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Conversations with the Enemy: Talking Minnesota with The Daily Gopher

I traded a few questions about Saturday's game with The Daily Gopher, SBN's excellent Minnesota blog

EDIT: My answers to TDG's questions are posted at his site.

Below, I'm in bold:

The big story of the week for Minnesota is obviously the loss of Eric Decker.  How devastating is his loss for your team?  Is there any chance that the Gophers can even partially replace his output?

It is pretty bad.  Look at last year's final 4 games when he was out or injured and look back at the last two games when he was covered so heavily he managed to catch just 4 balls for 69 yards.  What did the offense generate in points during those two stretches?  The 2008 slide at the end of the year saw the offense average just 13.8 points per game and over the last two weeks we've scored a total of 7 points (and that was garbage time).

So this hurts a lot.  I really like a couple of our other receivers, but there has never been any chemistry between them and Adam Weber.  And none of them have really had a big game to justify how I feel about them.  The Gophers are going to have to get a ground game going but I don't see that as an easy task against the Spartans.

It seems like Minnesota fans are restless with the quarterback situation, with many saying that MarQueis Gray should take over for Adam Weber.  What does he bring to the table that Weber lacks, and what's your sense of the situation -- do you think we'll see much of Gray on Saturday?

Gray brings athleticism to the table.  He is in the mold (not an exact replica but in the mold) of Vince Young, Pryor, Juice Williams, etc.  He brings the ability to make something happen with his legs when nothing is there through the air.  I am in the ever shrinking minority that thinks Weber should still be starting.  I personally will take his 2 year resume over the hype of a freshman who really hasn't played meaningful football since his junior year of high school.

Like I said, I am in the minority and my attitude is certainly shifting with ever poor performance by Weber.  He really has earned himself a benching, but I still firmly believe that our offensive problems are much deeper than the QB position.  If he gets sacked he is said to have not pocket presence, if a receiver drops a ball it was a bad pass, if a drive stalls it is his fault regardless of any terrible penalties.  It is the classic case of the QB gets too credit when teams succeed and too much blame when they don't. 

With all of that said Gray played well in garbage time at Ohio State, he does bring some athleticism that Weber does not possess and Weber has been so bad (AT TIMES) that we don't have a whole lot to lose by playing Gray.  I'm sure we will see more of Gray on the field this week, the pressure is mounting to play him more and unless Weber starts playing better Brewster will have to make a move.  Unfortunately making a QB change will not change the questionable play-calling and the rash of penalties that have taken points off the board all year long.  But it may get us an extra first down or two because of Gray's athletic ability, if that leads to more points then I'm all for it.

[More, after the jump.]

Minnesota is ranked dead last in the conference in rushing offense.  Is this a function of completely abandoning the run game  (i.e., should we expect to see 40 or 50 pass attempts by Weber/Gray on Saturday?), or just a lack of talent at the position?

Yes.  At times it seems like the ground game has been working and the coaching staff will forget about it for long stretches (Syracuse game is a great example).  At other times we run, run, run.  The Purdue game we attempted a total of 9 passes in the game.  The Northwestern game we ran the ball down their throats the entire second half on the way to a road win.  But the talent along the line and with those carrying the ball is lacking and that is part of the problem.  Once we get things rolling (read - play against a poor run defense) we can get the ground game going.  So I'm not sure what we will see on Saturday night.  With Decker out and cold conditions I think you'll see a concerted effort to run the ball, but MSU's rush defense has been pretty good so who knows how long they'll stick with it.

MSU will certainly try to do most of its damage through the air (1st in the Big Ten in passing offense); the Gophers are currently ranked eighth in the conference in pass defense, but sixth in pass efficiency.  How would you assess the play of your secondary this season?

Disappointing is how I would characterize the secondary.  Our two corners are actually pretty good cover corners.  Our free safety is a former corner who is better against the pass than he is against the run.  But all have given up big plays this year because of breakdowns in coverage.  Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels are good cover guys who are capable of slowing down the Spartan receivers, but both have been burned by making bad reads or covering the wrong guy and then beat deep.  Kim Royston at the safety position has been burned badly by play-action a few times for big plays as well.

The other problem with the secondary is the lack of pressure put on QBs by the line.  Unless we blitz opposing QBs generally have ample time to find receivers.

Is there anyone on offense or defense for Minnesota that MSU fans probably aren't aware of, but that we should keep an eye on?  (It has been three years since we've last played, after all.)

Wow, it's really been three years?  So you completely missed the spread era of Gopher football.  Despite our poor defensive stats you should really pay attention to our linebackers.  Lee Campbell and Nate Triplett have had very good years.  Those two, along with Simoni Lawrence have been one of the best linebacking corps the Gophers have had in a long time.  Imagine how good they'd be had Greg Jones not switched over to the Spartans after Mason was fired. 

The other player I enjoy watching is Troy Stoudermire.  The WR / KR is fun to watch and a threat to go the distance on every kickoff.

How's the new stadium?  Is the home field advantage much greater now than it was in the Metrodome?

The new stadium is the highlight of the season.  It is really nice and something Gopher fans are really proud of.  Our record may not indicate a home field advantage but for the first time in decades the team has a home that they can defend.  In the Dome we were just as much visitors as the other team.  Decker said during the spring that they feel like they have a home that is theirs to defend. 

Finally, your prediction for Saturday's game, please:

I'm a homer and an optimist. The Gophers win this pivotal game.  For this to happen I think they will have to establish some semblance of a ground game and get a turnover or two on defense.  I think Gray will play quite a bit but he'll have a short leash if he has an early turnover then I think you'll see a lot of Weber to finish the game.  But getting something going on the ground is the key for the Gophers.  If that happens, I think Minnesota wins a close one.

Thanks to The Daily Gopher, whose prediction, I hope, is miserably wrong.