebraska
Tier 2: Iowa, Wisconsin, Maryland, Rutgers, Minnesota
Tier 3: Northwestern, PSU
Tier 4: Purdue, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana
That second tier is a complete toss up. You've got teams that haven't been impressive, but have won. Teams that have been impressive but still lost games, and teams that are new to the conference that we just don't know that much about yet but who have, I'd argue, overachieved.
T-Mill: Doesn't Purdue's recent improvement concern Gopher fans heading into Saturday?
Jeremy: Yes. Look, Minnesota is in no position to take anyone lightly. We're flawed. The book is out on us. Purdue put up 31 points on the best defense in the conference. We are absolutely concerned.
T-Mill: What are the strengths of the Minnesota defense and how do they match up with Purdue?
Jeremy: Minnesota's defensive strength is the secondary. The Gophers rank 5th in the country in passes defended, 12th in the country with 1.5 INT's/game, and 15th in the country in turnover margin. The secondary gives up a lot of yards, but this is a defense as a whole that doesn't give up a lot of points.
T-Mill: Given the 2-0 start in league play can this Minnesota team win the West?
Jeremy: The bad news for the Gophers is that our schedule is an absolute BEAR to end the season. Iowa, OSU, @Nebraska, @Wisconsin. Whereas a team like Northwestern has a very front-loaded schedule from the standpoint of difficulty, Minnesota's is VERY back-loaded.
The good news is we control our own destiny. If we win out, we obviously win the West. If we drop games to, say, OSU and Wisconsin, we probably win the West. Every other scenario means we need help.
I'm not ready to say Minnesota can win the West. I've been around this team long enough to know things never go smoothly. If I had to guess today, I'd guess we win our next two games, go 1-3 in our final four games, to finish 8-4 overall, 5-3 in conference, which probably gets us a 2nd or 3rd place finish in the West.
T-Mill: Finally, do you have a prediction?
Jeremy: Purdue putting up 31 points on MSU scares me, but I'm sheepishly choosing to believe that had to do with Purdue playing at home. With Purdue having the 103rd ranked pass defense in the country, I'm hoping that Mitch Leidner can continue to build confidence in the passing game and perhaps get a couple of TD passes. I think the Gophers win on Homecoming, 31-20.