Today we preview another 2012 opponent, Minnesota. Tom, who runs well-respected Minnesota blog, The Daily Gopher joins us once again to give us some deeper insights in to our second Big Ten road game of this season. The ‘Cats have had consistent success against Minnesota, for the most part, but I know this is a team that I feel we are never able to really put away. I’m big on track records and everywhere that Gophers head coach Jerry Kill has been, he’s turned them in to a winner. Let’s dive in and get better educated about the 2012 Minnesota Golden Gophers.
LTP: I’m not sure the best word to describe Jerry Kill’s first season in Gopherland, but the roller-coaster ride which included a frightening seizure, really bad home losses and highly unlikely wins over Iowa and Illinois must be making for some interesting banter about 2012. What’s the top-level thought among Gopher fans on 2012?
TDG: Well, the optimists in the fanbase believe that last year was a slow but steady improvement. A shaky non-conference and a brutal start to the Big Ten were just baby steps to this roster learning how to play football the right way. The Iowa win was the turning point. That was the game things started to come together. MarQueis Gray started playing well, the offensive line was significantly better and the defense started to make more plays. The result were the wins over Iowa/Illinois and two competitive games with Michigan State and Northwestern. This team got better last year, returned a lot and should be better this year. The pessimists will tell you that we are still severely lacking in talent and depth, this is going to be another long season. The answer is probably both. We will be better, but we still have a long way to go.
LTP: Jerry Kill gets a ton of love from Big Ten fans that know his history of success everywhere he goes. Obviously Marqueis Gray back at QB as a likely 1000-yard rusher is a cornerstone, along with a now young but much more experienced line, but what gives you optimism that this team is going to put points on the board?
TDG: If we score a lot of points it will be because of Gray. The offensive line has some good/young talent, the wide receivers are very young and we have nothing secure at running back. If we move the ball and score it will be because Gray learns how to hurt defenses where they are vulnerable (i.e. completing a big pass when they focus too much on his legs and vice versa). He is a beast, he is an incredible athlete and he is poised to have a big year. But he is going to need a lot of help around him, most of which is very unproven.
LTP: It’s been quite a daunting off-season with the death of LB Gary Tinsley (enlargement of heart) sending shockwaves across the CFB landscape in April. How is the team and the program responding?
TDG: There have been a lot of quotes and stories lately about how that was a unifying tragedy for this team. Maybe that is just because it is the right thing to be saying now or maybe it really did have an impact on bringing this team closer together. I hope it is the latter because this group will need to play together and be greater than the sum if they want to get to that magical 6-win mark.
LTP: Take us through the post – McKnight era on offense. How are the RBs and WRs shaping up?
TDG: Both are thin on proven talent, but I really like the upside of the receivers. Running back has question marks all over but none of the options really excite me now or for the future. JUCO transfer James Gillum will likely be the starter in week one with a number of other backs who have yet to have shown anything special. He supposedly has some elusiveness to him with decent speed, but he is an unknown right now. Donnell Kirkwood is powerful, will run guys over but lacks good speed. Incoming freshman KJ Maye was an Alabama quarterback who I assumed would be a WR, but it sounds like he may be getting some carries. He might be interesting. And Roderick Williams Jr is another incoming freshman who may make some noise but he’ll likely redshirt.
Wide receivers are a little more interesting. The upper-classmen are nothing to get terribly excited about. Brandon Green is the only senior. He is a former four-star recruit who has been slowed by a significant knee injury a couple years ago. He is solid, but not dynamic. Malcolm Moulton is a junior who was able to get open last year for some big plays but catching the ball was a bit of an issue. Then we have a group of freshmen and sophomores who could be very good, but they might be a year away from making some real noise. Devin Crawford-Tufts is very fast and started to come on last year including a 100 yard game against Iowa. If anyone steps into a go-to receiver role, it would likely be DCT. Marcus Jones is a dynamic slot receiver who injured his knee last year but should be ready to go this year. JUCO transfer Isaac Fruechte is rumored to be the fastest guy on the team and he is 6-3, 205. He may be the surprise contributor in this group, but who knows. True freshmen Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison were both highly recruited four-star guys (depending on which scouting service you look at). They could both have very good careers in maroon and gold but hard to expect much out of a true freshman in the Big Ten.
Tons of question marks at RB and WR, this offense needs at least one guy at each position to step up for it to really make strides in year two of Coach Kill’s program.
LTP: Defense. I see that Troy Stoudemire got yet another year (6th!) to patrol the secondary. What are the weak link units on “D” that give you pause against the ‘Cats spread attack?
TDG: The pass rush, and the defensive line in general is the real weakness of this D. A lot of youth at DE and no depth at DT. Getting Stoudermire back in the secondary and adding a couple of nice JUCO DBs should make the secondary decent. The linebackers are the strength of this defense as they have the most experience to go with good size, strength and athleticism. But specifically against the Cats, the defense will need to get some pressure on the QB. If they can get Colter to make a few errant passes, we can generate some turnovers.
LTP: Schedule fun time. You get us for your B1G opener after opening at Iowa
where you’re going for your-I-can’t-believe-3rd-straight-win-over-Iowa. You’ve got a road game at Wisconsin after us. How do you like where we fit on the
TDG: I like getting Northwestern early this year. It is conceivable that the Gophers can go undefeated in the non-conference portion of their schedule. And Iowa if vulnerable this year with nobody at running back, a rebuilt offensive line and new coordinators for the first time ever. The Gophers might be 4-1 heading in to their Big Ten home opener. Getting to host Northwestern while the team has some confidence is better than getting them after possibly getting beat up in the grueling Big Ten schedule. I also find it interesting that we share a common non-conference opponent in Syracuse.
LTP: Let’s talk attendance. The “new” house smell of TCF Stadium has begun to fade and obviously the program is in transition. How do you expect attendance to be this
fall? Are fans going bandwagon or are they on board?
TDG: I expect it will be very similar to last season where the rivalry games will be about 40% opponent’s fans and most of the other games will just not be sold out. If the team starts out well, like I mentioned above, people might fill the seats. But this program is still in rebuilding mode and people will come when the team starts winning.
LTP: Thanks for playing Tom. We’re looking forward to returning to The Bank! We’ll touch base again soon.
B1G Quick Hits
- The Penn State coverage is still at full throttle in the wake of yet another transfer (LB Khairi Fortt transferred to Cal). In a connection to the purple, LTP reader and Wildcat alum Willie Weinbaum has produced an Outside the Lines feature (along with Steve Delshon) that will feature Vicky Triponey, Penn State’s former vice president of student affairs as part of the “Penn State, Paterno and Power” edition of OTL this Sunday at 9 am et on ESPN and 10am et on ESPN2. A preview can be found here – http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/index & the full piece is likely to be posted there soon after Sunday’s show.
- Iowa RB De’Andre Johnson is the latest in a downright ridiculous string of issues in the Hawkeyes backfield. Johnson, who had two minor run-ins with the law (keeping disorderly house and then not pulling over for the cops after a speeding violation), has been kicked off the team. We’ll document the Hawkeyes string of ridiculousness at this spot in our upcoming Iowa preview.
- ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg took a motivational sign tour with LTP fan fav, Brian Peters which he brings to you here via video.
- Best wishes to Wisconsin RB Montee Ball who was released from the hospital after being assaulted by five men in what police are calling an unprovoked attack. Simply crazy.