Know The Foe :: Gopher Q&A With Minnesota Daily's Jack Satzinger

Know The Foe :: Minnesota

The Aggies host a familiar Big Ten foe this weekend as they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers turned a close game against UNLV into a rout thanks to a third quarter pick-six. In this week's edition of Know The Foe we've enlisted the help of the Minnesota Daily's Jack Satzinger to give Aggie fans an idea of what to expect on Saturday when the two teams take the field. You can see more of Jack's fine work at his Minnesota Daily's archive and you can also follow him on Twitter @JackSatzinger Two years ago New Mexico State went to Minnesota and pulled off a shocking upset of the Gophers. How much do you think that still weighs on the remaining players and coaches and will that provide any extra motivation for them in this game or have they moved past that?
Jack Satzinger: I think they've really moved past the loss from two seasons ago. That was Jerry Kill's first home game as Minnesota head coach and the team has jumped from three to six wins under him in two years. The majority of the programs's key players from that game have graduated -- there are only five seniors that start. Still, senior defensive lineman said that they've "prepared mentally and physically so it won't happen again." Minnesota is coming off a 51-23 blowout win over UNLV in which the team's defense and special teams scored three touchdowns. What impressed you about the team's play in the first game and what concerned you about the team's play in the first game?
JS: Something that really impressed me about the team in their 51-23 win over UNLV is the playmaking ability in the secondary. There was a pick-six by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who was filling in for junior Derrick Wells at cornerback. Wells is most likely going to be back for Saturday's game, so we'll get a full dose of how deep the secondary is. An area of concern for Minnesota is the linebacking corps. They return zero starters from last season and had a lot of trouble defending short passes against UNLV. Is there any concern that the Gopher offense mustered just 320 yards of total offense and just 99 yards passing or do you think it more a case of it being the first game of the season and how much did the loss of running backs Donnell Kirkwood and Berkley Edwards factor into that?
JS: I don't think that their lack of offensive production is a huge cause for concern, because the three defensive/special teams touchdowns limited the number of offensive drives they had. The running game was very strong despite Donnell Kirkwood's injury -- he's the starting running back. The Gophers will need him healthy if they want to make some noise in Big 10 play, but right now back-ups Rodrick Williams and David Cobb should suffice. Williams was a consistent contributor as a freshman last season, rushing for 250+ yards. Cobb broke a 60-yard run against UNLV. Berkley Edwards is likely fourth on the depth chart and is not under any stress to come back early. 

A bigger concern is getting Minnesota's wide receivers going, who are really lacking play-making ability. KJ Maye led the team in receiving against UNLV with just 30 yards. The Gophers have a dual threat athlete in quarterback Philip Nelson and historically New Mexico State defenses have struggled against dual threat QBs. What percentage of pass versus run do you think the coaches want out of him in this game and do you think there will be an emphasis on getting the passing game going or will they just take whatever the New Mexico State defense gives them (run or pass or both) and if neither Kirkwood or Edwards are able to play on Saturday due to their injuries, do you anticipate seeing more designed runs for Nelson than you normally might if either running back were healthy?
JS: Something that quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski has said time and time again in regard to running the read-option is that they'll take what the defense gives them. If the Aggies decide to crowd the middle of the field in anticipation of a halfback dive, expect Nelson to jump outside the line for a big gain. If not, they'll likely send one of their physical running backs up the gut for a run. The coaches have reiterated that they trust their back-ups. If Kirkwood can't go, their game plan doesn't change. 

Minnesota's a double-digit favorite and if they build up a large lead I'd expect a lot of passes to try to stabilize their attack through the air. On the injury front, it appears that Minnesota has its fair share of them after week one. Which player(s) are expected to be back that did not play against UNLV and aside from the aforementioned running backs, who could miss Saturday's game?
JS: As aforementioned, it looks like Derrick Wells is back. Kirkwood is a big question mark; my guess is that he doesn't go and the coaches trust Williams as well as Cobb to run the ball. Tight end Drew Goodger appeared to sustain a minor knee injury against UNLV, but he's practiced this week. I saw him walking around campus Wednesday and his knee was a little taped up, but he looked fine. If anyone is sitting out Saturday it's Kirkwood and I don't think his presence will decide the game. 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?
JS: The Gophers defense is pretty solid. I mentioned playmakers in the secondary, but the strength of the defense could be the line. Defensive tackle Hageman is a projected first-round pick and demands a lot of attention from offensive linemen. The question will be whether the Aggies can give their quarterback enough time to take advantage of Minnesota's inexperienced linebackers. Who are one or two players on offense and defense that are the difference makers for the Gophers?
JS: Offensively, tight ends Goodger and Maxx Williams are difference makers for the Gophers. Goodger caught Nelson's longest pass against UNLV (21 yards) and Williams had a diving 10-yard touchdown reception in the game. Their presence helps mitigate the impact of an unproven group of wide receivers. Who are one or two players who maybe didn't have a great game against UNLV but could be ready for a breakout game on Saturday?
JS: Someone ready to really break out is sophomore running back Williams. I'm guessing Kirkwood doesn't go and Kill insinuated that Williams will start Saturday if that's the case. He had limited playing time against UNLV because he was late to a team meeting, but expect him to run the ball with a full head of steam. The Gophers will win if they...
JS: The Gophers will win if they limit turnovers and stick to their identity: ground and pound. That's their calling card, which is why they've built a deep group of running backs. The Aggies can pull off another upset over the Gophers if they...
JS: The Aggies can pull off another upset of the Gophers if they contain the edge. Minnesota's biggest plays against UNLV were 48 and 60-yard runs that came when the ball-carrier broke to the outside. If NMSU forces the Gophers to run between the tackles, it will be a low-scoring game unless Minnesota's receivers show up. Your predicted outcome for the game.
JS: Coach Kill's scouting report of the Aggie's said they utilize a wacky defensive system with a lot of outside linebackers. If that's the case, I don't think Minnesota will break a lot of runs to the outside. However, they'll use Williams between the tackles to overpower a small defensive line. Goodger and Williams can come in together in a jumbo package to spark a marginal passing attack. 

Final Score: Minnesota 35 New Mexico State 17 Bonus question: Your bio says you are a born New Mexican so we have to ask… Red or Green?
JS: I grew up in Santa Fe and would have to answer Christmas. Why have one when you can have both?