Well, here we go for the final time in Memorial Stadium for the 2012 campaign. The Minnesota Golden Gophers come to Lincoln tomorrow for a 2:30 B1G West division showdown on BTN. And, quite honestly, you probably don't know much about Minny outside of Jerry Kill being the Head Coach and that they are finally bowl eligible.
To help with your knowledge of the Fighting Kill's, we got a hold of Jeff Kilpatrick of the SBNation Minnesota community "The Daily Gopher". I asked him some questions about the three quarterback's that Minnesota has used this year, how the defense has come along, and where people view Jerry Kill after almost 2 seasons. Out of all the Q and A's we've done this year, Jeff by far gave overall some of the best and detailed answers we've had this season.
1. "Bowl eligible Minnesota Golden Gophers". I’m sure this has a nice ring to it, but seems like this season has been as much of a roller coaster ride than anything. Give us the cliff notes version of it if you may, for those that haven’t been able to pay attention.
Oh boy...a lot of what happened we'll answer in question two about the quarterbacks, and question five about Coach Kill. The cliff notes version is they've beaten most of the teams they should have and managed to find six wins on the schedule. The defense has been much improved (at least for us), the offense has been decimated by injuries, and special teams has been pretty meh. But in the second year of the Coach Kill Era we'll certainly take that as it's hopefully building nicely for year three where almost the entire offense returns (everybody on the two deep except MarQueis Gray and one of the TE's), as well as some key pieces on defense. Things seem to be going in the right direction, and at no point has the head coach asked anyone "how hot their daggum chili is" so I'd call that a success right there.
Definitely. The defensive improvement is the biggest reason this team is going bowling this year. This is a good time to point out that before Kill and defensive coordinator got here in 2011, a guy by the name of Kevin Cosgrove was running the defense. You might remember him. You might not want to. Trust me, he was as bad as you remember, if not worse, and it took Claeys some time to get the defense sorted out. That can happen when you introduce things like "coaching" and "structure" to a group that hadn’t had any. The defensive line and secondary have shown enormous improvement and the pass D and pass rush have been very good (this would be the point where you say "yeah but Minnesota hasn’t played anybody who throws the ball!" I don’t care- they didn’t play anybody who could throw last year except for USC in the very first game and were still terrible, so I’d call that an improvement). The seniors on the line and secondary like DE DJ Wilhite (tied for the B1G lead in sacks) and corners Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, have really stepped up, and some underclassmen are playing well around them. The run D still needs work (I wouldn’t be surprised if Nebraska runs for 300+ yards on Saturday), but most of that is due to subpar play from the linebackers for most of the season (a lot of missed tackles and missed gap assignments). The group came in with plenty of talent and experience and were expected to anchor the defense, but it hasn’t happened enough. The linebackers have played better in recent weeks, and Minnesota will sell out to stop the run against the Huskers, but even then I don’t like their chances of doing so. Nebraska can run the ball in their sleep while the Gopher defense is still figuring things out as they go.
Obviously Nelson at QB and Kirkwood at tailback will be the two feature guys on offense. Isaac Fruechte is the healthiest good receiver assuming Barker isn’t able to go yet again. On defense, the aforementioned Wilhite, Carter, and Stoudermire have been three of the Gophers’ best defenders, but let’s not forget about DT Ra’Shede Hageman. The 6’6 300 pound junior has been a force in the middle, and has faced constant double-teams all season, but still has managed 5 sacks and 6.5 TFL’s this season. He’s not Ndamukong Suh by any means, but he’s still been a disruptive force along the line. Sophomore safety Derrick Wells has been one of the Gophers’ best playmakers all season, and is finally getting healthy again after being banged up most of the year.
7. Finally, lets hear your prediction of how this one is gonna shake down and a final score.
The MO for the Gophers against teams who run the ball well have been to stop the run in one half, and not stop it in the other. Northwestern and Iowa ran the ball down Minnesota’s throats in the first half, then were shut down in the second. The exact opposite happened at Wisconsin. I don’t know which half it will be against Nebraska, but the Gopher defense will play well against the run in one half, and the Huskers will run for about 9,000 yards in the other. I’m going to guess the yards come in the first and they cruise to victory in the second. With the Gopher offense so incredibly banged up, I don’t see the offense being able to do much either, unfortunately. Minnesota has scored 13 points- and only 13- in every loss this season (true story. Look it up), so we’ll stick with that trend and say the Huskers win 34-13. See you in Minneapolis next year.