Sun Bowl: Strength vs. strength

Gophers and Ducks aren't exactly ferocious animals, but when it comes to their Sun Bowl matchup, expect a physical game.

The Gophers have been one of the most powerful running teams in the country. But don't expect Oregon to run and hide when the two teams meet in the Sun Bowl Dec. 31.

The Ducks have done very well against the run this season. It's what they stress above all else on defense, often committing an extra defender and then playing man-to-man. They give up just 95.9 rushing yards per game — which is good for 12th in the nation.

Yep ... it should be strength vs. strength when the Gophers have the ball.

Minnesota has the No. 3 ranked running team in the nation, averaging 293.2 yards per game. Head coach Glen Mason loves to watch RBs Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney run the ball. Both are fast, quick and powerful.

However, the X-factor in this game will be the solid all-around play of QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq. Not only does Abdul-Khaliq run the ball well, but he has shown impressive improvement in his passing ability each of the last three seasons. He had his best year this season when he threw for 2,229 yards and had a 17-5 TD-interception ratio.

Abdul-Khaliq's ability to throw when opponents are expecting the run has given the Gophers an explosive offense.

"That's what every offense is looking for," Mason said.

"You want to be able to run the ball but there's a lot more to our offense than just being able to pound it. We like to mix it up and we think we can do that fairly well. We have made a lot of big plays with the pass this year."

WRs Jared Ellerson and Aaron Hosack are both dependable targets. Ellerson is a big-play threat who averaged better than 20 yards per catch; Hosack excelled at keeping drives alive.

The Gophers want to put their offense on display against the Ducks. While Oregon has the ability to provide quite a bit of resistance against the run, Minnesota's offensive diversity could be the difference.

NOTES, QUOTES
BY THE NUMBERS: 39.2 — The Gophers led the Big Ten in scoring during the regular season by averaging 39.2 points per game — 1.9 ppg better than second place Michigan.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Minnesota 42, Northwestern 17 — At the time, this was, well, just a win over Northwestern. But the Wildcats turned out to be a bowl team and they came out fired up against Minnesota and jumped to an early two-TD lead. Minnesota had to come from behind and Northwestern was loading up against Minnesota's powerful running attack. QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq threw for 331 yards and four TDs — including two of 80 yards or more to WR Jared Ellerson.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RBs Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney vs. Oregon LBs, led by Kevin Mitchell — Barber (1,190 yards and 17 TDs) and Maroney (990 yards and nine TDs) combine power and speed to form a dominant ground attack. Mitchell led the Ducks in tackles and can go sideline-to-sideline to make plays.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never blamed the fans. I feel bad if that is the perception. But we know it's going to come down to the number of people that travel. ... The bottom line is we don't have that history of traveling well." — Minnesota AD Joel Maturi to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.



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