Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

5 Questions: Minnesota

We talk with GophersIllustrated.com publisher Ryan Burns about Minnesota.

1.) Last year Minnesota had four out of the last five contests, but struggled mightily against Nebraska in a big loss out of nowhere. How much has that game been talked about this week? 
"I haven't heard it being talked about much, if at all, here so far this week. Gophers media and fan base members are still trying to decipher how good this 7-2 Minnesota team is, as really the one two teams that they've played were Iowa and Penn State, and Minnesota found ways to lose those game. That being said, Minnesota is riding a four game winning streak in Big Ten play, and the hope is that the Gophers will play their first complete game of the season down in Lincoln on Saturday night."
2.) When we talked to you earlier in the summer, it was 8 wins or bust. Has the goal changed? 
"Absolutely not. 
Eight wins was the mark during the summer where I thought that Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle would have a contract extension ready on Tracy Claeys' desk at the conclusion of the season, and while I still think that to some degree, it's a lot more interesting now than it was this summer. Minnesota is 7-2 on the season, but there are few wins you look at on their where the Gophers really played well for all 60 minutes. We'll know a lot more about this Gopher team in three weeks as they finish the season with Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin, and it'd look pretty good for Tracy Claeys to win two of the next three. This Gopher team is capable of it, but we'll see how things go."
3.) Looking at these two teams, where do you think Minnesota has the edge? 
"I'm very interested to see how Minnesota's run offense and defense stack up against Nebraska, as I believe the Gophers hold an advantage there. 
When Nebraska went against Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State, here's how things looked in the run game for the opposing offense. 
Oregon: 7.1 ypc on 47 attempts
Illinois: 5.9 ypc on 21 attempts
Wisconsin: 5.9 ypc on 38 attempts
Ohio State: 5.7 ypc on 42 attempts
Minnesota's offensive line is still very much a work in progress, but Rodney Smith has been playing at such a high level that it hasn't really mattered. I made the claim this week that Smith is playing like a top three running back in the Big Ten right now, and I'm ready to see what he can do against a much better defense than what he's faced in recent weeks. Minnesota will also get talented sophomore running back Shannon Brooks back from injury, so that's an area where if Minnesota is going to win, they have to have success there. 
Nebraska has also been held under 3.5 yards per carry in back to back games, and Minnesota's run defense has been holding up well this season. They head Saquon Barkley to 38 yards on 19 carries heading into overtime and haven't faced as strong as a test since then what they'll see this weekend." 
4.) Give us a player on both offense and defense that isn't exactly a household name, but Nebraska fans need to know. 
"Minnesota running back Rodney Smith isn't a household name yet, but he should be very soon. He absolutely belongs in the conversation among the elite backs after Barkley in the Big Ten. He has 954 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns so far through nine games, and I'll say once again that Smith is having to do a lot of creating to get these yards and scores, so don't think it's all on his offensive line here. He's been absolutely sensational the last few weeks. 
Defensive tackle Steven Richardson is another name that needs to be talked about more as he leads the Gophers in sacks and tackles for loss, and he's essentially been Minnesota's version of Aaron Donald. He's consistently getting penetration into backfields causing havoc for ball carriers, and should be a good test for this Nebraska OL." 
5.) Your score prediction and why? 
"Obviously the caveat here is the health of Tommy Armstrong. If Tommy plays, I see this as a 7-10 point win for Nebraska, but if he doesn't, this game turns into more of a 50/50 game in my eyes. Minnesota has never been blown out in the Tracy Claeys era as their worst loss is a 14 point road loss to Ohio State, so I anticipate this game being close throughout. 
If Minnesota can establish the run, and not make Mitch Leidner and this passing game throw the ball more than 30 times, then I see this as a game that Minnesota's going to have a chance to win in the fourth. If the Gophers running game gets neutralized, then it's going to be tough for Minnesota's offense to move the ball through the air from what I've seen this season. 
There's a lot to be said about momentum in college football, and with Minnesota on a four game winning streak and Nebraska off two tough losses, I'll be intrigued to see how this plays out early on."
Nebraska 27, Minnesota 24

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