Oh Spartan Nation it feels good to be back home in the heart of East Lansing at this very moment. For I spent an entire day in Ann Arbor this past weekend and while it was a glorious affair (14-10) nothing compares to being surrounded by my Green and White family.
It was the quietest Big House I’d ever been apart of and feeling the noise slip out of their stadium was well worth the price of admission.
But like usual we must move on. This week Michigan State hits the road again only this time they face Minnesota. Chris Hachfeld from The Daily Gopher joins us this week to give us the scouting report on the Spartans next opponent.
Lets dive right in!
This is a year of first's for the Minnesota Gophers. They are led by first year head coach P.J. Fleck along with new offensive (Kirk Ciarrocca) and defensive (Robb Smith) coordinators. Minnesota is currently 3-2 (0-2 B1G). We all know what Fleck was able to do as the head coach of Western Michigan last year but in your opinion how does he plan to improve upon a squad that went 9-4 in 2016? And is the season going as you predicted? Why or why not?
This question actually brings up an interesting thing that Minnesota fans are dealing with, the fallacy of "constant improvement." The goal for this season should never have been to improve on 9-4 from last year. There are a myriad of reasons for this. The most important ones though are 1) this team had too many depth issues from the get go for that to be reasonable, 2) we didn't have a QB we could lean on, and 3) teams under new coaches don't typically have great seasons in year 1 unless they have a ton of talent stockpiled.
As you can tell by issues 1 and 2, there was never any way that this team was stockpiled with talent. One of the hallmarks of the Kill/Claeys staffs was that they tended to get a lot out of teams with less gross talent. They also had an eye for players who were more talented than their recruiting rankings suggested, especially in the secondary. But to several issues (including the mess last December) the secondary depth was shot. So was depth at offensive line and wide receiver. Throw in the fact that Coach Fleck considers implementing his program culture to be the top priority and you've got a recipe for a hard year 1 if things don't break perfectly.
After 5 games they have not broken perfectly. The 3 shallowest depth position groups (OL, DB, WR) have all been hit by injuries. A starting safety has been suspended multiple games for violations of team rules, as was the backup QB who spent the fall camp and weeks 1 & 2 competing for the starting job. And as a result a team that was hanging it's hat on defense to cover for a lack of QB play has faltered late against two beatable B1G opponents in Maryland and Purdue while the offense has struggled all year.
When P.J. was the head coach of Western Michigan he used "Row The Boat" as a source of inspiration and motivation for the team/fans. Does Fleck have anything like that for this Gopher team? If so what is it and what does it mean?
Fleck is still rowing the boat! The mantra is extremely personal to him since it was born out of the loss of his son. He's also brought all of his Fleck-isms with him from WMU and Minnesota fans are learning the meaning of ELITE, H.Y.P.R.R., nekton mentality, and the rest.
Some fans can't stand it, others like me don't get worked up about messaging and have embraced it because why not? Seriously, if messaging designed for 18-22 year olds gets in the way of you enjoying your team you need to lighten up IMO.
Minnesota has allowed 30+ plus points in their first two Big Ten games. Once to Maryland and most recently to Purdue. What do the Gophers have to do to slow Michigan State down this weekend to ensure that doesn't happen again?
They may not be able to honestly. This is not a bad defense. It's simply a defense that lacks depth in the secondary and is now playing too many young guys. As a result, they are making crucial mistakes and giving up big plays at the wrong time. If this was the full strength D from week 1 I'd say that MSU is the kind of team (not overly efficient or explosive on offense according to S&P+) that we'd be excited to play.
If Minnesota does hold MSU in check, the key will be forcing turnovers. MSU should find success, so the key for the Gophers is to limit the number of chances the Spartans get and to give the Gopher offense extra chances to score.
What are the Gophers strengths? Along with their weaknesses?
The linebackers on defense and the running backs on offense. The problem in both cases is that those units alone cannot cover for the weaknesses. On offense that includes inconsistent OL play and a quarterback who is doing his best when his best isn't quite enough. On defense that includes inconsistent pass rush and a depleted secondary that is starting a corner who is only 9 months removed from an ACL tear.
Who are the X-factors for Minnesota this weekend? Why?
Your quarterback, who I'm hoping will X factor his way into 5 interceptions. You know he wants to.
What is the matchup you will be paying most attention to?
Our defensive secondary versus your WR's. Our defense has to play well beyond the level we've seen in recent weeks and that starts with the DB's.
Name three things the Gophers must do to walk away with a win.
1) Win the turnover battle.
2) Come up with some big plays on offense.
3) Catch a break
Prediction Time: Final score? Who wins? Why?
Michigan State, 27-10. I'm not sure how this is a 4 point game in Vegas honestly. If Minnesota were full strength I'd call this game a toss-up even with our weaknesses. But if Minnesota were full strength they'd also be 5-0 right now instead of 3-2 so...yea. I'm just looking forward to being back in Minnesota for the weekend regardless.
I’d like to give one last big shout out to Chris and everyone over at The Daily Gopher for being apart of this Q&A. Lets do it again sometime!