Continuing on our "lazy" preview path, we did yet another Q&A with an opposing fan base. This time, we were lucky enough to draw from my other blog's stable of knowledge: SB Nation. There, they have a nice Minnesota blog called The Daily Gopher. Check them out, because they included me in a podcast and I answered some questions for them as well. They are pretty down to earth over there as far as I can tell.
Now on to the questions, answered by JDMill.
Me: You guys have won both of your games this season, albeit to weak teams. New Hampshire is an FCS opponent, and UNLV lost to Northern Arizona by 3 after a triple OT game against you. Oh, and they went 2-10 last season. How nervous are you to face a team that went to a bowl game, played poorly, yet still almost won against a decent Purdue team last season?
JDMill: As sad as this may sound, we're reasonably happy here in Minnesota with the Gophers starting 2-0, even considering that who they have played so far, as you pointed out, is not the best of teams. Listen, those are exactly the kind of teams that the Gophers have lost to over the past 2 years. If the first step toward rebuilding a program is to beat the teams that a B1G team is supposed to beat, then we are on the right track.
Having said that, are we nervous about Western Michigan? Hell yes we are. Alex Carder is exactly the kind of QB who has given the Gopher secondary fits over the last, oh, I don't know, decade or so. Teams that like to spread the ball around and pass a lot have traditionally done pretty well against us. Part of the problem has been that the Gopher defense hasn't had any pass rush to speak of, so QB's have had all day to find openings in the secondary. Those days are gone. The Gophers have a pass rush, they can cause problems in the backfield, and they can get to the QB with Ra'Shede Hageman and DL Wilhite. We're working on a new culture in Minnesota where we hopefully won't have to be quite so nervous about a team like Western Michigan in the future, but as of now, our recent struggles against MAC teams are not such a distant memory.
More after the jump...........
Me: Let's be honest, is MarQueis Gray your entire offense? He scares me.
JDMill: He should scare you. Being able to get yards on the ground, make plays with his feet and extend the pocket has never been a question about MarQueis. But his accuracy as a passer has. He was horribly inaccurate, especially to wide open targets, against UNLV, but still managed to throw for over 250 yards and 2 TD's (with the help of 3 OT's). The culprit, we were told, was jitters. Against New Hampshire Gray's very first pass went for a 27 yard TD to a wide open receiver. The truth is, if Gray has time (and apparently if he's isn't a nervous nelly) he has the talent to be as deadly of a passer as he is a runner.
He's our entire offense in the sense that everything keys off of him. Defenses HAVE to account for him or he'll ramble off 75 yard TD's like he did against New Hampshire. But there are other weapons on this team. Donnell Kirkwood is a bowling ball running back who is averaging about 5 yards/carry. John Rabe is a TE who seems capable of making only big catches. KJ Maye is a freshman hybrid receiver/RB who has all kinds of play-making ability. WR's AJ Barker, Andre McDonald and Devin Crawford-Tufts can also do damage.
Me: After a disappointing 3-9 season last year, where you somehow beat Miami (OH) but lost to NoDak State, what are the expectations for this season?
JDMill: The consensus coming into the season was somewhere between 5 and 7 wins and the expectation that the bulk of the damage would need to be done in the non-con schedule. We haven't played talented enough teams to really know what we have yet, but there is a sense that this team is growing up and learning how to do some things. At this point if the Gophers don't make it to a bowl game there would definitely be disappointment, but it wouldn't come as a complete shock.
Me: Do you hate being in the Legends Division yet? MSU, Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, and even Northwestern? Ouch. Plus you get to watch as both Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible, and seemingly four-team division fights for a spot in Indianapolis. Sign the petition!
JDMill: The only thing we hate about being in the Legends Division is that it's called the fricking Legends Division. DUMBEST. NAMES. EVER. And while we're here and you mentioned OSU and PSU being ineligible, sure does look like a freakin' great decision to try to split the divisions based on "competitive balance" instead of by geography right now, doesn't it?
But I digress. Honestly, being in the Legends Division for Minnesota is no different than being in the B1G as a whole for Minnesota. We know we aren't the class of the division by any means. We know we've got a tough hill to climb. But we also know that if we are ever to climb that hill, it will be all the more sweet.
Me: What are some good eateries in the Twin Cities? Maybe not just for this weekend for any Bronco fans who make the trek, but also for the coming years and the NCHC tournament finals in the Target Center.
JDMill: The Twin Cities is fantastic for food. So many great places. I prefer a greasy spoon myself, so I'd steer you toward Matt's Bar in South Minneapolis for a Jucy Lucy ("If it's spelled correctly, you're in the wrong place.") and Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown of the U of M campus is a Minneapolis institution. If you're in the mood for pizza, maybe late night food, Pizze Luce is a fine choice. If you're looking for on-campus atmosphere you have to hit up Sally's and Stub & Herb's.
Me: Back to football, tell us about the Minnesota defense, and who to keep an eye on.
JDMill: As I mentioned before, as far as pass rush, Hageman and Wilhite are the ring leaders and do a great job causing problems in the backfield. But the guy who we, over at The Daily Gopher, voted #1 on our power pole of individual Gopher players through 2 games is Derrick Wells. Wells is a 6'0", 200lb safety who just converted from CB and he can flat out play. He's always around the ball and according to the coaches has done a great job learning the schemes. Wells leads the team in INT's, pass breakups, and tackles and has been a great surprise on defense for the Gophers.
Me: Enough talk, time for the big question. Who wins, by how much, what is the score, and why?
JDMill: Gophers win by a TD. I think our emerging pass rush becomes too much for Carder. Pass rush has to be the key to the game for the Gophers. I think that even when Carder gets rid of the ball he gets hit more often than not and it will take a toll on him by the 2nd half.
I want to thank JDMill over at The Gopher Daily for answering these questions and including me in their weekly podcast.