Since this is only the second time TCU has played Minnesota, I thought it would be cool to get in touch with some fans of teams that play them on the regular to get a better feel for what to expect from the Gophers.
These are their stories.
A special thanks to Joshua Henschke and Zach Travis for answering our questions.
1. Last year Michigan dominated the Gophers. What led to such a runaway contest?
JH: I think one major attributing factor towards Michigan's victory last season was Jerry Kill not being on the sideline. If my memory serves correctly, Kill had an epileptic seizure shortly before the game was meant to start and was unable to coach. I know the team should always be prepared for the unknown, but that was demoralizing for them.
Michigan was able to move the ball well through the air and had a somewhat decent ground game (which was a week or so before the running game disappeared.) Michigan converted 10-13 on third downs and had 235 yards in the air. Considering how strong Minnesota finished the 2013 season, this game was definitely a misnomer on their final record.
ZT: The two biggest factors were passing efficiency and third down conversions. Michigan's big play passing game was able to sustain and end drives better than Minnesota's (13.8 ypa vs. 6.9 for Minnesota). Minnesota isn't a great passing team, and will instead look to pound the ball on the ground. Once Michigan had contained the Gopher running attack it forced Minnesota to do more through the air, which isn't something Minnesota was capable of. While Minnesota went 8/15 on third down, this number is misleading because Minnesota was 5/5 on the second drive of the game (its only scoring drive) and 3/10 the rest of the game. The lack of a solid passing attack and Michigan's ability to keep Minnesota runs penned in for short gains meant a lot of stalled drives.
2. What if anything, did Minnesota do well in that game?
JH: Considering Minnesota then versus Minnesota at the end of the season, they didn't do much. When you're losing 42-13 to a rival, you're not doing many positive things out there. It's clear the defense couldn't stop Michigan and get them off the field.
ZT: Minnesota ran the ball pretty effectively. Mitch Leidner is a big bruising weapon in the running game and David Cobb was effective all season. Minnesota will also lean on freshman Berkeley Edwards this year — you might remember his brother Braylon from his days as a Biletnikoff winning WR at Michigan — who has shown an ability to be a shifty, space player in the college game. If TCU lets the Gophers move the ball on the ground, it could be a long day.
3. What's the general conference opinion on Minnesota?
JH: Minnesota is a kind of team that is slowly gaining talent now that they have a solid coaching staff assembled. Although they're not quite there yet, they do have the potential to cause an upset or two if they're on their game. But, for teams on top of the conference looking down, it is clear that the team has a long way to go.
ZT: I think everyone likes Minnesota (outside of Wisconsin and Iowa; rivalries, yo). This is for two reasons. First, Jerry Kill is a sympathetic figure and a pretty good coach who I think most are rooting for. Second, Minnesota hasn't been very good — at least consistently so — in quite a long time. Other than Glen Mason's pretty good stretch run, Minnesota hasn't been worth a damn at football since the 60s. I do think Minnesota is trending upward after digging out from under the pile of suck that was Tim Brewster's tenure there. I think Minnesota could sneak up on some people in the suddenly uninspiring B1G West.
4. What advice do you have for TCU fans as they prepare for the game?
JH: It's hard to say because I haven't watched much tape on them. However, they do have a solid rushing attack in David Cobb who could be very dangerous for any defense.
ZT: Get ready to be killed with kindness. Minnesota fans are generally nice to a fault (being awful at football for most if not all of your life as a fan has a tendency to beat the attitude out of you). On the field, expect Minnesota to run the ball a lot, and to crank out at least one 12+ play drive that takes up 10 minutes but feels like it started sometime after your fourth birthday.
A special thanks to Andrew Rosin for answering our questions.
1. Last year was the 10th consecutive time Wisconsin beat MInnesota. What's led to the sustained success for the Badgers? What worked well for Wisconsin in 2013?
2. That being said, the Gophers did hold Wisconsin to their lowest points total on 2013. What did Minnesota do that worked?
AR: Short answer, the defensive gameplan was strong. Long answer, Joel Stave had a decent enough season last year, but he found himself having bad games here and there. Minnesota made sure they didn't get beat over the top (Stave had 4.9 yards per attempt on a 16-for-26 day) and they chose to try and have James White be the answer for the Badgers. They sold out to stop Melvin Gordon. It worked well enough to keep them alive to see if the offense could do something.
3. What advice do you have for TCU fans as they prepare for the game?
And if you want a primer on what MSU's defense, I can't recommend this article by Smart Football enough.
2. Michigan State only scored 14 points, what did the Gophers do that was so effective?
PR: Looking over the stats, the one thing that stands out is that MSU only started drives three times beyond their own 40 yard line, and never on the Gopher side of the field. Nothing really sticks out in my mind that they did anything that was significantly effective -- MSU's offense was erratic much of last season, and the O only scored seven points against Purdue at home. I'd rack it up to nothing specifically the Gophers did and more the Spartans shooting themselves in the foot time after time.
PR: Minnesota was a conference laughing stock under Tim Brewster. He was obviously fired and the Gophers hired Jerry Kill. While Kill hasn't transformed the Gophers into a conference power yet, he has improved them every year; Minnesota went 8-4 in the regular season last year with a win over Nebraska. However, this year will be very telling -- can the Gophers get another ranked win like they did last season? With Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa all looking shaky at times over the past two weeks, the opportunity is there.
A special thanks to Jon, Cobby, Aaron and Brian for answering our questions.
1. Last year was the 1st time Minnesota had beaten Nebraska since 1960. David Cobb had 138 rushing yards that game, what made him so difficult to contain?
Cobby: Well, anyone that has "Cobb" as part of their name must be awesome.
Aaron: Nebraska still hadn’t figured out the Jet Sweep (See 2012 Big Ten Title Game vs. Wisconsin. Minnesota’s game plan was to play keep-away and they did a good job of it. Nebraska may have been preparing for Mitch Leidner instead of Phillip Nelson and got caught off guard. They kept the ball on the ground, mostly and made some important-timely passes to keep drives going.
Brian: Nebraska's Linebackers had a not so swell look in that game. MLB David Santos got used & abused by Minny's TE set, especially in play-action rollout setups.
2. What worked well for Nebraska in that game?
Jon: Just about nothing. Taylor Martinez was apparently injured, but didn’t tell his coaches, then came out and played poorly. His teammates helped him by playing poorly as well. By the time Nebraska figured out they should have actually been paying attention… well, they never figured that out.
Aaron: They got up 10-0 early on, if I remember right. But then they do what Nebraska has done the past few years. They decide the game is over at some point in the second quarter and the other team makes them pay for it (See 2013 UCLA, 2014 McNeese St, etc.).
Brian: Well, they filled the stadium. And drank beer.
When Nebraska went full Chip Kelly octane drinking Espresso w MtDew chasers speed on offense, Minnesota had no answer. However, that was few and far between. Bad checks into plays also didnt help. However, that is the game that was the last of Taylor Martinez, as he never played another down for the Huskers after that. I remember a 4th quarter drive late in the game where Taylor waved for the crowd to get louder (on the road mind you), only to check into a QB draw on 3rd and a acre. Freshman Taylor could make that play. Senior Taylor, with a bad wheel, had no chance.
3. What advice do you have for TCU fans as they prepare for the game?
Jon: Minnesota is a well-coached team from the Big Ten. Historically, Minnesota has been awful since, oh, 1939 with a few good years since 1960. It’s easy to overlook them. Don’t take them lightly!
Cobby: Booze. Lots and lots of booze. If your team wins, then you can be that drunk jack-ass that everyone talks about. If your team loses, then you can wake up and not have to remember the game.
Aaron: From what I’ve read about Minnesota, they are a run-heavy team that is still trying to figure out the passing game. Stack the box and dare the Gophers to throw.
Brian (Lives in Grand Prairie): Minnesota folks will not be in a warm environment like this till next May, so let them roam the Stockyards and carry on in Sundance Square. Dont take them to the Love Shack or Kincaid's though, as they will say no burgers beat a Juicy Lucy and thats when the fight will start. Wish them well, however, and recommend your fave Shiner or Rahr flavor to buy as they go back to the hotel or bar for the evening after the contest.
And last but not least, a big shoutout to Chris Ross over at Cowboys Ride For Free, who originally came up with this idea when OSU played Florida State.