MINNESOTA: Two Days and Counting

What are a couple of the biggest match-ups in this weekends contest between Indiana (4-1/1-1) and Minnesota (1-4/0-2)? One is about how Minnesota opts to combat Kellen Lewis, and the other involves how IU's linebackers do at containing Minnesota QB Adam Weber....

Kellen Lewis vs. Minnesota Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers - Lewis leads an IU offense against a Minnesota defense that is easily the worst its seen this season, statistically speaking. From total defense (117th nationally), to pass defense (119th) to scoring defense (107th), Minnesota has been picked apart by everyone its gone up against this season. In fact, Minnesota has surrendered at least 459 yards of offense and 30 points in each of its five games.

With that in mind, it's pretty clear the Gophers won't be able to shut the Big Ten's total offense leader Lewis down. But what Withers' unit will likely try to do is take something away, whether that's his ability to beat teams deep or his skill at chewing up chunks of yardage on the ground. It's a pick-your-poison scenario for Withers' unit, but considering how they've struggled, he doesn't have much choice.

The task facing Lewis as well as IU Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada will be to take what the defense gives them. That's something he's managed to do so far this season. A week ago, Iowa's defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and took away the run, so Lewis responded by throwing for a career-high 322 yards. Earlier this season, Akron dropped eight into coverage and took away the pass, and Lewis answered with a career-best 199-yard effort on the ground.

Considering the fact the Gophers are yielding 368.0 yards/game passing and have been an unwilling accomplice to four 40+ yard touchdowns this season, I'm expecting Minnesota to employ Akron's strategy of taking away the deep throws and force Lewis to beat them with his running and underneath routes. He's more than capable of doing that, but that's a better option than surrendering big strikes downfield to James Hardy if you're Withers.

Geno Johnson and Will Patterson vs. Minnesota QB Adam Weber – In past seasons, the Gophers were one of the best running teams in the country. While Gopher QB Bryan Cupito picked apart the IU secondary to the tune up 378 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, a big part of that was their history of running the ball, which freed up plenty of play-action fake opportunities that produced some big plays in the passing game.

Now, Gopher Coach Tim Brewster and Offensive Coordinator Mike Dunbar have brought in a spread attack, one that is very similar to what IU runs. Gone are the double tight-end sets, which have been replaced by three- and four-wide receiver sets that IU fans have grown accustomed to during the past three seasons. Eric Decker (36 receptions, 486 yards, 4 TDs) and Ernie Wheelwright (22 receptions, 243 yards, 5 TDs) are Weber's top two targets, but one-time IU recruiting target Tray Herndon (13 receptions, 111 yards, 1 TD) is also a player IU will have to contend with.

The Hoosiers will also have to deal with the fact that sack opportunities might be as plentiful this weekend. First of all, Minnesota utilizes a lot of three-step drops where they get rid of the ball quickly, and Weber is a mobile quarterback who averages 53.6 yards/game rushing and can elude a pass rusher as well.

That's going to put a heavy burden on IU's outside linebackers to have a big game. First off, they'll be important parts of plenty of zone coverage schemes where they'll try to take away some of Weber's quick hits. Secondly, they'll have to be able to step up and keep Weber from breaking off big runs when he does take off with the ball, whether by design or out of necessity.

Patterson and Johnson have been very good in the early going, ranking first and third, respectively, on the team in tackles. They'll be faced with one of their tougher challenges of the season on Saturday.

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

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