This week we get a bit of a double shock with our opposing team interviews. First our friends at the Daily Gopher had me on earlier this week for their “Minnesota Nice” podcast. I talked with them about this weekend’s game, P.J. Fleck, and the tributes to Joe Tiller.
Second, we have an interview here with Ryan Burns of Gopher Illustrated, the Scout.com Minnesota site. I answered his questions earlier this week, but today he has some insight about the Gophers for Saturday.
T-Mill: The loss to Maryland was a bit of a surprise. What happened against the Terps?
Ryan: Minnesota played awful on offense, defense and special teams.
Gophers consistently ran inside zone into stacked boxes all game, and shocker, their two very talented running backs in Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks managed 74 yards on 30 carries because of it.
The Gophers staff won't let Rhoda keep on read option, so teams just key in on the running backs, and the play goes nowhere. Gopher quarterback Conor Rhoda is also going to have to move off his first read in passing situations as he had two interceptions on Saturday.
On defense, Maryland's skill position players forced a lot of missed tackles on Saturday, as the Gophers missed their chances for plenty of tackles for loss. Minnesota's best secondary player in Antoine Winfield Jr. also went out early against Maryland, and it's looking very likely that the Gophers will be without three of their top six defensive backs from two weeks ago. Minnesota also failed to generate pressure with their front four, and with the lack of experienced talent in the secondary, DC Robb Smith elected to have his backers help out the secondary, so the front four were on their own, and couldn't get pressure.
On special teams, Minnesota kicked two kickoffs out of bounds, missed a field goal, outkicked their coverage on the punt team, and missed a kickoff return in the final moments, so wasn't the greatest day all around.
T-Mill: Minnesota has had a very strong defense so far. Was it more of a result of the competition played?
Ryan: To me, it's all because of their lack of secondary talent right now. Both starting safeties will be out for the Purdue game with Duke McGhee suspended and Antoine Winfield Jr. out with injury. Throw in that CB3 Zo Craighton tore his ACL vs. MTSU, and Minnesota's going give true freshman safety Kendarian Handy-Holly his first career start. Put that together with the fact that teams are absolutely picking on starting corner Antonio Shenault, and with great success, and you can see my hesitation with this upcoming game this weekend.
Guys missed assignments in the run game, plus the missed tackles and nothing really went right for Minnesota's defense.
T-Mill: I saw a comment on Sunday that said coach fleck was possibly moving receivers to defensive back for depth. Is this a cause for great joy with Purdue's passing offense getting ready to face them?
Ryan: Minnesota's just got zero depth in their secondary right now.
They graduated four from last season, and then three more defensive backs were expelled, including both starting corners in January. Put that together with three key members in 2017 injured and out for this weekend's game, and you can see where the lack of depth comes into play.
Minnesota's going to trotting out more and more RS or true freshmen at corner and safety, so Mr. Brohm is definitely going to be licking his chops.
T-Mill: Minnesota is very run heavy team. Purdue's run defense is much improved. Who wins this matchup on Saturday?
Ryan: It depends how many times that Minnesota decides to continue to run into stacked boxes.
You can't ask an offensive line to play more than five guys, and 80+% of the plays last week against Maryland, the Terrapins had either +1 or +2 in the box.
Per Football Study Hall, Minnesota is 127th out of 128 FBS teams in rushing explosiveness, and that's sad to see because they have two of the top six running backs in the Big Ten in Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, but they have nowhere to go.
The Gophers have to start at least showing that they can attack the edge with jet sweeps, bubble screens, end arounds or just switch up the blocking scheme inside to include some pin and pull once in awhile.
Neither Smith or Brooks have a 30+ yard rush to start the season, and they haven't had any chances to accomplish that.
T-Mill: Is there a concern with Minnesota's own passing game struggles?
Ryan: I don't know about concern, but as teams continue to put seven or eight guys in the box, that means they'll be sitting in cover 0 or 1. That's where Minnesota has to mix in more play action, and give their receivers more and more chances to make big plays.
Minnesota's offensive line has been absolutely elite this season in pass protection as Conor Rhoda has had forever to throw, but Minnesota lost their second leading receiver for the season before the game last week in true freshman Demetrius Douglas. They have no proven players at receiver, with Tyler Johnson being the best among them.
Rhoda needs to move off his first read, as that'll help this team immensely in the passing game.