The Aggies head to Big Ten country this weekend to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Both teams are coming off of season opening losses but both teams had some bright spots in their first games. In this week's edition of Know The Foe we've enlisted the help of the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Phil Miller to give Aggie fans an idea of what to expect on Saturday when the two teams take the field.
Minnesota is coming off a close loss to USC on the road. What impressed you about the team's play in the first game and what differences have you noticed between last year's team and this year's team after one game?
It's pretty basic: Tackling. They tie up and bring ball-carriers down, something simple but problematic for a lot of bad teams, and it's a big difference. The number of broken-tackle big plays was way down.
Continuing a little bit off the last question, this is Jerry Kill's first season as head coach at Minnesota, what changes have you noticed thus far between him and the previous coaching staff in terms of attitude/coaching style?
They make adjustments, they make the kids better and they hold people accountable. Kill is a big believer in living up to your responsibility, and he's getting the players to understand that there is no cutting corners.
Obviously the team was fired up to play a big name opponent in USC, are there any concerns of a potential letdown in the home opener against New Mexico State or is the loss to South Dakota in last year's home opener still pretty fresh in the team's mind?
South Dakota will never go away, but Kill made sure the Gophers didn't buy any moral-victory talk in Los Angeles. They lost, they were disappointed, and they need to work hard to change the result this week -- that was his tone with the players. I imagine they'll be pretty fired up again.
The Gophers have a pretty good looking athlete at quarterback, a bit of a dual threat in MarQueis Gray and Coach Kill has come out and said that he is the starter, despite the strong showing from backup Max Shortell. What's your assessment of the quarterback situation and do you expect to see a lot of play from both against New Mexico State?
They have far too much invested in MarQueis Gray to switch right now. He's also their biggest running threat, and they need him to get comfortable throwing the ball in traffic. I imagine Shortell will get a few snaps, but it's going to be Gray's game.
What can Aggie fans expect to see out of the Gopher offense when they have the ball and does the play calling change at all depending on who the quarterback is?
They'll probably call more tuck-and-runs for Gray, and might go deep a little more with Shortell. But they're trying to be run-first, with both Gray and tailback Duane Bennett. They used a lot of formations and motion in the first game, and I wonder if they will pare it down a little until Gray is more at ease.
What can Aggie fans expect to see from the Minnesota defense? Do the Gophers like to blitz a lot or do they prefer to sit back in coverage?
The coaching staff's history is to take a few risks in order to increase the pressure on the quarterbacks, and that's a real challenge here, since the Gophers were last in the nation in sacks (nine) last year. They had none against USC, and even used a tailback on a couple of passing downs in order to generate a bit more rush, so they're trying everything they can think of to get into the backfield.
Who are one or two players on offense and defense that are the difference makers for the Gophers?
Gray for sure, and his best receiver is Da'Jon McKnight, who got lots of attention from USC's secondary. On defense, it's been Gary Tinsley, the middle linebacker who is mostly a run-stuffer, but who got into coverage several times last week. Mike Rallis on the outside is another linebacker who is doing a good job of roaming for tackles.
Who are one or two players who maybe didn't have a great game against USC but could be ready for a breakout game on Saturday?
Gray, again. He looked totally flustered in the first half and the offense couldn't do much. They simplified some stuff at halftime and he was much better in the third quarter, but then cramps and Shortell's success kept him on the bench. He's extremely motivated to have a big game. So is cornerback Brock Vereen, who took the brunt of Robert Woods' school-record 17 catches at USC. It wasn't all his fault, the Gophers were stacking the box and told him to protect against Woods going over the top, so USC picked up one short pass after another.
The Gophers will win if they…
Get the type of game from MarQueis Gray -- calm, smart decisions, big plays -- that he's been promising all summer.
The Aggies can pull off the upset if they…
Fluster Gray into bad choices and turnovers.
Your predicted outcome for the game.
Minnesota wins, something like 31-20.