After Minnesota had its struggles against Kent State, this matchup between the Ohio Bobcats and the Minnesota Gophers becomes all the more intriguing for Big Ten and Mid-American Conference fans alike. We chatted up Mark Mowery of The Daily Gopher to have some questions answered about the Gophers. Many thanks to Mark for giving such in-depth answers!
Also be sure to check out our responses to the questions that The Daily Gopher had for us too.
Hustle Belt: Ohio is in for its toughest test of the season thus far in Minnesota. How has your Gopher squad fared so far? We see there have been some internal gripes about the O-Line.
The Daily Gopher: 1. Well, the crazy thing is the biggest argument within the fan base doesn't revolve around the offensive line but instead our starting redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner. Many believe he isn't a talented enough thrower to take us to "the next level." Others think he's a victim of circumstance as the offensive line has suffer a
multitude of injuries and the receiving corps is extremely inexperienced. The truth of the matter is, if the o-line doesn't get healthy, it could be a long year for the team and an elite defense could suffer from being stuck on the field for 36 plus minutes a game. To answer your actual question, though, the team has had wide variety of results. Play one of the best offenses in the country tough at home and lose by 6. Play away at altitude and win by 3. Play at home
against a MAC team projected to be a non-factor in the conference, shut them out on defense but put forth a horrifying offensive effort and win by 3. Plenty of teams would love to be 2-1 with their only loss against a top 5 team by 6 points.
The truth of the matter is we know what the Gophers WANT to do on offense and defense, we just don't
know IF they are capable of executing their preferred strategy against good teams. Ohio could be an excellent barometer to see if the past week made any difference to the offensive strategy, the numerous injuries up and down the roster, and the psyche of our quarterback.
After scoring just 10 points last week against Kent State, do you see anything different in the offensive game plan from the coaching staff this week? Does Coach Kill have something up his sleeve? Why has the hometown team struggled in the vertical game (Demetrius Monday had one heck of a game the other day)?
So many questions, so many possible answers. In all honesty, the game plan probably won't vary all that much. It is vastly dependent on the injury status of the offensive line and if the available personnel begin to work well in tandem. If the coaches feel they have a strong, sturdy, cohesive starting five for the offensive line for Saturday's game, they might feel a little more confident implementing a few wrinkles to keep the Ohio defense modest. If they have had to create some sort of hodge-podge conglomerate of banged up behemoths, they might stick with conservative play calling, focusing on the running game and allowing the defense to win the game. I know that Coach Kill had some words to the media that made change seem necessary and impending. But offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover appears to have a specific plan in place for each game depending on what he sees on tape. I can only imagine that he probably has developed a few plays deemed as "tricks" but could better be defined as variations of the base offense to keep the Bobcat defense off-balance.
As for the vertical game, the deep pass used to be viewed as a strength of Mitch Leidner's. In the case of last Saturday's contest, he under-threw two deep passes after making the correct read. If he just gets a little more air under each of those balls, they are either long completions or incompletions. If Ohio insists on stacking the box with 8 or 9 (?!?!) players, as was the case with Kent State, I'm sure Leidner won't hold back in trying a one-on-one deep ball again. Whether it is successful or not is anyone's guess at this point.
Who has struggled for the Gophers at the offensive skill positions that really needs to get it going in order for the Gopher offense to be productive? With identical numbers from the Gopher offense and defense scoring-wise (16.7), what is needed to get over the hump?
As lame as this is going to sound, improvement could be seen from just about every position on that side of the ball. Getting healthy and cohesive down the offensive line would be a great start. Senior wide receiver KJ Maye cleaning up some drops would also go a long way. WR Drew Wolitarsky has been a bright spot and they need to try to find ways to get him the ball. 6' 10" TE Nate Wozniak is always an enticing option and has proved capable of making some plays and blocking in the running game. But, to continue beating a dead horse, if Leidner can make a few more passes per game, it would take a lot of pressure off of all the other positions. There are times when Mitch is rushed due to spotty line play and he misses throws. Sometimes, he allows said miss to carry over into other plays. If he can clean up a few throws, it would go a long way to extending a drive here or there.
To "get over the hump" would require health, one of the younger receivers such as Rashad Still or Desmond Gant to start making some plays, and redshirt freshman Rodney Smith to continue to improve from week to week. He looks like a special talent already and if he continues to
work, he could be an X-factor.
We covered the fact that Minnesota has an experienced group of guys in the secondary in our non-conference preview of the Gophers. Ohio QB Derrius Vick is coming off probably its best offensive performance of his career. What are the defensive expectations of Gopher fans this upcoming week?
I'll be honest and say I don't know much about the Ohio offense. But a quick look at the fantastic stats put together by Bill C. at Football Study Hall lead me to believe that the Ohio passing offense should be respected. It currently ranks 65th nationally in passing S&P+ (these stats don't account for the game against FCS SE Louisiana if I remember correctly) which illustrates a decent unit. Luckily, that plays to the strengths of the Gopher defense, as our secondary is currently ranked 6th defensively by a similar metric. Barring catastrophic injury news the rest of the week, I expect another stifling performance by the defense. Ohio will definitely get their yards and plenty of first downs but Minnesota's defensive philosophy is to allow for things to happen in front of them while mitigating the risk of the opponents putting points on the board. In other words, the Bobcats will move the ball but I think find it hard to put too many points on the board when push comes to shove.
I hate making predictions because balancing logic with fandom and trying to convey that you don't have a sense of over-confidence is really difficult. That being said, I do think that Minnesota will play better against Ohio than it did against Kent State. I think the defense will be up to the task again and will carrying the team. I also think the offense gets a few things figured out in practice this week. Leidner does enough to keep the defense modest and the ground game churns enough to get the Gophers in the red zone a few times.
I see the score coming in somewhere around 20-7 Gophers.