The Gophers look to make it a 3 game winning streak, and will be hosting the Huskers. But, first, we got to get to know about Jerry Kill's gang and what they will bring to the table.
For that, of course I reached out to our Minnesota SBNation community The Daily Gopher, and Editor Mark Moweryhelped me with my inquisitions. We appreciate Mark taking the time to fill out everything, and hope you visit TDG to see their coverage of the game and postgame.
1. Looks like the Gophers just played their most complete game of the season last Saturday in a big time win over a meddling Purdue team, taking Minnesota to 4-2 on the season. What's the feeling about the team currently as they head into their annual matchup with Nebraska?
Well, most of Gopher Nation collectively shrugged after the drubbing of Purdue. Anytime you beat a team that doesn't exist, you begin to question what the game really meant. But in all seriousness, Gopher fans were happy to see the return of a dominate run game and the emergence of Shannon Brooks as a destroyer of worlds. They were also very happy about the defense's ability to force turnovers, especially since they turned one of those turnovers into a touchdown via a Jaylen Myrick interception return. At the very least, it gave a beat up squad a bit of confidence heading into the daunting part of their schedule. At the most, it could be the turning point of a thus far lack luster season offensively.
2. Mitch Leidner is the man one more time for the Gophers behind center. His last 2 games have not been very good, but before then he seemed to be having a decent clip to the season. What is the difference for the Junior from last year's matchup in Lincoln?
He has thus improved on his accuracy (57.9% completion percentage up from 51.5%) but because of an offensive that has been very ineffective pass blocking due to injuries and lack of cohesion, he has regressed 7.6 yards per attempt to 5.9. Not having All-American TE Maxx Williams has hurt but the passing offense in general has been lacking in consistency from all spots, including quarterback. This being said, Leidner might be less of a threat this year to pass without his favorite weapon and his continued inconsistency.
3. Rodney Smith had been the starter behind Leidner, however it's hard to ignore what Shannon Brooks did last week vs. Purdue. Who gets the start this week and what does each bring to the table?
They're share the "official" start on the depth chart most likely. I would expect them to split carries unless one of them jumps out as outstanding early on (as Brooks did last week). Coach Kill has been known to go with the proverbial "hot hand" and I don't see that changing this week. Rodney Smith continues to remind me of David Cobb and is probably at this point in their respective developments a better pass catcher than Brooks. Brooks appears to have multiple attributes desired in an all-around back. He has power (hello Purdue defenders), good speed, ability to make good cuts between the tackles, and decent pass-catching hands. I would expect Smith to hear his named called for some screen passes but Brooks to get just a few more carries.
4. Considering that Leidner hasn't thrown much in the past couple of games, it could be hard to judge the Wideout crew. Statically, K.J. Maye and Drew Wolitarsky are the 2 top pass catchers. What does the worst Pass D in FBS have to worry about in this regards?
If the Gophers follow their preferred game plan, I would say the Nebraska pass defense doesn't have much to worry about. They only threw the ball 18 times last Saturday, with Leidner himself only attempting 12 passes. They would prefer to run the ball down the Cornhuskers' throats. If they continue their staunch run defense and the Gophers come out slinging, Maye and Wolitarsky are definitely the likely targets. Maye has the athleticism to beat people deep and Wolitarsky has good hands and size to break off big chunks of yards on quick screens and outs. It'll be interesting to see how many pass attempts are made considering how the two teams' strengths and weaknesses are misaligned.
5. Minnesota's Defense is no joke this year. 15th in FBS in Total D, and held Treyvon Boykin of TCU in check most of the day. What worries and excites you about the matchup with the Nebraska Offense?
One of my worries is always the lack of depth due to the numerous injuries that have struck the Gopher defense this season. The secondary is still short two starters and a few backups but has still performed admirably on the shoulders of senior Eric Murray. The front seven is getting back a starter on the line in the form of defensive end Gaelin Elmore and defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is questionable but I would hope that they get a little more pressure on the quarterback than we've been seeing the past few games. I worry about Armstrong buying time with his legs and hitting some receivers for improvisational big plays due to a lack of pass rush. I'm excited to see how the defense responds to playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in conference play that is sure to show their appreciation for their outstanding play so far this season.
6. Jerry Kill was seen as a possible lame duck HC a few years ago due to his health issues. Now, he seems to be very stable in a AD that has been besieged by the fallout of Norwood Teague's actions. Fair to say that Kill & the Football program are the AD's rock right now?
Pretty much. In Minnesota circles, there is no concern with Coach Kill's health. The administration doesn't appear to be in a rush to find a new AD but it is kind of bizarre that a massively important athletics project (Athlete Village) is beginning to take shape while we don't have an AD. Coach Kill is certainly one of the few faces that represents Gopher Athletics at the moment and most people are very happy with this arrangement.
7. Speaking of the open AD position, what is the school looking for? Someone to keep the status quo, or a guy who will want to put his/her stamp on the Department?
I'll be honest with you and say I have no idea what they're looking for in their next AD. As mentioned above, the biggest athletic facility project since the construction of TCF Bank Stadium is beginning to take form without an AD. Depending upon how Coach Pitino works out the next few years, there wouldn't be much to shake up as far as the major sports' coaching positions are concerned, although I suppose that depends upon your opinion about Head Men's Hockey Coach Don Lucia...
8. Nebraska usually travels well to TCF Bank Stadium, so do you expect just as much red as normal? Also, for those heading to the game, any recommendation for food/beverage inside or outside the stadium?
I would assume the amount of red faithful traveling won't have changed much, regardless of team record. Although, since this isn't the first time they are making the trek to Minneapolis, I'm sure some will chose to stay home.
A popular spot is Surly Brewing Co. which is only a few blocks away from the Bank. Stub and Herbs is a campus institution and usually has a good selection of beverages. Sally's is also nearby and popular watering hole. Town Hall Brewery and 7 Corners are two other establishments that come to mind.
9. Talk about anyone that should have an impact on the game that we have not mentioned above.
Defensive tackle Stephen Richardson is always a factor. The guy reminds me of a young Aaron Donald and is always packing the stat box. He's a big factor in jamming the run and often plays a part in getting pressure up the middle on the quarterback in passing situations. On offense, look for one of the younger receivers to try to break out against a lackluster Huskers secondary. Two names to consider are freshman Rashad Still and redshirt freshman Isaiah Gentry.
10. Alright, prediction time. The Gophers go for 3 straight against Nebraska. Do they get it? Or does Nebraska claim the Chair and end the losing streak to Minnesota?
I hate this part of the program, especially when the two teams appear to be pretty even. Pick your team and you look like a homer. Pick your opponent and you look like a doomer. Since I see this as a toss up, I will go with the Gophers due to the home field advantage. I'm not at all confident in that conclusion because I think Minnesota might get confused as to how to attack the Nebraska defense. Their strength is running the ball but Nebraska is good at stopping the run. However, I think the offensive line is showing a little more cohesion and the win against Purdue has strengthened the resolve of the team to not let the season start snowballing into an abomination. Cornhuskers check in to the Heartbreak Hotel once again and the Gophers steal one late, 20-17.