1. For those Texas Tech fans that haven't followed Minnesota this year, give us a general summary of where you thought the team would be and where they have ended up heading up to this game?
The Gophers actually finished the season exactly as I predicted. (/pats self on back) I thought the schedule laid out well enough for the Gophers to win their non-con schedule and I thought Purdue and Illinois would be weak enough for us to overtake.
I think what I didn't see coming was how those losses would play out. This is a young football team, but I didn't see the level of costly mistakes coming that plagued the Gophers. Look, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, those are just better teams than Minnesota. But in games against Iowa & Northwestern, which were both winnable, mistakes just buried us. Things like blown coverages, fumbles, missed gaps hurt us badly.
I also think the Gophers potentially were better than their record ended up, but injuries were a factor in the second half of the season, particularly on offense. MarQueis Gray was injured his back-up Max Shortell was injured meaning we ultimately had to pull the redshirt off of Philip Nelson. We had injured receivers all season, and I believe all but one of our offensive lineman missed a game during the season due to injury.
2. In trying to preview Minnesota, it appears that maybe MarQueis Gray is Minnesota's best player? What does he bring to the offense?
Gray was our opening day QB1 and easily our most productive player. He's got the ability to destroy defenses on the ground, and he's got a good arm, although he struggled with accuracy. As mentioned before, he was injured a good portion of the season and by the time he was healthy enough to come back the coaching staff had already moved on and handed the starting job to true frosh Philip Nelson.
Gray played out the year at WR where he's the biggest threat we have at this point. Gray is a big dude: 6'4" 250lbs, and he's super athletic. He's got the potential and size to be a very good possession receiver in the NFL, but his career at Minnesota was marred by Tim Brewster and injuries.
3. Describe a bit what Minnesota does offensively and some players that Texas Tech fans should watch out for.
From a philosophy standpoint, it's pretty straight forward. What the Gophers want to do offensively is run first to set up the pass. Donnell Kirkwood is the workhorse back who can run people over, but Nelson will call his own number quite a bit out of the read-option. Nelson has a big arm and isn't afraid to go deep, so it wouldn't be surprising to see O-coordinator Matt Limegrover take a shot or two downfield early to try to open things up a bit.
4. On the defensive side of the ball, what's Minnesota's traditional scheme and who are some players on that side of the ball that Texas Tech fans should watch?
Tracy Claeys runs a pretty traditional 4-3 with the success of the defense predicated on the front four disrupting things for the QB. In that way, this game sets up pretty well for us. Our pass defense, getting to the QB, forcing him to make quick and hopefully bad decisions, is the strength of our team. We've done pretty well against pass-happy teams (see Syracuse, Western Michigan).
DL Wilhite and Ra'Shede Hageman are the guys on the line who will do most of the disrupting. In the secondary, the names to know are Derrick Wells and Michael Carter. These guys lead the team in pass break-ups. Carter had a particularly astonishing series against Purdue where he was thrown at 3 times, two of which he broke up, and the last one which he got a Pick-6. He has the talent to be a game changing type of CB.
5. Talk a bit about where you are as a fan with Jerry Kill as your head coach? Are you happy with the hire, on the fence, excited about the future?
Jerry Kill is the right coach for Minnesota, especially following the Tim Brewster, massive-fail, experiment.. He recruits to his system, he coaches up the players that he brings in, he expects a lot of his players on the field and in the classroom, and he knows how to run a total program. The best part is that it's already working. After awful performance in the classroom under Brewster, the football team had the 31 players named as Academic All-B1G this fall, which was 2nd highest number in the conference. The high expectations are paying off in the classroom, and I believe they will pay off on the field in the next 2 years.
One more thing about Kill: anybody that mentions his seizures and questions whether Jerry Kill will be around at Minnesota because of them isn't paying attention. Jerry Kill has epilepsy and a seizure disorder. It's unfortunate, but it has not kept Kill from doing the job he was brought in to do: rebuild a program.
6. What do you think is the biggest advantage for Minnesota and what do you think is the biggest disadvantage?
The biggest disadvantage that the Gophers have is youth and inexperience. This team doesn't have battle-tested players. It's full of really talented guys who probably get a little hyped up before the game and it leads to mistakes. Our youth makes me really nervous in this bowl game because these kids are going to be fired up to play a night game on national TV.
For advantages, I'd go with two: time and our pass defense. As a program, the Gophers desperately needed the extra month of practice and this extra game. As a team, the Gophers desperately needed the extra month to heal. We should be relatively healthy by the time the game rolls around.
Secondly, our pass defense has the ability to really shut people down. Teams just are not successful passing the ball on us. (Our rush defense is a COMPLETELY different story.) Our d-line is a sack hungry group and they know how to get to the QB. If they can force Doege to make decisions faster than he wants to, our secondary can do the rest. I am optimistic that with a month of preparation our pass defense can keep us in this game.