Five Questions: Minnesota edition

Gopher Digest publisher Brice Marich jumps in to preview Minnesota-Michigan State this weekend and lends us a hand in breaking down the matchup and story lines surrounding the Gophers.

Mike Wilson: Minnesota has to be among the most surprising teams in the nation and certainly in the Big Ten. What has been the key to its success this season?

Brice Marich: I think offensively having the run attack getting you those tough 4 yards any down you want from junior tailback David Cobb has been big for this offense. It has taken pressure off Gopher quarterback Philip Nelson, which has brought up defenders in the box to stop the running game and also has allowed the play-action to be very effective. Defensively, I think the key has been not allowing the big play and creating turnovers. Don't get me wrong, I mean this defense has given up its share of points, but they have been improving each week and last week Wisconsin had season lows in points and total yards offensively. A unit that gets overlook a lot is special teams and punter Peter Mortell and kicker Chris Hawthrone has been very consistent in that department. Overall, Minnesota is winning games with a team effort and while they might not have that superstar player, they do all the little things right to win games.

Wilson: Obviously, Jerry Kill has been an inspiring and difficult story at the same time. What has his continued presence meant to this Gopher team?

Marich: When the news that Coach Kill would not be coaching or be in Ann Arbor for the Michigan game, many thoughts were rushing through the players and fans minds. Since that game, Minnesota has won or been in every game. They have beaten some note worthy foes since the Michigan game blowout in Nebraska, Northwestern when they weren't sliding, Indiana with that explosive offense and a tough minded Penn State squad. I know the players and coaches won't say it, but I think it was a rally cry and a us against the world mentality with this team while Coach Kill has been recovering. He is starting to move slowly back into the day to day football operations by going to practices, sitting in the press box every game and even dancing with the team after a big win in the locker room. His presence has meant a lot to Minnesota.

Wilson: Minnesota seems to have a pretty basic offense approach: It is going to run the ball. Michigan State's defense also has a relatively basic goal: Take away the run. How do you see that matchup unfolding?

Marich: Minnesota doesn't wow you with a lot of flashy or fancy things on offense and prefer to pound the ball down your throat and wear you down throughout the game. A big key is time of possession as they look to dominate in that department. I think Michigan State will load up the box to stop the run and with their talented cornerbacks on the outside locking down not a great wide receiver core, I feel the Gopher offense will have a hard time moving the ball against the nation's best. The problem will be if Minnesota gets down big and has to throw the ball, which hasn't been their strong suit and I could for see a lot of blitzes dialed up if that happens.

Wilson: MSU has found its quarterback in Connor Cook and he has been playing well of late. What will Minnesota do defensively to try to get him out of a rhythm and cause some problems for the Spartans' offense?

Marich: Minnesota has been pretty solid stopping the run and will probably look to take away running back Jeremy Langford and force Connor Cook to beat them through the air. That will also take away the play-action threat and will really show how much Cook has improved. Michigan State's offense has been improving and even looked impressive in recent weeks, which was not the case last year and many have considered Langford the reason to solving those offensive problems.

Wilson: What are your keys to this game and what is your prediction?

Marich: My keys to the game is whoever wins the turnover battle will be critical in a game where no team is in any hurry on offense and could give either team good field position against two sound defenses. Next, is if Minnesota can convert their 3rd downs to eat up the clock and move the ball. Lastly, will the Gopher defense be able to stop the Spartan running game because if they can't, it could be a long day.

I feel like Michigan State defense will be able to stop the run against Minnesota and will give the Gopher offense fits all day while Connor Cook makes a big play or two to give the Spartans enough to easily win on senior day. Michigan State 24-7.

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