Eric Decker, WR - The Gophers throw for more than 250 yards/game, and quarterback Adam Weber's top target is Decker, a 6-2, 215-pound sophomore who is in his first season as a starter. He's made the most of that opportunity, ranking second in the Big Ten in both receptions (7.2/game) and receiving yards (97.2 yards/game). He's also scored four times and is averaging 13.5 yards/reception. IU fans are likely more familiar with the Gophers' other starting wideout, Ernie Wheelwright, who had a pair of long touchdown receptions in last year's 63-28 Minnesota win in Minneapolis. While Wheelwright's still a threat to get behind the Indiana secondary, Decker will likely get twice as many touches as Wheelright and will also probably be the assignment drawn by IU's top coverman, Tracy Porter.
Duane Bennett, RB – the Gophers' leading rusher is senior Amir Pinnix, who was averaging nearly 110 yards/game in the season's first four weeks. But he's been battling a turf toe injury for the last several weeks and was limited to just four yards on four carries last week against Ohio State. Bennett took his place and was relatively ineffective, carrying 16 times for 34 yards in Ohio State's 30-7 win. While those are hardly staggering totals, he had carried 13 times for 122 yards (9.4 yards/carry) heading into the game, including a 7-carry, 81-yard effort in a 45-31 loss to Purdue in the Big Ten opener. Minnesota is hoping to have Pinnix back this weekend, it's a good bet that Bennett will share some of the workload. Bennett is a 5-9, 195-pound true freshman who has excellent speed and big-play capabilities. Stopping the run, meanwhile, is still an issue for the IU defense. Two weeks ago Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall ran for 216 yards, and this past week Iowa's tailback tandem of Albert Young and Damian Sims combined for 132 yards on 22 carries.
Dominique Barber, FS – There isn't much about the Gophers' defense for Coach Tim Brewster to be happy about, but Barber has been the most statistically productive player on the unit, ranking fifth in the Big Ten with 46 tackles to go along with two tackles for loss and four passes broken up. He was an honorable mention pick a year ago and will need to have a big game Saturday if Minnesota is going to keep Hoosier quarterback Kellen Lewis under wraps. Barber is the younger brother of former Minnesota tailback Marion Barber III, who is now starring for the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. Like his brother Barber was a standout running back at the prep level and was ranked as the 82nd best running back nationally in the 2004 class, but made the move to the secondary as a freshman at Minnesota and has started 17 career games.
Willie VanDeSteeg, DE –After a 10-sack, 14 ½ tackle for loss season a year ago, VanDeSteeg was tabbed as a preseason Lombardi Award candidate and expected to be one of the biggest playmakers on Tim Brewster's defensive unit. But he's been held in check in the season's first five weeks, going without a sack and just 4 ½ tackles for loss. It will be up to Hoosier left tackle Rodger Saffold to keep the 6-4, 255-pound VanDeSteeg in check once again. If VanDeSteeg can't get it going against IU, it figures to be a long day for the Gophers. Minnesota has totaled just three sacks on the season, and that inability to get after the quarterback has played a big part in their NCAA-worst pass defense, which is giving up 368.0 yards/game.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
MINNESOTA: Four Days and Counting
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