As Purdue prepares to visit Minneapolis this weekend we have another guest blogger stopping by. This week it is Ryan Burns of Scout's Gopher Illustrated Ryan is here to answer my questions about the Gophers in advance of Saturday:
T-Mill: Minnesota has had some close calls this year against Oregon State and Rutgers. What were concerns in those games/Did they play down to the competition?
Ryan: Minnesota just been incredibly inconsistent this season with their play, and they've still yet to play a complete game in all three facets (offense, defense and special teams). There have been games where two of the three come together like at Maryland (Defense and Special teams) or against Penn State (Offense and Special teams), but Minnesota needs to play a complete game this weekend if they're going to have a lot of confidence heading into the last part of their schedule against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
The Gophers have struggled immensely in the passing game over the last few weeks as quarterback Mitch Leidner has been having issues with his accuracy, and the wide receivers have not been getting separation in the least bit. The running game has kept the offense on track, but the passing game is a major work in progress.
T-Mill: Mitch Leidner was supposed to be a first round pick, but his pass numbers have been underwhelming. What's his status?
Ryan: Mitch Leidner should have NEVER been deemed a first round pick, and the tough part about it for him is, the other media jackals in the Twin Cities market have a field day with it. That was never fair to him for ESPN to make that kind of designation, but Leidner is likely going to be a 6th or 7th round draft pick. He's got the ideal measurables, and when healthy and stepping into throws, he can make some throws. The lack of passing game options really limits Minnesota's offense, but I also believe Leidner is a little banged up and the staff hasn't said anything about it. His arm strength isn't quite there, and he's not as nimble, but we'll see how it looks against Purdue.
T-Mill: The last time these two teams played in Minneapolis it came down to the wire. Given Minnesota's struggles with Rutgers and such, is there a concern here against Purdue?
Ryan: If Purdue shows up and plays physical at the point of attack on both sides of the ball, they're absolutely going to have a shot. That's exactly what Rutgers did and it gave Minnesota fits. I also think Purdue's chances are going to come down to whether Minnesota has defensive backs KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford this weekend, as they're currently dealing with a legal issue, and as I write this, they are not allowed to play this weekend. They have a hearing later this week to try and rectify that, but if Minnesota has them, their defense has been stout. When Buford and Hardin are in the lineup during B1G play, Minnesota has allowed 10, 14 and 17 points. When they haven't been opponents like Penn State and Rutgers were able to have little issue moving the ball.
T-Mill: Purdue has a very poor run defense. It held up for a half last week, but was absolutely gashed in the final 25 minutes. How many tackles do Shannon Brooks and Rodney smith break on Saturday?
Ryan: Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are two backs that I'd put against any other Big Ten running back duo right now. They are playing at an extremely high level, especially Rodney Smith. Unfortunately for the Boilermaker defense, Smith and Brooks break a lot of tackles and if you give them a seam, you'll see their name plates as you try and catch them. The issue for Minnesota's running offense, is their offensive line hasn't done a great job of opening consistent holes for these two, but both are able to improvise and create yards when nothing is there. I expect both to be close to, if not over 100 yards rushing on Saturday.
T-Mill: How are things looking for Tracy Claeys? Is his job safe for next season?
Ryan: The fan base is largely undecided about Claeys future at Minnesota, and it's going to come down to these last four games. Minnesota lost two very winnable games against Penn State and Iowa, and they've managed to win the rest, and don't exactly get a juggernaut on Saturday in Purdue, but they will be tested in the final three games against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin, and so Claeys will have his chance to make a statement then. While I believe he'll be around for next season, I think we'll find out here for sure in the next month on how the Gophers play.
T-Mill: Do you have a prediction for Saturday?
Ryan: I think this is a game when if Minnesota comes out with Hardin and Buford, Minnesota's going to be able to get after the passer and see if they can do some damage against Blough and company, If they are not back, then I expect a tightly contested game for at least three quarters.
Minnesota 34, Purdue 17