The Big Ten opener is here and it is against West Division foe Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have dominated the series with Purdue of late, but both schools are in the creamy middle of the Big Ten trying to ascend higher. This week we have Ryan Burns of Gopher Illustrated stopping by to talk about boat rowing and the Golden Gophers.
T-Mill: Minnesota is a shaky 3-0, but still 3-0. In all three games the Gophers could have lost, so what was the largest concern in those results?
Ryan: Inconsistency has plagued this team, and that’s on offense, defense and special teams.
Offensively, Minnesota is averaging over 30 points a game thus far, but it could be even higher. Quarterback Tanner Morgan has had some bounces go his way with balls clanking off defenders hands, plus Minnesota fumbled the ball twice in Fresno State territory. The biggest thing holding back the offense right now is the offensive line. There’s a lot of inexperience on that line that has only three games working together, and it shows. The Gophers have struggled mightily to run the ball so far this year, even though they have their most talented RB room under Fleck.
Defensively, it’s gotten much better in recent weeks, but motion and misdirection have given this defense fits at times. It’s essentially a brand new interior of Minnesota’s defensive line, but three different third down penalities against Fresno State turned from punts to points for the Bulldogs. Those mistakes can’t happen.
Then on special teams, it’s been poor. A blocked field goal for a touchdown, plus kickoff coverage has been lacking as well.
If Minnesota continues this inconsistency into Big Ten play, I can’t imagine that the wins will continue to bounce their way.
T-Mill: Jeff Brohm and P.J. Fleck are always going to be compared to each other since they started in the Big Ten at the same time and similar type schools and Purdue even considered both. Who has the edge so far in their little rivalry?
Ryan: Great question, and I’m not sure either has really done enough yet to really separate themselves. Minnesota stomped in Purdue last year, while Brohm got the best of Fleck in year one. Brohm does have two wins over ranked opponents, where as Fleck has one with Fresno State. Getting Purdue to two bowl games in two years is impressive, but I think I need to see more of how year three goes to really start to give an edge one way or the other.
T-Mill: Purdue went into its bye week extremely banged up and with a ton of youth all over the field. How does Minnesota exploit this, especially given Purdue’s offensive line struggles?
Ryan: Minnesota’s offense is a ground and point type of offense with very little pace. They want to inside zone and RPO you into submission. That’s worked at times in the non-conference, but the struggles on the offensive line have held back this Kirk Ciarrocca offense. For Joe Rossi, Minnesota’s defensive coordinator he needs help from his offense if the Gophers are going to stay in this game. The Gophers O can’t go three-and-out as Purdue has the horses to make this game out of reach early. For the defenders to remain rested and to implement changes, Rossi needs his offense to do what they do.
If Purdue’s running game can’t get started, and Minnesota can get Purdue into passing down situations, you’re going to see Rossi throw the playbook at that Purdue OL with different looks and stunts. Carter Coughlin has yet to have a “big” game yet in 2019, but that may start on Satutrday.
T-Mill: After TCU ran all over Purdue how excited are you to see what Rodney Smith and Mohamed Ibrahim can do?
Ryan: I’m excited to see if following a bye week, Minnesota figured out how to fix their ailing running game. Between Smith and Ibrahim, Minnesota may also get Shannon Brooks back, who you may remember from the 2016 meeting as he had a LONG touchdown run that saw him throw a Boilermaker safety twice on the same run. The running backs are as talented as we’ve seen, but if Minnesota can’t get their running game going consistently again, it means much more projecting things out to the rest of the Big Ten schedule.
T-Mill: What is your pick for Saturday and why?
Ryan: Minnesota 34, Purdue 31.
Purdue’s style of offense is going to keep them in this game regardless of game-script, but Minnesota’s going to need points early to keep up with Purdue at home.
The matchup of the day I’ll be watching is the Gopher secondary against Purdue’s pass-catchers. I’ve been impressed with Minnesota’s corners in pass coverage so far, but Purdue has the horses on the outside unlike anything that Minnesota has seen so far.
If Sindelar can’t play, I still think this game is close as the Gophers haven’t shown they can blow a game wide open yet.
This Gopher team is more talented than I thought coming into the season, but they’re also far more inconsistent than I also believed. The talent has won Minnesota those three non-conference games, but the inconsistently is going to determine the Gophers fate in West Lafayette.