A Strange Confidence

The Gophers were just shut out at Penn State, so what makes them think they stand a chance at Ohio State? There are a few reasons for the optimism.

The Gophers (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) didn't score one point against Penn State last weekend. They rushed for just 37 yards. It's safe to say the trip to State College, Pa., did little for Minnesota's psyche.

So what's with all of the confidence?

Well, they're facing an Ohio State (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) team that's coming off a surprising loss to Purdue.

The same Purdue team that had just one win before Saturday. The same Boilermakers team that the Gophers defeated two games ago.

Terrelle Pryor's no longer playing like a phenom. And Ohio State's defense doesn't look like the same terrific unit that held USC to 18 points at the start of the year.

Minnesota linebacker Nate Triplett said it helps that the Gophers have freshman quarterback MarQueis Gray, a 6-4, 220-pound mobile passer/runner who played with Pryor in the 2007 Army All-American game. He's given the team a chance to prepare for Pryor's elusiveness and versatility.

Believe it or not, they also benefit by coming off their worse offensive output of the year.

Few think that the Gophers can get much worse than the 138 total yards they put up at Penn State, the league's top defense. So in a weird way, the Gophers are facing Ohio State at the right time.

They're also comforted by the fact that the next three games will be played at home.

Minnesota has nothing to lose. They'll earn or lose a bowl game bid in their three-game homestretch. Even so, the pressure is on Ohio State.

SERIES HISTORY: Ohio State lead 41-7 (last meeting, 2008, 34-21 Ohio State).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Adam Weber threw for just 101 yards against Penn State. His offensive line continues to have problems holding its blocks. And now, WR Eric Decker, his No. 1 target the last two years, can't seem to get open. He has four catches over the last two games. Whaley looks like the top guy at tailback, but do you really have a top guy when your entire offense rushes for a total of 37 yards in one game?

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Although Penn State racked up nearly 500 yards of offense against the Gophers, it only put up 20 points. Perhaps that's a result of a limited Penn State offensive attack, but it's still somewhat of an accomplishment for the Gophers defense. Minnesota's defense tired toward the end of the matchup at Penn State because they were on the field too long. If the team's offense can get reps and give the team's defense a breather, good things might happen. LB Lee Campbell continues to excel. S Kim Royston is also improving.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota vs. Ohio State, Oct. 24 — It's Homecoming for the Buckeyes. And they're furious after losing to Purdue in a surprise upset on the road last weekend. Questions surround QB Terrelle Pryor and his inconsistency. Minnesota faces a Buckeyes team that's still trying to figure things out.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Purdue proved that once Pryor's forced to make quick decisions, he becomes vulnerable and sometimes makes mistakes. The Gophers have to get to Pryor right away. They'll also have to get some offensive production from their tailbacks if they're going to pull off the upset.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: LB Nate Triplett — A stinger's affected him in recent weeks. But the Gophers need him to stay healthy. He had 10 tackles against the Nittany Lions. That's a good sign.

WR Eric Decker — Where's Minnesota's potential All-America wideout? Good question. He's had four catches in the last two games.

RB Kevin Whaley — If he can carry the load, he needs to prove it Saturday in the biggest game of the season so far. He's had a lot of special moments this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This week we face a very similar type of opponent. Ohio State, I think, is very similar to Penn State, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. They're an outstanding defensive football team. They present a lot of the same issues, a lot of the same challenges. They've got a good collection of athletes as what we're going to see this season." — Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster on Ohio State

NOTES

  • C D.J. Burris will start Saturday against Ohio State. C Trey Davis lost the job a few weeks ago when he suffered an ankle injury. He's healed but Burris has been a better fit at center.

  • RB Kevin Whaley started against Penn State and Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said he was impressed with some of the redshirt freshman's runs during his Tuesday press conference. But Brewster said he's not going to name any tailback the go-to guy. He said Whaley will continue to share carries with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge.

  • C Jeff Tow-Arnett said doctors will soon cut off the cast protecting his fractured leg suffered a few weeks ago and tell him if he has a chance to get back out on the field this season. The senior was a starter before the injury.


  • Gopher Illustrated Top Stories