Once again we have an opponent blogger Q&A for the week. This week it is Mark Mowery, who handles things for SB Nation's The Daily Gopher. My answers are currently up over at TDG.
T-Mill: The Timberwolves cut Robbie Hummel. After all the damage Minnesota has done to his knee, APOLOGIZE NOW!!!!
Mark: I was at the game at the Barn where he suffered his first injury. Ironically, I was on crutches of my own after undergoing my own knee surgery. I always enjoyed watching Hummel play and did truly feel bad for the way that special year came to a halt for your Boilermakers due to that injury. Sadly, the T-Wolves have consistently upgraded the talent on their roster and no longer had a spot for Robbie. Best
wishes to him.
T-Mill: Seriously though, Minnesota looks like they are severely underachieving and the offense is a mess. What's the biggest reason they are struggling?
Mark: I personally believe the biggest reason for the offense's struggles has been the utterly lack of consistency from the offensive line. Not all of Gopher Nation agrees with this assessment but a combination of injuries, regression in performance, and lacking of cohesiveness on the offensive line has affected every aspect of the offense. The freshmen running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks do not have holes to run through and are limited in what they can gain on the ground with 8 men in the box. There are 8 men in the box because Mitch Leidner has been unable to keep opposing defenses modest. He has been unable to do this because of a lack of time to throw and lack of separation among his receiving core. This is due to the poor performance from the offensive line. If they can get back to being the maulers we expected them to be at the beginning of the season, the offense would almost assuredly show a noticeable improvement in performance.
T-Mill: Who gets the start at quarterback, Mitch Leidner or Demry Croft and why?
Mark: Jerry Kill has specifically stated that Demry Croft went into the game at Northwestern to get game experience, not to replace Mitch Leidner as the starter. While coaches are liable to stretch the truth at times when addressing the media, I believe him in this regard. Mitch Leidner will be starting on Saturday in West Lafayette because he gives the Gophers the best chance to win. Putting a true freshman, no matter how talented, behind this offensive line with this receiving core would be what I believe to be a poor choice. It appears Kill agrees. Many among the Gopher faithful believe Croft should be permanently thrown into the fire and become the starting quarterback now that his redshirt has been burned but it appears that, for now, Coach Kill is standing by his redshirt junior quarterback.
T-Mill: Last year Purdue had an excellent chance to get a W in Minneapolis and kind of gave the game away. Is there a definite chance they close the deal in West Lafayette?
Mark: There's most definitely a chance for the Boilermakers to come away with a victory this Saturday. What the first week of Big Ten action showed us fans is that anything can happen in conference play this year. Ohio State got taken to the wire by Indiana. Nebraska lost to Illinois. Iowa held Wisconsin to 6 points and under 100 yards rushing in Madison. Northwestern has the best overall resume of any Big Ten team thus far this season. It's been crazy and the conference slate is only a week old. Purdue has as much of a chance as anybody to win on Saturday.
T-Mill: The defense has been a major strength for the Gophers, even containing TCU for the most part. Are you going to have to win games 10-6?
Mark: As the team stands now, yes, the Gophers will have to win games the ugly way if they want to even sniff a 4-4 conference record. Iowa vs Wisconsin and Nebraska vs Illinois set the Big Ten West scoring template with their 10-6 and 14-13 contests, respectively. Minnesota will rely on their staunch (yet currently hobbled) defense to keep them in games. If the special teams can get back to their usual high level of play under Coach Kill and the defense can begin to force turnovers again (they've gone three games now without a turnover), they should be able to continue a conservative approach on offense and still stay in games. And yes, for the most part, they will probably be pretty dang ugly.
T-Mill: What do you see happening in this game on Saturday?
Mark: I'll be honest and say I'm terrified of this game. The Gophers are coming off their most demoralizing victory in several years and the offense is in complete disarray. I don't care who you are playing, going on the road in Big Ten football is never an easy thing to do. When you assume victory, you end up losing to Illinois, as Minnesota did last October. With that said, this game is going to be a fight until the end, just like last year. Purdue has hung tough with the likes of Bowling Green and Michigan State and I don't see this being any different due to the Gophers' struggles on offense. I will most hesitantly predict a 17-14 Gopher victory via a last second field goal, similar to the heart-breaking result for Boilermaker fans last year.