TSX Report: Minnesota

"We knew that one of our problems on defense was going to be inexperience, but there are no excuses. We need to be better." -- Minnesota coach Tim Brewster on the Gophers' poor defensive play.

Tim Brewster knows one of the main responsibilities of a head coach is to take the blame when things go wrong.

Through four games, there has been plenty of blame and plenty of things that have gone wrong, which is why the Gophers' coach is under so much criticism.

"I'm paid to win football games, and I understand that very clearly," Brewster said in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The Gophers are 1-3 and could easily be winless. Minnesota needed to rally in the fourth quarter to win the opener at Middle Tennessee, which was playing without star quarterback Dwight Dasher, who was suspended for the game.

All three losses have come at TCF Bank Stadium, including a defeat to FCS opponent South Dakota and another to Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference. Brewster has been feeling the heat since the South Dakota game, and the fans' frustration boiled over with "Fire Brewster" chants during the loss to the Huskies.

"It's the fans' right to be able to express frustration when [their] team loses, but I can handle it," Brewster told the Star-Tribune.

The Big Ten season opens Saturday when Northwestern visits. At least publicly, Brewster is maintaining confidence there are better days ahead.

"We're good enough to win football games, and we will," he said in the Star-Tribune. "We're going to beat some teams in the Big Ten that don't expect to be beaten by Minnesota."

While his critics and exasperated fans don't want to hear it, Brewster is trying to look at the big picture, which certainly looks better than the present. The Gophers have Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule in the next month.

"At the end of the year, we'll see where we're at," Brewster said in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. "I know this. We've got the program in the right place. We've got great young players in the program. We're going to be a whole lot better football team next year (and) the year after that."

NOTES, QUOTES

--WR Troy Stoudermire's days with the program might not be over after all. Stoudermire was suspended last week and then wrote on his Facebook page that he was no longer with the program. He apparently had changed his mind and could return to the team.

--Saturday's game is Homecoming, a day in which the Gophers are 54-33-3. Minnesota has played Northwestern 16 times on Homecoming, going 8-6-2 against the Wildcats.

--Minnesota ranks No. 2 in the nation in ball control, averaging 35:35 minutes per game on offense.

SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads Northwestern 50-30-5 (last meeting, 2009, 35-24 Minnesota)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense has moved the ball well. QB Adam Weber is being efficient, MarQueis Gray and Da'Jon McKnight are emerging as receivers and Duane Bennett and Donnell Kirkwood have done a good job running the ball. However, the Gophers haven't been able to punch the ball into the end zone often enough. The offense must start converting more chances into touchdowns.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Can anyone here tackle? It sure doesn't look like it. The numbers tell it all for the Gophers' sorry defense. Minnesota is last in the Big Ten in points allowed (31) and rushing yards allowed (187.8) per game. The Gophers are 10th in total defense (387 yards). Northern Illinois ran for 297 yards, including 223 by Chad Spann. Minnesota has also had trouble stopping the pass, but the Huskies had so much success running the ball, they didn't have to throw.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We knew that one of our problems on defense was going to be inexperience, but there are no excuses. We need to be better." -- Minnesota coach Tim Brewster on the Gophers' poor defensive play.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Hard to believe it's the Big Ten opener since it already feels like November with as many negative things that have already happened to the Gophers (1-3). This is a good opportunity for Minnesota to start league play with a win. A good start to the Big Ten schedule will help people forget some of the bad things that have happened so far.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The shaky defense has two problems. The Gophers need to stop Northwestern's running game while also holding down the Wildcats' ability to throw. Minnesota must also start scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

K Eric Ellestad -- The senior appears to have held on to his job after fending off a challenge from walk-on David Schwerman in practice before the Northern Illinois game. Ellestad wasn't perfect against the Huskies, missing a 42-yarder, but he made another kick of 42 yards -- his first from 40 or longer this season -- as well as kicks of 28 and 21 yards. Perhaps a little push from the coaching staff is what Ellestad needed.

S Kyle Theret -- He's only played in two games after sitting out against Middle Tennessee and South Dakota because of a suspension, but he's already making a bid as the defense's most valuable player. The senior is one of the few players who can actually bring down an opposing ball carrier. He had a team-leading seven tackles, including one for a loss, against Northern Illinois. Theret also picked off a pass against Southern Cal.

WR MarQueis Gray -- He's only played four games at his new position, and wasn't even in the game plan in the opener against Middle Tennessee, but he's quickly becoming QB Adam Weber's No. 1 target. Gray caught eight passes for 117 yards against Northern Illinois and has touchdown catches in the last two games. Watching film of Gray's development has to cause some long nights for opposing defensive coordinators.

ROSTER REPORT:

--LB Mike Rallis missed most of the Northern Illinois game with a pulled muscle in his stomach and could be sidelined against Northwestern.

--P Dan Orseske suffered a bruised foot while having a punt blocked against Northern Illinois and was replaced by David Schwerman.

--OT Ed Olson left the Northern Illinois game with an ankle injury in the first half and didn't return. It's uncertain if he will play against Northwestern.


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