Minnesota Dangerous Despite Record

The Minnesota Gophers invade Memorial Stadium Saturday. They are in the midst of a forgettable season, losing 9 of 10 games and their coach at midseason. Long suffering Illini fans can empathize, having experienced similar lost seasons. The Illini are heavy favorites, but the Gophers have enough firepower to make things interesting.

The Minnesota Gophers fired their head coach Tim Brewster halfway through the season, but replacement Jeff Horton has fared no better. The Gophers are at or near the bottom in nearly all Big 10 statistics except pass defense and kick returns.

Things have obviously snowballed up in Gopherland. And yet they have their all-time statistical leader in quarterback Adam Weber (6'-3", 221), who has completed 172 of 307 passes for 2290 yards and 18 touchdowns with 9 interceptions in his final season.

Weber ranks in the top three among active quarterbacks in career pass attempts, completions and yards. He is fourth in Big Ten history in career completions and passing yards. In addition, he holds the Big 10 record for consecutive starts with 48, and he holds the Minnesota record for most touchdown passes with 70.

Despite all his success, there are those in Minnesota who were excited to see sophomore backup MarQueis Gray (6'-4", 230) replace him in the second half of the Michigan State game last week.

He has played receiver all year, grabbing 37 of Weber's passes for 522 yards and 5 TDs. He is a dual threat quarterback who puts extra pressure on a defense. He may still be a receiver against Illinois, but that remains to be seen.

Gopher receivers are big and strong and can stretch a defense. Da'Jon McKnight (6'-3", 209) is the leader, catching 41 passes for 635 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is tied for 9th in the Big 10 for receptions per game. Bryant Allen (6'-0", 180), who plays basketball as well, has 15 catches. Tight end Eric Lair (6'-3", 238) also gets into the act. He has 34 receptions for 469 yards and two touchdowns.

Minnesota tries to balance run and pass, and it has two running backs who have caused problems for Illinois in the past. DeLeon Eskridge (5'-11", 205) and Duane Bennett (5'-9", 210) share time and have both been effective. Eskridge has 589 yards on the season, while Bennett has carried the ball for 483 yards. In addition, Bennett has been on the receiving end of 26 passes for 249 yards.

The fullback is Jon Hoese (6'-2", 240), assuming he is fully recovered from a hamstring injury. He holds the distinction of never having suffered a loss of yardage on his carries. He is highly effective in goal line or short yardage situations, and he can be used in the passing game as well.

The Gopher offensive line is huge, led by senior tackle Jeff Wills at 6'-7" and 350 pounds. Redshirt freshman Ed Olson (6'-7", 305) plays left tackle, while juniors Chris Bunders (6'-3", 332) and Ryan Orton (6'-4", 307) are the guards. Senior center D.J. Burris (6'-2", 305) is Minnesota's most experienced lineman.

The Minnesota defense has not fared well this year. Their scoring defense and rush defense are both ranked 10th in the Big 10. Their pass defense is 4th in the conference; they rank 10th in overall defense. Yet they do have quality players at several positions.

The Gophers's best defensive lineman may be junior Jewhan Edwards (6'-2", 330), who has 8 sacks on the year. If it isn't him, it may be fellow junior Anthony Jacobs (6'-2", 300), who plays both end and tackle. He has five tackles for loss. The ends are sophomore D.L. Wilhite (6'-3", 245) and redshirt freshman Kendall Gregory-McGhee (6'-5", 275).

Middle linebacker Gary Tinsley (6'-1", 225) is ninth in the Big 10 in tackles with 74. WILL Keanon Cooper (6'-0", 225) is third on the team in tackles, and SAM Mike Rallis (6'-2", 235) is fifth while also producing 6 tackles for loss and grabbing three interceptions. Tinsley is a junior, and the other two are redshirt sophomores.

The secondary appears strong, especially at the two safety spots. Seniors Kyle Theret (5'-10", 193) and Ryan Collado (5'-9", 192) are second and fourth on the team in tackles. Collado also has two interceptions.

Troy Stoudermire (5'-10", 190) was moved to cornerback from receiver during the season and is an aggressive tackler. He also returns kicks. The other cornerback is sophomore Kyle Henderson (5'-11", 185).

Minnesota's kicking game has struggled this year. Eric Ellestad has hit just 8 of 14 field goals on the season. And redshirt freshman Dan Orseske has a net punting average of 36.5.

Injuries and inner turmoil have contributed to the Gopher downfall this year. They usually play teams tough to begin games but fall back once they get behind and negative thoughts creep in. But they have the talent to win games if opponents take them lightly.

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