Mason and Carr: Dueling coaches

We're fast approaching the biggest Gopher football game in some 40 years, so it's probably a good time to take a look at what the coaches in this crucial tilt have to say about it.

We'll approach this in a dueling-banjos format that will focus on the key aspects of the Minnesota-Michigan game, including Gophers QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq, the importance of the running game, and the traditional-yet-one-sided rivalry between the longtime Big Ten foes.

Minnesota coach Glen Mason on Michigan's offensive line: Well, they're awful good. I can tell you that. It's hard for me to say because I haven't seen other people that we're going to play. But I'd say to date they are the best offensive line. They are very, very good. Very talented.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr on Minnesota's running game: When I looked at the carries in the Northwestern game, they have great balance and give them all a chance. Thomas Tapeh is a big, powerful guy that gives them an unbelievable change of pace. He's played fullback for two or three years. We recruited him as a tailback and now he's back there doing a lot of things for them. Terry Jackson has tremendous balance and great vision. Marion Barber is back and we know what he can do. They have an ability to keep a fresh back in there to give you a change of pace. You have to know who is in the game because of their different styles.

Mason on Abdul-Khaliq's improvement: Two things come to note in a very hostile environment. At State College, he seemed unfazed by that. And then a week later when we couldn't do anything right in the first quarter, he was unfazed by that. He didn't push the panic button, just was part of the solution rather than contributing to part of the problem. And I think that comes from maturity because it's very tough for a young quarterback to do that in either setting.

Carr on Abdul-Khaliq: He plays extremely well within the scheme of what they're trying to do. He is a tremendous passer. He has an ability to create plays; it's very difficult to contain him on the boot passes. If the backside of your defense is always staying back to contain him, you're not going to be able to stop the cutback plays. They do a lot of things with him, they run the quarterback draw. He is also gifted in terms of running for great gains when he has nothing in the passing game.

Mason on the importance of running the football: I don't know if it will play out any more. It's always very important. And I've gone on record saying this, and I'm sure Lloyd might say the same thing, I don't care if we run it or pass it as long as you move it and score points. And that's what it's about. So statistics can be very misleading. There are some more important statistics than others, not anymore than scoring points. You have to move the chains, gain field positions and score points.

Carr on Michigan's game plan Friday: We need to create better field position in the kicking game. I think we can help ourselves if we can run the football. If you don't do that, even when you're scoring a lot of points, their offense will be on the field all day and the defense will wear down. I know that it's pretty hot in the Metrodome. You get 60,000 people in there, that field is going to be hot.

Mason on if the Metrodome carries a strong homefield advantage for the Gophers: No, no. I've seen it better than other times, but I've not seen it like the Twins in the playoffs and Vikings games. There's a difference. You know when it's an obvious advantage? When the opposing team coach and players complain about it. That's when it's an advantage.

Carr on Wolverines quarterback John Navarre: The quarterback is always going to take the blame. You have to have a thick skin, first of all, and some people, their skin is thicker than others. What's remarkable about John is that he deals with it in his own way, much better than most people can. Criticism of that nature, if you're not tough, it can really hurt. I always tell the players adversity can destroy you or it can make you stronger. I think John is much stronger and I think he understands that he has unbelievable respect within the Michigan family, and I'm talking about the team. That's what you play for. You play the game for the respect of the people you're playing with and against. And all the others don't matter.

Mason on the mighty Wolverines: You know who we're playing Friday, don't you? No really, think about it. Who are we playing Friday? I'm not looking to the obvious. I'm looking for a symbolic answer. Who are we playing? We're playing the Yankees. That's exactly right. We're playing the New York Yankees. We're the Twins. And that's not saying anything bad about the Twins or the Gophers. We're playing the Yankees. You're talking about the University of Michigan, who was the first school to win 600 football games outside the Ivy League. I think they are the only school that has won 800 games. I mean, you look through their press guide and it's history after history after history after history. Murderer's Row, that's what we've got here, really. That's why I've got so much respect for them.

Carr on Minnesota's strengths: Minnesota is an outstanding offensive football team and a team that has great momentum. We're playing for the Little Brown Jug, the oldest trophy in college football. Asad Abdul-Khaliq is leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency. Minnesota's third-down conversion rate is maybe the highest in college football history. If we don't do better than that, then we're going to have a hard time winning.

Mason on the Gophers' third-down conversion success (59.8 percent, No. 1 in the country): Football is a game of third downs, and I think common sense would tell you the shorter you have to go on third downs, probably the more success you're going to have. … Normally you forget about second down and go back to first downs. The more success you have on first downs, the better chance you have to get to third and short. If you're 2nd-and-10, 2nd–and-11, 2nd-and-12, it becomes a long afternoon.

Carr on preparing for Minnesota after losing to Iowa: I'm anxious to get back on the practice field and correct the things that need to be done. When you're dealing with tough times in college football, you need your senior leadership to fight your way out of it. Those guys have been through the ups and downs and are not going to let anybody give in. You can't give in and feel sorry for yourself.

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