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Getting Some Insight on Minnesota

The Minnesota SB Nation blog, The Daily Gopher, took the time to answer some questions about Minnesota as we preview the Insight Bowl:

1. Early in the season, the offense seemed to be all about Weber hooking up with Decker. What is the offense all about now? Like ISU, they haven't been that productive, but what are they going to try and do on Thursday night?

There is no offense.  Even with Decker in the line-up there were three equally destructive problems with the offense.  The new offensive coordinator has been an issue all year.  Him adjusting to calling a game and the roster learning a new and complex system is the first issue.  Secondly we have really struggled with QB play.  There is a schism among fans many of whom are leaning towards dumping Weber (three year starter) for MarQueis Gray (Brewster's highest profile recruit). Finally the offensive line has been terrible.  Rushing lanes are tiny and pressure on our QB is constant. 

The one offensive breakout game was on Halloween against Michigan State.  This was actually the first game without Decker and the offense exploded for 42 points with a downfield passing attack netting Weber 412 yards and 5 touchdowns.

2. Talk about the defense a little bit. What do they do well, and what do they do not-so-well?

The defense finished the year middle of the Big Ten pack in nearly all significant stat categories.  I thought we were VERY good at forcing third down after third down.  What we struggled with was getting stops on third down and we give up the really big play just a bit too often.  The front seven is big and the play their assignments pretty well.  The secondary is OK but they are usually the culprit for the big plays mentioned above. 

3. The Gophers are making their 3rd trip to Tempe in 4 years. From all accounts, Gopher fans aren't thrilled about the game. Is there any concern that the players will feel the same way, making for a disappointing showing?

I think the apathy is much stronger in the fan base.  Remember that they have lost the last two games, they are teetering on the edge of a winning / losing season and there is the win one for the embattled coach factor.  Maybe they are taking it for granted but no more than if they were playing in any other December bowl.

4.  What is the biggest storyline coming out of Minnesota heading into the game? If your job was to try to get fans in Minnesota excited about this game, what would you say?

The big storylines all surround the coach.  Tim Brewster was rumored (or started the rumors himself) to be interested in the Kansas job, he is negotiating an extension despite a losing record with no rivalry wins, and has yet to win a meaningful game.  The fan base is getting tired of his words and ready to see some improvement on the field.  A loss and his job may be in serious jeopardy heading into 2010.  A win and at least he'll have some positive momentum as he heads into a season where he really has to start winning.

5. Going along those same lines, most ISU fans don't know a lot about Minnesota, as most of the football covereage in the state has been Iowa. Tell us some key players on both sides of the ball that we should be looking out for.

Offensively the key players are both quarterbacks.  Adam Weber is a junior and three-year starter.  At times he can be pretty good but for long stretches this season he has been dreadfully inconsistent.  If he is "on" then I think Minnesota wins this game going away.  The other guys is MarQueis Gray.  Gray was a big time recruit who at the Army All-American game put on a Gopher hat over a host of other big time programs.  He is likely to line up at receiver for much of this game but you will see him running some wildcat and I bet he'll throw a couple balls.  He is big and very athletic. 

Defensively there are no major standouts.  Our corners are pretty good in coverage but they key players all year have been up the middle.  Linebackers Nate Triplett and Lee Campbell have racked up a ton of tackles and the start DT (Garrett Brown and Eric Small) are big, smart kids who don't wreak havoc like a Ndamukong Suh, but they are very solid in the middle.

6. With news of Brewster looking to be getting an extension, what's the deal with that? How do you think the program has fared under him? I'm under the impression that the fans are not thrilled with him at all, but maybe I'm blinded by the handful of Gopher fans that I personally know.

Brewster came in and got people excited.  He created Gopher Nation, he wasn't afraid to say the words Rose Bowl, he convinced us that someone CAN win here, he raised the level of recruiting in a hurry and quit making excuses.  The problem is we are no better off in year three than we were before he arrived.  The talent level has certainly been improved but he has yet to prove he can win a game with preparation, gameplanning and adjustments.  The key number is 0-8 in rivalry games and we are yet to be competitive against any of the upper-tier Big Ten opponents.  The extension is a necessary evil but it better not contain a huge buyout for a guy who has done nothing except recruit and talk in three years on the job.

7. Have you been out to TCF Stadium? I've seen it from the outside, and also on TV. If so, how was the experience, and what kind of an impact has the stadium made thus far (as far as revenue, recruiting, etc)?

TCF is as good as advertised.  I was at several games this year in the press box.  The facility is just outstanding.  I haven't seen any official numbers but revenue had to have increased significantly.  The Metrodome lease required some concessions and suite revenue to go back to the Dome.  It has helped recruiting immensely before it was built and everyone who has experienced it since has raved about it.  It isn't the biggest but it is probably the best facility in the Big Ten.  The biggest thing it did for the program was give the team a home.  It hasn't played out into a dominating home-field advantage yet.  But previous Gopher teams were visitors in their "home" stadium.  Now they have a home turf to defend.

8. What has been the highlight of the season for you and why? It can be a game, play, coaching decision, etc.

The highlight of the season is kind of tough.  The Michigan State game really sticks out.  After getting blown out in two consecutive road games (@ Ohio State and @ Penn State) and the fan base ready to lynch Adam Weber, it was refreshing to see the offense finally get on track.  412 yards and 5 touchdowns in what was a meaningful game against another team fighting in that Big Ten middle.  The game was entertaining and the Gophers showed some offense that has been missing for a couple years. 

9. Lastly, how do you see the game playing out? What is your prediction, and overall what do you think happens?

IF Weber plays well I really see this game getting out of hand in the Gophers favor.  He doesn't have to play outstanding, just hit open receivers.  The matchups are favoring the Gophers and the extra weeks to put together one offensive gameplan will do wonders for our offense.  Our OL hasn't been very good but ISU doesn't exactly put pressure on the QB.  So I expect Weber to have time to throw, at least more than he's used to.  The suspension or your starting corner should give our young receivers more opportunity to get open and make some plays.  And I think our run defense will be good enough to force ISU into a lot of third and long situations.  I have a healthy respect for the Cyclones but this game plays to our strengths.  If Weber plays well we win by more than two scores.  If he is as inconsistent as he has been for much of the year then the Gophers still win but it will be a much closer.

Interesting stuff. A lot of parallels between the two schools, and am looking forward to this game!

Later, I will have my own preview, including what I think will happen tomorrow!