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Interviews with the Enemy: A Q&A with Gopher Illustrated

Let’s speak with Ryan Burns!

Iowa v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ryan Burns of 247s Gopher Illustrated has been a regular guest Q&A subject here at Hammer & Rails. Earlier this week I answered his questions, so here are his answers to mine about the Gophers.

T-Mill: What’s wrong with Minnesota? You guys were really solid last year and not far off from an undefeated season. Now you’re struggling big time. What gives?

Ryan: I mean if we just look at last week, I think the better question is what’s going right with Minnesota? The offense was a disaster against Iowa, the defense has been poor all season long and the Gopher special teams continue to do everything but help the team.

To be honest, this season so far is more about the latter two units than it is the offense, as Minnesota’s still put up 29 points per game despite their 1-3 record. The points have really come in the running game as the Gophers lead the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns and carries as they’re working running back Mo Ibrahim to his limit every week. He has an absurd 42 carry-lead over the next Big Ten running back, and that needs to change here soon as I’m skeptical that Ibrahim won’t break down soon on that pace. Minnesota’s passing game has been a shell of what they were just one year ago, and that’s the biggest mystery here. New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is also the quarterback’s coach and Tanner Morgan has looked “off” in each game that the Gophers have played this season. After a 30:7 TD to INT ratio last fall, he’s at 4:4 through four games and completing less than 60% of his passes. He’s not going through progressions and he’s forcing the ball to the reigning Big Ten wide receiver of the year in Rashod Bateman. It’s just not fluid in the passing game right now.

Defensively it’s just chunk play after chunk play and Minnesota ranks dead last in yards per punt, net yards per punt, net yards per kickoff, PAT percentage and they have zero return game.

T-Mill: Mohamed Ibrahim has been playing like the best running back in the league. What can Purdue do to slow him down?

Ryan: Tackle him before he gets a head of steam going. Ibrahim is playing like one of the best backs in the country as he’s a perfect fit for the Gophers inside / outside zone blocking scheme. He’s got elite vision that can see where the hole is going to be, not where it currently is, and he can setup defenders at the second and third levels to “take the bait” and Ibrahim can then just bounce outside or it results in the defender taking a poor angle and Ibrahim won’t go down on first contact.

If your Purdue’s DC on Saturday, I’d load the box and make Tanner Morgan and Mike Sanford show that the passing game can get back to it’s 2019 form. They have the pass-catchers to do it, but the passing game has been so out of whack in 2020.

T-Mill: The defense seems like it has been inconsistent at best, especially against Maryland. What gives?

Ryan: Everything gives against this Minnesota defense as there is an incredible amount of inconsistency at each level of the Gophers defense. Fleck would alert you to that Minnesota lost seven defensive starters from their 2019 team and four of them were NFL Draft picks, and that’s true, but it still doesn’t excuse what we’ve seen from Joe Rossi’s unit. To make things even more interesting, the Gophers will have two defensive starters out for the Purdue game in DT Keonte Schad and CB Benjamin St-Juste as both were recent COVID-positive.

Any opposing running game that the Gophers defense has faced has gotten going in a big way, which is going to be facinating to watch on Saturday as Purdue doesn’t want to run the ball at all. The Gophers have given up 7.2 yards per carry, which is top in the Big Ten by nearly 2.5 yards and opponents are rushing for 238 yards a game. The linebackers have been maddening with their lack of tackling, correct angles of pursuit and ability to shed tackles.

Minnesota hasn’t really been tested through the air too much as opponents haven’t had to pass the ball, so this will be a good test for the Gophers secondary.

T-Mill: What scares you the most about facing Purdue?

Ryan: That Mike Sanford and PJ Fleck will continue to try and slow play the offense, when that’s not how this 2020 version of Minnesota wins. The Gophers want to grind out drives on the ground on offense so that they’re defense and special teams don’t have to be on the field, but the offense needs to be a lot more aggressive and it worries me that it won’t be against Purdue. I know Brohm and Fleck don’t care for each other one bit, and I believe Brohm’s offense can put up points here, but the Gophers offense needs to keep the foot on the gas pedal for 60 minutes.

T-Mill: It’s the third Friday game in four weeks for the Gophers. How do you see this one playing out?

Ryan: On paper, this matchup sets up a lot better for Minnesota than Iowa did.

- The Gophers can’t stop the run, and Purdue doesn’t want to run the ball / they haven’t had much success doing it.

- Purdue can’t generate a pass rush without George Kalafatis, and Minnesota’s struggled at times in pass protection

- Purdue’s front seven doesn’t scare me that much compared to Iowa’s and the Gophers have had success moving the ball on the ground

But I see a lot of points in this game as I think Morgan / Ibrahim / Bateman can bounce back, and I think David Bell and this passing offense is going to find some room to work against this Gopher defense.