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Getting to Know Minnesota: A Q&A With Their Big 10 Foes

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Jamie got in touch with a few of Minnesota's B1G bunkmates, and their bowl game opponent from 2013, to get a better feel for the Gophers from those that know them best.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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Maize n Brew - A Michigan Wolverines community

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.

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Bucky's 5th Quarter - A Wisconsin Badgers community

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?

AR: Sustained success against a team comes from multiple reasons. The streak would have been stopped at one if it wasn't for a legendarily clutch punt block. They also had the advantage of regular games facing a Tim Brewster coached team. Good things occur when Tim Brewster's your opponent. It also helps that the Badgers also have consistently won the talent gap against the Gophers. Jerry Kill's improved the coaching level in Minnesota by leaps and bounds but the gap seems to still be there.

In 2013, the Badgers defense won them the game. They held Phillip Nelson to a 7-for-23 performance through the air. David Cobb only rushed for 68 yards. Their only score was on a defensive touchdown. It was closer than expected, but the seniors on that defense made sure the game was never truly in doubt.

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?


AR: Expect this game to be a grind. Minnesota might be a good match-up for you. (29 pass attempts in two games isn't just a byproduct of a downy start to the season. They will avoid throwing as much as you'll allow), but Jerry Kill's teams are always well prepared. You're probably going to get their A-game. If it's a win, it'll be a tight win, but ultimately not against an embarrassingly bad opponent.

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The Only Colors - A Michigan State community

A special thanks to Pete Rossman for answering out questions.

1. Last year Michigan State dominated the Gophers. What did the Spartans do to completely shut down Minnesota's offense?

PR: I'm going to be honest - the Minnesota game was the last game of the regular season for MSU last year; they had already clinched the Big Ten Legends (RIP) division title, so they had no incentive  to show anything new defensively. Without the game tape on me, I'm just going to assume they did what they always did -- play the safeties close into the box, cover the wide receivers one-on-one, and dare the QBs to make an accurate throw and/or have the receivers run routes to confuse the secondary into screwing up the assignments. In the past 3-4 years, only two QBs have unlocked MSU's defense: Russell Wilson and Marcus Mariota.

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.

3. What's the general conference opinion on Minnesota?

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.

4. What advice do you have for TCU fans as they prepare for the game?

PR: For the fans? Do what you usually do. Although we just got the first burst of fall air here in the Midwest, it hasn't gotten really cold here yet, so I imagine you won't be seeing many Golden Gopher fans in Fort Worth. Minnesota has looked shaky at times against an FCS foe and Middle Tennessee last week, so I wouldn't stress out too much before the game. There's a reason the spread for this game started at -8 and rose to -15.

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Corn Nation - A Nebraska Cornhusker community

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.

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Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician - A Syracuse Orange community

A special thanks to John Cassillo for answering our questions.

1. Last year Syracuse faced Minnesota in the Texas bowl, and wound up winning a close one, 21-17. What helped the Orange pull off the victory?

JC: A strong start (began the game up 14-3) and a thrilling finish, really. Syracuse's offensive line was able to hold Minnesota blitz in check for the large majority of the game, giving our QB, Terrel Hunt, ample time to throw. Honestly, the only reason they were in that game was because of Syracuse's secondary, which allowed two quick touchdowns at the start of the fourth, giving the Gophers the lead. The Orange's big moment, though, was Brisly Estime's 70-yard punt return late in the game. that play helped make up for SU's offensive struggles and set them up for the winning score with a little over a minute left.

2. It looks like Gopher QB Mitch Leidner had a decent game, what can you tell us about him?

JC: Leidner didn't start the game under center, but was inserted once Phillip Nelson proved himself to be completely ineffective (2-for-7, 18 yards). Leidner threw well against Syracuse's big-play focused secondary, but still -- completed just 50 percent of his passes, and a quarter of his 205 yards came on one pass (a 55-yard touchdown in the fourth). He's got a big arm, but he's also reliant on his receivers to make plays (and/or the opposing defense not to make any). When Leidner has time to throw, he's lethal. But if you can get some pressure on him, he becomes a lot less effective.

3. What advice do you have for TCU fans as they prepare for the game?

JC: A good portion of Minnesota fans were quite friendly before the game, but we did notice an inflated sense of self beforehand (and afterward, too) from what seemed like a growing lunatic fringe. So be prepared for that. Otherwise, from the team's standpoint, get pressure on Leidner and double receiver Daniel Cobb, who is a killer in open field. Offensively, score points and force them to play aggressively and abandon the running game. TCU's at home, which helps, though admittedly the Gophers brought a good deal of fans with them down to Texas when we last saw them, so maybe they have a good turnout at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Either way, good luck on Saturday!

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.