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State of the Hogs:
After studying the information that I've obtained from Minnesota, it appears the Gophers are in the process of retooling their defense for the bowl game. They appear to be trying to beef things up a bit on the defensive side after receiving a pounding by running teams in their four-game losing streak to end the year.
They have moved a lightish defensive end to outside linebacker. They have moved a lightish OLB to safety. They got bigger in all three spots.
Minnesota head coach Glen Mason demoted the defensive coordinator to assistant head coach and promoted his DE/LB coach to defensive coordinator. It will be interesting to see if they bring a different alignment to the bowl game.
It reminds me a bit of what Arkansas faced last year when Oklahoma changed offensive coordinators between the final game of the season and the bowl game. The Sooners opened in an entirely different scheme after eliminating the wide splits favored by the previous offensive coordinator. We didn't know for sure how Oklahoma will line up, but we did predict accurately that the splits would be narrowed.
It will be a bit of guess work as to how Minnesota will line up for the bowl. But, I bet it's in an eight-man front designed to stop the run. The defensive end that moved to OLB is a redshirt freshman, Charlton Keith, who recorded seven sacks this year. I know we better find him early in the game. He will be blitzing, I would guess.
Offensively, Minnesota can run and pass. The junior quarterback is a talented runner and an adequate passer for someone his size (6-0, 210). He is quite athletic. They have two talented running backs that will be on the field at the same time. They had three different games that both went over 100 at the same time. They can run the ball and will present a difficult challenge for our defense.
Size wise, they aren't that massive. They were smaller in most ways from what I remember from Big Ten teams. I think they will be decent as far as speed from what I can tell from reading their bios.
For the most part, Minnesota has won most of its nonconference games under Glen Mason, but struggled inside the Big Ten. That happened again this year. And, they tailed off big time when the Gophers got to the meat of their Big Ten schedule. They were competitive in the last game against Wisconsin, although the Badgers pounded them in the fourth quarter with a solid ground game.
I'm sure that the changes that were made on defense were designed to strengthen the run defense. They wanted to do it before the bowl game, which was interesting. You don't see a team make this dramatic of a change (complete with personnel changes in players and coaches) at this point in the season. Usually, that comes in January.
What will also be interesting is to see what changes Arkansas makes in its offense, perhaps aimed at improving the passing game. Can that be done in a matter of a couple of weeks, and that's all you have to prepare for a bowl game no matter what some might think. More than anything, most teams use bowl practices to look at the redshirts and youngsters to make sure they have them in the right spots before spring drills. There isn't time to do much of anything else.