Minnesota lost five of its last six games after starting the season with five straight wins. If the coaching staff is going to get things turned around against Alabama in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31, it is going to have to do it without defensive coordinator Greg Hudson.
Hudson left Glen Mason's staff Dec. 9 to join close friend Skip Holtz, who was recently hired as head coach at East Carolina. The two have often talked of working together, and Hudson knows that this is the opportunity for that to happen.
"I'm looking at this possible move as the best thing for my family," Hudson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I base my decision on that more than the status of my job.
"My interest in East Carolina is based on multiple reasons, one being I have an 18-year relationship with Skip Holtz and his family. We've often talked about working together again, regardless of the university it was at. I've never been one to need to drive around in a Mercedes to be happy with my lifestyle."
The Pirates have not officially hired Hudson, but that is expected to come after an interview this week. Hudson wanted to stay with Minnesota through the matchup with Alabama, but Mason wanted the situation resolved. Still, Hudson said his four years with the Gophers were the best time of his career.
"Four years ago, I was a linebackers coach," he said. "Four years later, I'm a defensive coordinator in the Big Ten. That's because Coach Mason had the foresight and courage to make a decision that others might not make. I'm grateful for that."
The Gopher defense struggled badly down the stretch in losses to Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa. Despite those late-season problems, athletic director Joel Maturi said the team was planning to keep its coaching staff intact.
Nevertheless, Hudson wanted to move on to East Carolina — even though the Pirate program is clearly a step down from Minnesota's. But the chance to work with a longtime friend and colleague was too much for Hudson to pass up.
BEST ATTRIBUTE: The Gophers are an explosive offensive team that can light up the scoreboard. Led by outstanding RBs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber, the Gophers can eat up huge chunks of yardage with their running game. QB Bryan Cupito has a couple of big-play weapons in WRs Jared Ellerson and Ernie Wheelwright. If the Gophers can get off to a good start and put their end-of-season problems behind them, Music City Bowl fans may see the team that averaged 31.0 ppg this year.
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: The defense has generally been soft all season. The Gophers give up 408.7 yards a game, a figure that ranks 86th in the nation. Minnesota lacks strength at the point of attack, a characteristic that figured prominently as the Gophers faltered in the second half of the season.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Iowa 29, Minnesota 27 (Nov. 13) — Though they lost their regular-season finale to their rivals, the Gophers appeared to wake up from their second-half slumber. Minnesota trailed 23-10 at the half, but came all the way back and had a chance to win at the end, but Rhys Lloyd's 51-yard FG attempt with 28 seconds to play went wide left.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR Ernie Wheelwright vs. DB Anthony Madison — While most observers will concentrate on the matchup between the Gopher running backs and the Alabama front seven, Wheelwright and the Gopher passing game could be huge. Wheelwright caught 30 passes for 654 yards and eight touchdowns, while Madison led the Tide with three interceptions and is solid in coverage.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Any time you have another game, especially when things haven't gone exactly the way you want, you anticipate that you would like to do some things — I have a few things in mind." — Minnesota coach Glen Mason, on how he will prepare his team for the Music City Bowl against Alabama.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BOWL AT A GLANCE: Minnesota vs. Alabama, Music City Bowl, Nashville, Dec. 31. It will be strength (Minnesota averages 255.1 rushing yards per game) against strength (Alabama yields an average of just 119.4 yards on the ground).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RBs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber — The Gophers run the football extremely well, thanks to this duo and an outstanding offensive line led by C Greg Eslinger, LT Rian Melander and guard Mark Setterstrom. Maroney has run for 1,243 yards and averages 6.6 yards per carry, while Barber has gained 1,082 yards and averages 5.6 ypc.
LB Kyle McKenzie — The Gopher defense lacks overall size, but that does not apply to the 6-1, 230 pound McKenzie. He leads the team with 75 tackles, including seven TFL and 2.5 sacks.
PRO POTENTIAL: C Greg Eslinger — He was a finalist for the Rimington Award and should be a great blocker at the next level. While he is a junior, he is at the top of his game and is well thought of by NFL scouts. He is a 286-pound technician who knows the nuances of his position.
ROSTER REPORT: The Gophers should be healthy as they prepare for the postseason.
Gophers To Move On Without Hudson
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