Well, we’ve got two teams in freefall hoping to become bowl eligible and both have finishing schedules thaat make it an unlikely proposition for both. Unless of course, either are lucky enough to finish 5-7 and get in on good grades again. Which was really embarrassing last time, so I hope not, but yes I know - money, exposure, recruiting, blah, blah, blah.
Anyway, we’re playing the game and both teams are 4-5 but headed in a couple of different directions right now. While Nebraska and its fans are basicallly going through the motions, Minnesota seems to have found its guy after the two previous coaches led Minnesota to as much success as anyone in the last 60 years or so, but...yeah.
Chris at The Daily Gopher was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us about the upcoming game as well as Minnesota’s future prospects. While this year has not been as successful as they desired, they do appear to have something on which Husker fans are holding off until we see how the our coaching “situation” plays out - hope.
1) At first glance, it seems that quarterback has been the weakest link in the offense. Is Demry Croft going to be the answer, or simply the least worst option for the time being?
Honestly? No idea. My gut says he's not the answer long term but if he turns his flashes of excellence into sustained good play he could definitely surprise. As to the weak link in the offense, I think putting it all on Demry would be unfair. The offensive line has struggled to generate consistent push in the run game and has struggled to protect at times against better pass rushes (see: Michigan). The wide receivers and tight ends have also struggled creating space for Demry to throw in recent weeks while adding in a few too many drops. In other words, outside the always wonderful running backs, Minnesota's offensive struggles are due to multiple position groups.
2) Do you think the Gophers get to bowl eligibility this season?
How are we defining bowl eligibility? If we're talking 6-6 then I think is possible but unlikely. If we're talking 5-7 with an APR based invite, then it feels more plausible. Minnesota has a top notch APR and the teams with better APRs are bowl eligible already. It's not a sure thing that there would be enough bowl slots for the Gophers at 5-7, but their chances of bowling with one more win are honestly pretty good. Getting that one win will be the challenge. I certainly think they're capable of beating either Nebraska or Northwestern (I'm writing off Wisconsin and hope to be proven wrong). I just can't say for certain that they'll pull out another W.
3) Everybody still "rowing the boat" - or are you donning the life preservers?
Sigh. The (predictable) freakout from segments of the fanbase is full swing, though I'd characterize that as a vocal minority. I'd say most folks are in "jury is still out" mode, while another group is disappointed/frustrated with missed opportunities but doesn't really find the year as distressing as some. You can put me square in that last category.
At the end of the day we're talking about a team which has had really bad injury luck and a staff that was not left a single QB currently capable of consistently delivering average B1G level performances along with depth issues in the secondary and offensive line. There are plenty of bright spots to be found, but that hasn't translated into wins. And that sucks.
4) The 6 years of Jerry Kill & Tracy Claeys, while not eye-popping nationally, were as successful anyone in the 67 years since Bernie Bierman and their separate exits came under what could generously be called unusual circumstances. Do you think P.J. Fleck is the right guy and will the school hang in there through a rough couple of years if need be? (You know, if he doesn’t get fired for attacking a mascot post-game or get abducted by aliens or some other such weirdness.)
I can't tell you that Fleck is the right guy (no one can), but nothing about this season has me doubting the reasons I liked the hire. Why? The team's struggles can easily be explained by the depth issues, not unsurprising "change" related issues, and injuries. Honestly, my personal opinion is that if the player boycott doesn't happen last December then Claeys gets fired after this season or next season for taking big steps back in terms of W/L. I don't have a lot of time for fans who are putting all the blame on Fleck because it's clearly not all on him or hist staff at this point. It was harder to see last season with the 9 wins, but at this point it feels to me like Claeys was Kill the Lesser and that he couldn't maintain what Jerry had started. One reason for the freakout in the fanbase is that not everyone agrees with this. That and the fact that fans as a rule think success is linear at all times, which lol no.
5) You guys run the ball almost exactly two-thirds of the time and Tyler Johnson has 7 touchdowns in 9 games. When is he going to burn us for six and just how soul-crushing will it be?
I don't know, are your DB's capable of executing a quality gameplan that effectively double covers Johnson? Because that's how everyone else has shut him down a bit in the last couple of games. Honestly I think it's much more likely that Tanner throws a TD to a Minnesota defender than TJ catching one from Demry Croft if Diaco comes with a correct gameplan. I'd also assume by now that Tanner Pick 6's stopped being soul crushing and turned into "that's about right" shoulder shrug worthy events about 4+ weeks ago. I'm sorry, I may have decided to make myself feel better by picking on the turnover Juggs machine y'all installed at QB.
6) Collectively, the Huskers and Gophers have lost 8 of their last 10 games. Can you think of a reason anyone in the US outside of our respective fan bases should care about this game?
Goodness, if everyone in our respective fanbases cares about this game I'd A) be shocked and B) say that at least some of them are doing it wrong. I'm as diehard as they come and even I know sometimes the right move is to turn off the TV and do something you love besides watch your team. It's how you stay sane.
7) Prediction time – Huskers and Gophers – on Saturday, who just treads water and who rows the boat? (No one’s letting go of that for awhile BTW)
I have no rational reason to expect this, but my heart says bet it all on Maroon and expect Minnesota to do unexpectedly nice things. Also, I'm very much here for Minnesota losses being the final straw in the firing of Nebraska head coaches (/smiles thinking about the 2014 game in Lincoln). Since I've now baselessly predicted a Minnesota win, I should assign a point value that is not realistic and will be mocked in your comments. Let's go with..............24-10 Minnesota. That feels appropriately nonsensical and homerish.