2012 Opponent Preview: Minnesota

Submitted by Heiko on June 26th, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Previously: PurdueIllinoisMichigan State, Nebraska

Minnesota

Glory days. Once upon a time Minnesota was pretty good at football. During head coach Bennie Bierman's 18-year tenure in the WWII era, the Gophers claimed five national championships and seven conference titles. A decade later (1960) Minnesota claimed another national crown under Murray Warmath. They won a Rose Bowl a year later. And then the bottom fell out.

Since then, no Gophers coach has recorded a winning record (including Lou Holtz, who coached there in 1984 and 1985) until Glen Mason, who posted .535 and their first 10-win season since 1905. No coach has since recorded a winning record, either.

This is a circuitous way to say WHY WOULD YOU FIRE HIM???

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The actual preview part

1000-foot view.

The Metrodome, which unfortunately is not where this year's game will be played.

Last season sucked for the most part but ended with a ray of hope for the Minnesota football program. They stole a victory from Iowa and trounced Illinois, effectively ending GopherQuest, an unofficial pursuit to become the Worst Big Ten Team Ever.

So despite finishing 3-9, second year head coach Jerry Kill bought himself and his coaching staff time to rebuild the program. Whether Kill ever reaches the success of even the Mason era remains to be seen. He has a good track record as a coach, but taking a program like Minnesota from its previously moribund state into contention to even win the division will require a quantum leap. At the very least it will have to start with recruiting. For the Gophers, that currently isn't going so hot.

In the meantime Michigan fans can sit back and enjoy Minnesota's presence as the reputed "thorn in the side" of mid-major Big Ten teams -- the Iowas and the Illinoises, I suppose -- without Michigan itself being in any real danger of succumbing to the occasional upset. 

Here's hoping for a Minnesota victory on November 24. 

Schedule.

  • Aug. 30 (Thursday), @ UNLV
  • Sept. 8, New Hampshire
  • Sept. 15, Western Michigan
  • Sept. 22, Syracuse
  • Sept. 29, @ Iowa
  • Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
  • Oct. 13, Northwestern
  • Oct. 20, @ Wisconsin
  • Oct. 27, Purdue
  • Nov. 3, Michigan
  • Nov. 10, @ Illinois
  • Nov. 17, @ Nebraska
  • Nov. 24, Michigan State

Non-conference will be interesting only because Minnesota hosts Syracuse, who has a running backs coach by the name of Tyrone Wheatley. Other than that, there's not much reason to tune into any of their first four games unless you're so jonesing for B1G football by August you'll watch Gophers in Nevada on a Thursday night.

Not much is particularly notable about their B1G schedule. Having both Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road isn't ideal, but I don't really think anyone's expecting the Gophers to win either of those games regardless of location. Also, the last four games will be rough. 

Matchups to watch: at Iowa and Michigan State at home. Minnesota played both of those teams competitively last season and even managed to eke out the Iowa game. It will be interesting to see whether there is something inherent in the Gophers' playing style that's favorable against those two teams, who share similar systems, or whether they just played two really flukey games last year.

Minnesota should be able to get three wins out of non-conference and pull out a B1G win over Illinois (most likely) or Purdue or Northwestern (less likely).

This schedule is as favorable as: a half hour "hill workout" on a stairmaster.

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X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes

Offense

No. 5 QB Marqueis Gray

Style: Spready McSpreaderson

Key losses: RB Duane Bennett (639 yards, 3.8 ypc, 3 TD), WR Da'Jon McKnight (51 rec, 760 yards, 4 TD), TE Collin McGarry (16 rec, 120 yards, 2 TD), RT Chris Bunders, RG Ryan Orton, C Ryan Winn.

Top returners: QB MarQueis Gray (50.7%, 1495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT), WR Devin Crawford-Tufts (8 rec, 156 yards), WR Brandon Green (15 rec, 190, 1 TD), LT Ed Olsen, LG Tommy Olsen.

Everything anyone needs to know about Minnesota's offense begins with MarQueis and ends with Gray. Gopher fans say Gray is their Denard Robinson (or better than Denard Robinson). Really he's more their version of Devin Gardner, i.e. a super athlete with a less than accurate arm who's probably better off playing receiver if not for the dire QB depth situation.

Last year he ran Minnesota's offense about as well as you could expect him to. He started 11 games, missing the entirety of the Michigan game due to a broken thumb, and otherwise got spelled by backup QB Max Shortell in a three-game stretch before wresting the starting job back completely. With the help of some decent skill players like Bennett and McKnight around him, Gray put on a few commendable performances against Iowa, Michigan State, and Illinois late in the season.

The loss of Bennett, McKnight, and the entire right side of the offensive line means Minnesota should probably brace for some "growing pains" -- as Al Borges would say -- this season. They might be okay at receiver. They have a couple fast guys (Crawford-Tufts, WR Marcus Jones) who should be effective in the spread. The running back competition seems to be murky at this point, however. The Gophers don't really have a whole lot in the way of reinforcements since their recruiting hauls have been understandably meager the last few years. They're going to have to make up with heart what they lack in stars.

Unless the Gophers can get their other receivers and a running back to step up, it will be the MarQueis Gray show until he gets injured, at which point the Gophers should just crawl into a hole and hope they don't see any shadows next spring.

This offense is as frightening as: A one-legged pirate who became a one-limbed pirate after a recent case of gangrene. Fear level = Yarrr! (3)

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Defense

No. 11 CB Troy Stoudermire

Style: 4-3

Key losses: S Kim Royston (123 tackles (2nd in B1G), 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 INT), MLB Gary Tinsley (87 tackles, 9 TFL 4 sacks, 3 PBU), DT Anthony Jacobs (26 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack).

Top returners: CB Troy Stoudermire (24 tackles, 3 PBU, 2 INT, missed 8 games due to injury), WLB Keanon Cooper (77 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU)

One major reason Michigan blew Minnesota out of the water last season was the absence of MarQueis Gray. Another, perhaps more easily forgotten reason is the fact that Troy Stoudermire was missing from the game as well due to a fractured wrist. Stoudermire was a converted receiver playing corner in 2011, but through four games he proved to be a pretty competent one.

While the loss of Gray obviously had the bigger impact, having Stoudermire in the defensive backfield may have kept Denard in the game longer and given Borges a better opportunity to test Denard's passing issues against a decent corner instead of pulling him after an impeccable first half and calling it a day. Could have helped with the first half against Northwestern is all I'm sayin'. Dawg.

This season Minnesota should be getting Stoudermire back from injury. Good thing, because the Gophers lose a big chunk of their defensive impact players. Like the offense, this defense isn't going to get by on talent; other than Stoudermire, you wouldn't call anyone else on the unit a "solid B1G starter."

That's not to say they aren't any good at all. If you take away the massive skewing effects of their scores vs. Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin, their defensive stats weren't all that bad, especially toward the end of the season. That is a rough estimate.

Even without massaging the numbers, Minnesota ended up above average in things like pass defense, which is to say that with the right coaching they can at least milk their talent to allow them to hover around mediocre in other categories as well. They'll have to start with the front seven -- they were horrible against the run last season, and Ace identified this obvious weakness in his FFFF, back when North Dakota State was averaging 5.0 ypc against them. Not good. 

This defense is as frightening as: A one-limbed pirate who contracted frostbite in his remaining foot due to his inability to put on socks. Fear level = Yarr? (2)

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Predictions

Record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 B1G. 

Against Michigan: They might actually score a touchdown. Michigan will score fewer touchdowns. 31-7 Michigan.

Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: A one-limbed pirate with frostbite completing a half hour hill workout on a stairmaster.

Comments

Don

June 26th, 2012 at 9:19 AM ^

and ????:

"Against Michigan: They might actually score a touchdown. Michigan will score fewer touchdowns. 31-7."

So you're predicting that Minnesota will beat Michigan 31-7. That's ballsy.

Lutha

June 26th, 2012 at 9:52 AM ^

I don't know how to feel about the Metrodome.  On one hand, it was an utterly digusting place to watch a college football game.  However, we were undefeated all-time there (including the epic comeback in the navarre buffalo stampede game in 2003), so maybe it wasn't that bad.

Space Coyote

June 26th, 2012 at 10:19 AM ^

Not a whole lot, but let's assume they actually have Gray playing that game.  I'd give them at least double digit points, especially seeing as Michigan may have some back-ups in on defense.  31 - 14 (+6/-4) is my guess.

Also, your prediction for their offense is a one legged pirate.

Pirate Spread Offense == Mike Leach == PANIC!

French West Indian

June 26th, 2012 at 11:25 AM ^

I think that Minnesota is being a little underrated.

They struggled last year, yes, but they kind of had the wind knocked out of them early in the season when Coach Kill was having his health issues.  Let's not forget that they nearly upset USC on the road to open the season and then the next week they were in a close game until Kill had the seizure and spooked out everyone.  That's when they fell into a bit of a tailspin and they pretty much hit rock bottom against Michigan before refocusing and finishing the year relatively strong. 

Assuming their kids are buying into the Kill program, and with a bit of good luck this time around, I think the Gophers can be a bowl team this year and if Michigan isn't careful, we could be in for a chilly November surprise when visitng the Twin Cities.  Let's hope last year's stomping doesn't breed any complacency.

GoBlueInNYC

June 26th, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

I'm actually surprised it took this long before someone brought up the USC game. I understand that if there ever was a single game that did not represent the season, it was probably that one. But still, the fact that they almost upset USC at the Coliseum, at the very least, shows that they have the potential to be a problem for bigger teams.

WCHBlog

June 26th, 2012 at 12:56 PM ^

The game was pretty much over by the time Kill had his seizure. The Gophers needed to go like 70 yards and score a touchdown in six seconds to tie the game. It's also worth pointing out that that close game they were in, and about to lose, was against New Mexico State, and that New Mexico State is apparently something that exists.

M2NASA

June 26th, 2012 at 10:23 AM ^

I assume by three non-conference wins Brian means the first three.

Ryan Nassib and the Orangemen are going to slice and dice the Minnesota defense.

colin

June 26th, 2012 at 11:19 AM ^

At some point this near limbless fellow counts as an ex-pirate.  Pirating is no longer a thing he can accomplish without assistance from the state.  Even then, does worker's comp really count as booty?

jmblue

June 26th, 2012 at 2:59 PM ^

I think you're selling Minnesota a little short here.  They were much better last year when they had Gray playing QB than when he was out.  With him in there, they beat Iowa and took MSU and USC to the wire.  It was without him, when they had that Sheridanesque backup, that they faced us.  (Also, we played them right after Kill was hospitalized, which obviously affected their team morale.)  I think Kill is a promising coach and will make Minn somewhat competitive when he's there.  I could see them reaching a bowl in 2012.