2012 Opponent Preview – Minnesota Golden Gophers

TCF Bank Stadium

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
schedule?

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.
  • Steve Z

    2nd Team All Big 10/Lou Groza semi-finalist kicker/punter Anthony Fera has also just left PSU.

    • cebpd

      that is BIG. seriously

  • fitz29

    Just secured my tickets to the Gopher game. 10 rows up from behind our bench. Go Cats!

  • http://www.northwesternhighlights.com Northwestern Highlights

    It looks like Ryan Field will get to the century mark in 14 years. It’ll be interesting to see how many Big Ten stadiums are older than 20 years old by that point.

  • Mark

    I went to the ’10 game at the new stadium and it’s a gem. I have to believe that Kill will move the program forward.

    Not a single Cat on Athlon’s Top 50 players in the Big Ten and I’m wondering if the ESPN Big Ten blog list of top 25 Big Ten Players will include any Cats. I don’t necessarily agree with the rankings.

    • MNWildcat

      Ditto to this. Working in MN now and going to the game again this year, hopefully to be joined by a few NUMBalums… But The Bank is beautiful. I grew up going to games at the Metrodome with my dad, and it’s just nice to watch outdoor college football.

      Now if the U could just improve its gameday atmosphere (winning certainly will help), it’d be even more exciting to go to Gophers-‘Cats at TCF.

  • cece

    is there any perspective on the difference of play outside vs. the old dome and how this has affected Minn?

  • MNWildcat

    Sorry, I snorted at this:
    ” two competitive games with Michigan State and Northwestern.”
    Maybe the MSU game was competitive; I really don’t remember. But we scored on our first three possessions, and the game just bogged down into an ugly one. It was the classic example of Minnesota not being able to get out of there own way–I remember a long drive stalling and ending in an INT for the ‘Cats… But it wasn’t competitive after like, halftime. Then again, keeping within 2 scores was at some points an accomplishment for that team.

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Nebraska5010
Minnesota4110
Iowa4110
Northwestern2210
Wisconsin3100
Illinois3201
Purdue2301

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Maryland4110
Ohio State3100
Michigan State3100
Penn State4111
Rutgers4101
Indiana2201
Michigan2301