Summer opponent preview: Minnesota

Big Red Report's Kyle Phillippi breaks down future Nebraska opponents this fall.

Minnesota – Oct. 26th, 2013

2012 Record: 6-7 (2-6 Big Ten)

Best Returning Player – Offense: RB Donnell Kirkwood

In his first year as a starter, Kirkwood fell just shy of 1,000 yards while scoring a team-high six rushing touchdowns. As expected in a young player, Kirkwood had some games to forget, such as his 10 carries for 19 yards against Michigan State. Yet, throughout the course of the season, the junior halfback had some electrifying performances against Purdue and Illinois, rushing for 134 and 152 yards, respectively. With a seasons-worth of games under his belt and an offense that returns the majority of its starters, Kirkwood should be in for a stellar second season that could result in him amassing 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Best Returning Player – Defense: DT Ra'Shede Hageman

Minnesota is coming off a season in which they actually had a respectable defense that ranked fourth in pass defense and eighth in run defense in the Big Ten. Anchoring their defense in the nose tackle position is Hageman, who uses his 6-6, 310 pound frame to the best of his ability. A Big Ten honorable mention according to the media, Hageman finished with six sacks and 35 tackles after starting all 13 games. The Gophers will lose a lot of production on their defense from last year, which puts even more emphasis on Hageman up front. Minnesota will be counting on him to pressure the quarterback, cause havoc in the backfield and open lanes for incoming blitzers.

Biggest Loss – QB MarQueis Gray and DB Troy Stoudemire

Throughout his collegiate career, Gray never had a permanent position, spending time under center, at wide receiver and at tailback. His versatility gave Minnesota one of the most dangerous options in the conference. His senior season, Gray saw time all over the field, more so than he had in the past. He completed 58% of his passes and threw five touchdowns while carrying the ball 72 times for 390 yards and five touchdowns. Additionally, Gray caught 12 passes for 121 yards. The Gophers will certainly miss his playmaking ability.

Defensively, the Gophers lose a lot at linebacker, but the absence of Stoudemire will be hard to overcome. A year after suffering a season-ending injury as a junior, the 5-10 cornerback led the team with 82 tackles while breaking up three passes and registering 3.5 tackles for loss. His physical style of play made him a reliable bump-and-run defender as well as a tremendous stopper in the run game.

Last Meeting vs. Nebraska – November 17, 2012

Unlike the Cornhuskers first two Big Ten opponents in 2013, there will be some familiarity with the Gophers. In last season's contest, Nebraska toppled Minnesota, 38-14.

In the contest, Taylor Martinez became the school's all-time passing leader after throwing for 308 yards and two touchdowns. The star of the day, though, was Kenny Bell. The wide receiver hauled in nine receptions for a season-high 136 yards and two scores.

The Gophers struggled all game to pick up first downs as Nebraska's defense suffocated them on third down, allowing just one successful third-down attempt in 13 tries.

How They Matchup With Minnesota

2011 Statistics:

Scoring Offense: Minnesota (22.1), (Nebraska (34.8)
Scoring Defense: Minnesota (24.7), Nebraska (27.6)

Passing Offense: Minnesota (169.5), Nebraska (207.4)
Passing Defense: Minnesota (186.6), Nebraska (168.1)

Rushing Offense: Minnesota (151.9), Nebraska (253.4)
Rushing Defense: Minnesota (172.0), Nebraska (192.5)

Total Offense: Minnesota (321.4), Nebraska (460.8)
Total Defense: Minnesota (358.6), Nebraska (360.6)

Interesting Minnesota Fact

There's no science behind it, but Minnesota drew the most penalties from their opponents in the Big Ten. The opposition had a whopping 95 penalties against the Gophers for an average of 64.2 yards per game. When a team is handed free yards and automatic first downs, they will more than likely be able to hang around and compete for an entire game. That's something Nebraska doesn't want to happen to them.

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Kyle Phillippi covers the Big Ten Conference for His work has also been featured in Big Red Report Magazine and
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