Good Friday morning to you.
In our weekly opponent question/answer segment, we sought out Jeff Kilpatrick (Jeffrick) of the Minnesota SBNation community, The Daily Gopher.
We traded questionnaires, and this is what he asked the CN staff with our answers.
As always, we thank Jeff and the TDG staff for the fine job they did this week.
1. So hey, 5-2 right now for the Gophers, and without Jerry Kill, Phillip Nelson and Donnell Kirkwood for times this year. Who would have come up with that in July?
This has been the strangest season in years for Gopher football, and that's saying something considering Tim Brewster was wandering the halls just a few years ago asking people "how hot they liked their chili" in between sending his coordinators running for the exits. Our TDG staff, like true homer fans, all thought the Gophers would win at least 7 games this season. The O-line was finally healthy, the D should be good again, and the passing offense had to be better. The picks looked good until B1G season, when Iowa then Michigan just destroyed the Gophers. The Iowa game especially was troubling as the Hawkeyes just lined up and ran right over Minnesota's front seven, then dominated Minnesota at the line of scrimmage on defense too. That wasn't supposed to happen with our vaunted new physical, big boy football. The next week against Michigan was more of the same, and it was not good times in the Land o' 10,000 Lakes. Last week against Northwestern was much needed, and yes that other NU was without Kain Colter and Venric Mark, yet Minnesota's D still played extremely well while the offense...managed 13 points (a pick six by Minnesota's D ended up being the difference). So yeah, it's good to be one game from bowl eligibility again, which I think Gopher fans and their homer bloggers had expected, but it hasn't come in the "we're finally ready to compete in the B1G" sort of way we'd hoped. The rest of the season will be VERY interesting to see if real progress is being made, or if the win over Northwestern was just a one-time thing.
2. Nelson seemed to lose his job to Mitch Leidner after being hurt, but came in relief and passed really good against Northwestern. No one was named a starter yet, but it seems it will be Nelson since Leidner is battling some sort of bug. What differences have both brought to the offense this year when they are in?
Then there's this. I mentioned how strange this season has been, and nothing exceeds how they've used their QB's, both in rotation and play-calling. Nelson had one good game as a true freshman last year vs Purdue (when Danny Hope and his wonderful staff just outright refused to adjust to Minnesota's receivers running hitch-and-go routes. Dammit his kids were going to learn to cover that pattern if it cost him his job...) and a sorta good game in the bowl loss to Texas Tech. This year, speaking of "outright refused", our offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover did that regarding his passing game in the non-con schedule. We didn't know if Minnesota would not, or just could not, throw the ball, and found out pretty quickly against Iowa and Michigan it was "could not". Nelson was fine running in the first few games but inaccurate throwing, which happens when you literally only allow your QB to throw 12 passes per game. He got hurt, "Moose" Leidner came in, and he ran even better (154 yards rushing and 4 rush TD's against San Jose State), but couldn't throw against SJSU. Nelson got the surprise start against Iowa, he didn't look healthy at all but did look very tenative and still hurt, and despite his struggles we didn't see Leidner at all...until next week against Michigan. He was better, even completed a few passes, yet the offense still sucked. Leidner played the first quarter vs Northwestern, got one first down and three three-and-outs in four series, before Nelson came in and looked like himself again. What's more he even completed a few passes. For this week I have no idea if Leidner's "sickness" is real or a ploy, and keep in mind the listed backup on the depth chart has started the past three games, so your guess is as good as mine (or perhaps the coaches), on who starts Saturday. I THINK it will be Nelson, but we'll see.
3. David Cobb and Rodrick Williams has taken over for Kirkwood admirably since he got hurt. Even though Kirkwood really hasn’t gotten back to form, is this a RB by committee, or is this Cobb’s deal with cameo’s by Rodrick and Donnell for now?
After his 103 yard performance against Northwestern last week, this should be Cobb's job (ooooh that's catchy), but like with the "QB Carousel of Meh" there's no telling with the running backs either. I'm guessing Cobb likely starts but all three backs should see time and IF they can actually gain yardage with their backs, I would assume the coaches will just ride the hot hand. Then again, in past stops (like NIU), the coaches have rode one back if he's proven he could handle it, so if Cobb keeps running well, he could be the guy.
4. While no one would claim the Gophers D is wrecking folks, they are only giving up 21’ish a game and have only really had one bad showing (vs Michigan). What’s been the strength of this team on the defensive side, in your eyes?
Well, in full disclosure, the Iowa score was misleading as the Hawkeyes threw a pick in the redzone and had a chip shot field goal doink off the uprights, so the score could have been even worse. The defense got man-handled in that game badly, but boy did they respond well against the Wildcats. DC and interim head coach Tracy Claeys has had a really good defense at every stop with Kill, as NIU was a top 20 total defense in the country in 2010. In their time at Minnesota, Claeys D may get gashed in the first half, but for the most part he's seemed to be very good at halftime adjustments. SJSU torched them in the first half for almost 300 yards passing, then Claeys threw a 3-1-7 formation at them and QB David Fales in the second half to shut them down. Last week, Northwestern moved the ball pretty well in the first half, then Claeys took away the short timing throws and the Cats struggled to move the ball until their final drive. The D-line, led by DT Ra'Shede Hageman, needs to the strength of the defense for them to play well, and that was the case last week as Hageman finally played like a potential 1st round pick. The secondary has been really banged up, and the linebackers played really well last week for the first time all season. But it starts with Hageman and the D-line.
5. A lot of folks are wondering about Jerry Kill’s job security. Not because of performance mind you, but basically overall because of his health. What do you see as the reason he would stay past this year as being the HC. On the other side, why would he not be the Head Coach anymore? And, if that did happen, do you have an idea of whom you would want to see come in to lead the Gopher FB program?
I'm not even close to ready to talk about other candidates. I know some Gopher fans are already feeling like Kill and his staff won't be able to get it done and The U should force him out for health reasons, but I don't agree. Brewster didn't just leave the cupboard bear when he was fired, he pretty much burned the entire house down. While I had hoped the team would be farther along in year three, based on where the program was at when Kill took over, it would be foolish to fire him already based on just straight wins and losses. As for his health, that's a decision Kill needs to make. The Michigan game was not only the first time he'd missed an entire game in his life, it was also the first time a seizure caused him to miss a game that didn't happen during the game. Whether Kill stepped away on his own or whether the administration strongly encouraged a man who his own coaches call extremely stubborn and a work-a-holic to take time off, we'll never know, but however it went down it's good Kill is taking the time he needs to try and get his condition under control. From everything I've read and been told, and I'm far from an expert on epilepsy, his condition is not life threatening. However, the frequency of his seizures this season does seem to be out of the norm, and is obviously something he needs to get a better handle on if he wants to continue to be a football coach. I'm doubting whether he'll be completely seizure-free, but I'm hoping he'll be back to work before the end of the season which would mean he, his doctors, and the administration believe he's healthy enough to do so. Bottom line though is that, at least for this season, it should be up to Kill whether he continues to coach the team or not.
6. At this point in the season, what is the ceiling of this team? Can it make a New Year’s bowl in your eyes? Or is something like the BWW Bowl or such the zenith for this team?
Hahaha a New Year's Day Bowl, that's really funny. Like the Heart of Dallas bowl? That's about as close as Minnesota could get this season. The Northwestern game showed improvement, but the likely outcome is the Gophers win only one more game in the regular season. I'd point to Indiana as the most likely, except that while both schools are 1-2 in the B1G thus far, IU has averaged 39.7 points per game in their three conference games while the Gophers have only averaged...about 13 points. So yeah, that's an issue. I think they get that last win somewhere, but 6-6, if the Northwestern improvement is real, maybe 7-5 are about the ceiling for this team.
7. Give us some names on all three sides of the ball that you or I haven’t mentioned yet to keep an eye on come Saturday.
Since we've already talked QB's and RB's, on offense I'll give you three pass catchers. You know, just in case Minnesota decides throwing could be fun. Derek Engel has been the team's most consistent WR as he leads the team with 16 catches for 224 yards and 2 TD's. And no, that's not his numbers in the three B1G games- that's the ENTIRE SEASON. I'll pause to let you stop laughing...there we go. The other 2 receiving TD's on the season- yes the Gophers have thrown four passing TD's in seven games- have gone to redshirt frosh TE Maxx Williams, who's been good thus far and we as a fanbase have high hopes for him in his Minnesota career. A big dude at 254 pounds he's averaging 15.3 yards per reception. Third guy is true freshman wideout Donovahn Jones, a recruit the Gophers stole from Missouri on signing day, and is Minnesota's only legitimate deep threat. So it makes sense, then, that he has only one catch for seven yards the entire season, and has only been targeted a handful times. Like against Michigan when he was five yards past the nearest defender and walks into the end zone if the ball is anywhere near him. Of course it was underthrown and fell incomplete, so it only stands to reason Limegrover hasn't attempted another pass to him since. But just in case hell freezes over and they do attempt one of those long pass thingy's again (I can only assume that's what Limegrover calls it since the concept seems foreign and offensive to him), and Jones makes a big play, I can at least say I told you so.
On defense, OLB James Manuel had the game of his life last week, which included the go-ahead pick six. He'll need to be that good again. Brock Vereen (Patriots RB Shane Vereen's little bro) has been moved from safety back to corner because of all the injuries to the secondary, and looked great last week. DE Theiren Cockran leads the team with 4 sacks, 6.5 TFL, plus 2 forced fumbles. Marcus Jones has already housed a kickoff and punt return this season, though Engel was back returning punts last week. Chris Hawthorne kicks and Peter Mortell punts in what have been areas of improvement for the Gophers.
8. Alright, prediction time. Tell us in your eyes how this game will play out, and who will be victorious in the end.
If the Gophers get down 2 TD's early, then it'll get ugly in a hurry. I'm hoping that doesn't happen, and we get a good game- at least for awhile. Nebraska wins 31-20.