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Interviews with the Enemy: A Q&A with Ryan Burns

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We step outside hte SB nation network this week to talk with Ryan Burns of 247 about the Gophers.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

This week we have a different blogger stopping by. Ryan Burns has run the 247 Minnesota site for several years now and has done a great job. Earlier this week I answered his questions about Purdue over at Gopher Illustrated, so here are his repsonses to my questions:

T-Mill: My goodness, what happened at Illinois? I see the defensive coordinator was fired, but wow. That was a stunning result.

Ryan: The Illinois debacle is a culmination for almost two years of atrocious defensive play under former defensive coordinator Robb Smith. He inherited a defense that had played well in 2016, and it’s gone from good, to just a complete dumpster fire as you saw on Saturday. Minnesota gives up 430 rushing yards to an Illinois team that had only beaten Rutgers since September.

llinois scored seven touchdowns on Saturday. The average length of those scores was 47.6 yards. In their six Big Ten games, Minnesota’s given up 31 touchdowns. The average length per score against this Gopher defense you ask? 34.74 yards. Smith’s defense has been awful, so Fleck had to make the call to inject some change into the defense.

Minnesota’s offense with nine underclassmen starting last week isn’t currently constructed to score 35+ points a game, so the defense that’s been giving up over 43 points a game in Big Ten play hasn’t done Fleck any favors this fall.

T-Mill: At Purdue we have had a keen eye on Minnesota since we were heavily involved in courting Fleck two years ago. What is the overall opinion on him so far since he seems to be struggling a bit?

Ryan: I believe Fleck can absolutely have success at Minnesota, he just needs to figure out how to get this defense to be average.

Offensively, in the eight years I’ve been covering the team, I’ve never been as optimistic about a Gopher offense as I am right now. This offense is putting up yards and points with eight plus underclassmen starting most games, and that’s with freshmen quarterbacks, your two best playmakers on offense being out for the season, and playing freshmen everywhere. Minnesota’s only going lose two offensive starters in 2019, and plausibly only one for the 2020 season, so expectations are high for an offense that he and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca have completely turned around in less than two years.

How does that happen? Recruiting. Contrary to popular belief, stars matter, and Fleck signed Minnesota’s highest rated recruiting class in the Internet era last winter, and their 2019 class is even high rated than that currently.

The gripe that fans have is with this defense, and rightfully so. Now that Fleck’s pulled the plug on Smith and his Schiano-esque schemes, it’ll be interesting to see what changes on Saturday.

T-Mill: Offensively, what has been working for the Gophers? The numbers are better than I remember them being earlier in the year.

Ryan: They actually have legit playmakers on the outside, and the offensive line has taken a step forward in the last month.

Tyler Johnson is a legit WR1 and has eviscerated most defensive backs lined up across from him in Big Ten play, but Minnesota’s also got Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. Bateman went for 175 and two scores last week against Illinois, and Autman-Bell has been key on third down situations.

The offensive line with the insertion of 6’9” 400 lb true freshman tackle Daniel Faalele has done wonders for solidifying this offensive line, and we’ve seen improved run and pass protection because of it.

T-Mill: What do you expect to change defensively this week, especially against Purdue’s really good passing attack?

Ryan: Minnesota’s now assigned Joe Rossi, a former Rutgers defensive coordinator to coach the defense in the final three games. The weird, but true fact about this, is it’s the third time that Joe Rossi has replaced Robb Smith as defensive coordinator in his career. He did it at Maine, Rutgers and now Minnesota.

The hope is that Minnesota can employ some different schemes under Smith as the off-coverage wasn’t working, and the Gopher linebackers didn’t have a clue as to what they were reading.

T-Mill: Finally, what does Minnesota have to do to beat Purdue?

Ryan: Hold Purdue to under 40 points, which I don’t believe is realistic. Seeing how DJ Knox and Rondale Moore went off against Schiano’s Ohio State defense, and those type of schemes are what this Gopher defense is built around, is pretty terrifying.

I’m think Brohm’s squad goes off against a newly-lead defense on Saturday.