The Battle in the Trenches

Most will look at the numbers that the Blue Raiders put up on offense in 2009 and feel that the Gopher defensive backfield will have their hands full. However, the most interesting match-ups will most likely take place in the trenches.

Minnesota under Coach Brewster and Coach Davis has been transitioning from a spread option team to a pro-style run-first offense that is heavy on the linemen and light on the zone blocking. The Minnesota offensive line has evolved from a smaller, more mobile unit to what many would say is a traditional Big Ten line.

With the Golden Gopher emphasis on running the ball as well as the problems the team had developing a consistent running game in 2009, the battle between the Gopher offensive line and the Blue Raider defensive line will be an intriguing one to watch.

The Blue Raider line is undersized, especially compared to those the Gophers will likely see in most conference games. On the outside the Blue Raiders likely start 6-foot-4, 252-pound Chris McCoy and 6-foot-3, 230-pound all-conference stand-out Jamari Lattimore. Both ends are lighter than many the Gopher tackles will face. Assuming the Gophers will start 6-foot-7, 350-pound Jeff Wills and 6-foot-7, 305-pound Ed Olson the Gophers will the edge in the size battle outside. The question is will these guys be quick enough on their toes to keep a speedier rush end from harassing Adam Weber as he drops back.

In the middle the Gopher linemen will have the advantage when it comes to size as well. Likely starters Chris Bunders, D.J. Burris and Matt Carufel are all over 300 pounds while . If the interior linemen can tie up their assignment it will allow the Gophers to open up running lanes and pull an interior lineman to the outside. Of course, size is not everything and if the undersized Blue Raider linemen get the first step, the Gopher size advantage can be minimized.

On the other side of the ball sees more Big Ten beefeaters line up on the defensive side of the ball going up against another undersized Blue Raider unit. At tackle start 6-foot-3, 272-pound all-conference Mark Fischer and 6-foot-3, 260-pound Mike Williams. The Gophers likely starters are 6-foot-3, 245-pound edge rusher D.L. Wilhite and 6-foot-6, 294-pound red-shirt freshman Ra'Shede Hageman. Wilhite has shown a knack for pass-rushing while the redshirt freshman is more of a question mark, his size alone could create a mismatch against the smaller Blue Raider Tackle.

On the interior of the defensive line the Gophers start 6-foot-2, 330-pound Jewhan Edwards at nose and 6-foot-2, 296-pound captain Brandon Kirksey. The middle of the Middle Tennessee offensive line is more stout, each likely starter weighing in at 300+ pounds. The battles on the interior might come down to which unit is fresher and deeper in the fourth quarter.

While the Gopher offense certainly needs to show more life against the smaller Blue Raider defensive line than it did against a similarly undersized defensive line against Air Force in 2009, perhaps the most crucial match-up will be the Gopher defensive line and the Blue Raider offensive line.

If the Gopher ends can interrupt the rhythm of the MTSU quarterback with a four man rush and if the Gopher tackles can get into the backfield allowing the linebackers to come up an make plays around the line of scrimmage, the Gophers could throw a wrench in the vaunted Blue Raider offense.

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