Since the Minnesota Golden Gophers have avoided last year's propensity to get defeated by everyone, Saturday's game against Ohio State should be a showcase for how the Gophers will play against a ranked opponent. Here to discuss this week's match-up in a Q&A format is the Daily Gopher, SBN's official vessel of University of Minnesota athletic knowledge.
Note from The Rivalry and the Daily Gopher: If you are interested in following the OSU-UM game on your laptop, feel free to log onto http://www.thedailygopher.com/ and join other SBN fans for live blogging during Saturday's game, beginning at 12:00 pm EST.
Let's start with a word association game. I'll give you the name of a person or a concept and you tell me the first thing that pops into your head. First word/concept: 2007 Minnesota Golden Gophers football team. - Perfect storm of everything going wrong (turnovers, adjusting to new schemes, defensive liabilities, coaching inexperience, etc.)
North Dakota State. Embarrassing loss. This game was not as close as the score indicated, we were dominated.
Tim Brewster. Eternal optimist, excellent recruiter.
Eric Decker. Vastly underrated, incredibly talented.
Adam Weber. Greatly improved. He had a good freshman year, and has vastly improved in his sophomore season
Alright let's get down to football strategy. Minnesota is undefeated and tied for first in the Big 10. How?
It has been well chronicled that they are winning the turnover battle (+11) and that has helped a lot. But equally important is that they are turning those turnovers in to touchdowns. The defense has generated 13 turnovers in our four games. On those 13 possessions the Gophers have scored nine touchdowns and one field goal. Twice they were only stopped by the clock as the turnover came near the end of a half or game. The swagger of the defense is being coupled with the killer instinct on offense.
Who makes the Gopher offense go: Weber, Decker, or some unseen force?
Weber and Decker are the drivers, with out a doubt. Offensive Coordinator, Mike Dunbar may be that unseen force as his creative play calling has put Weber and Decker in position to succeed. Teams have been game planning to cover Decker but Dunbar has moved him around using him out of the slot, in motion, out wide, in the backfield and out of those formations he is getting the ball all over the field. And this is all possible because Weber has matured, is able to make decisions and handle a more complex playbook.
Rumor has it that your Ted Roof-inspired defense has improved vastly from last year. What kind of defensive formations will you run against OSU and who are the star members that the Buckeye's need to look out for?
I would expect a basic 4-3 defense, especially if Wells is playing. But we have also used a 3-4 defense when Roof felt it was necessary. If Pryor is having a good day with his legs and beating us that way, I would expect to see more 3-4 using the linebackers to contain him and confuse him with disguised blitzes. But if Wells is the problem then expect the 4-3 to try and minimize the damage at the line of scrimmage.
I wouldn't say that we have many "star members" on this defense. If anybody were to fall into that category it would be safety Tramaine Brock. The JUCO transfer is the first player in the Brewster era who has exceeded the high praise he received in the offseason. He has been very good against the run and the pass. Other than Brock, I am expecting a big game from a couple of our linebackers. Lee Campbell is a good sized MLB who has been a pleasant surprise this year after his switch from DE. He will be instrumental in stopping the OSU run game. And another JUCO transfer, Simoni Lawrence, will be absolutely vital in containing Pryor. Lawrence is a former safety who has been our "space LB." Because of his athleticism and speed he has been able to defend in the passing game and is tough enough to help the run defense. He should be athletic enough to shadow Pryor and help minimize the damage he is capable of.
What is your biggest matchup problem going to be against the Bucks?
Our youthful offensive line against the Buckeye front seven. We start three freshmen and two sophomores on the OL, while the OSU front seven are experienced and incredibly talented. If we get beat on a regular basis at the line of scrimmage we will have trouble moving the ball all day long.
What is the general perception of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team in the state of Minnesota?
After winning back to back Big Ten titles they are the class of the conference. I'm guessing that most Gopher fans would be thrilled if this game ends up in a close loss for Minnesota. Eventually we would love to get to a point where we can compete with OSU every year, but right now there is a perceived gap.
What will it take for Minnesota to beat OSU on Saturday?
The same formula we have been using. Create turnovers and turn them into points. Pryor is a freshman and will make mistakes. If we can get extra possessions and turn them into seven points, especially early in the game, we can give them a scare.
Ohio State struggled with Ohio and Troy. Both were picked to finish behind Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic in their respective conferences, and Minnesota did not struggle with them. Ohio State is very talented but they are not unbeatable.
Give me a dream scenario how this game plays out in your head, sans flying cheerleaders feeding you grapes on the sidelines.
Dream scenario would be Ohio State going three and out on their first drive followed by a Minnesota score. Second possession Pryor throws an interception that results in another Gopher score. After that I'd expect the fans in attendance would turn on the Buckeyes. OSU would eventually settle down and stage a comeback in the fourth quarter, but Minnesota would hold on to win.
I then retire to my master suite and am fed grapes by flying cheerleaders.