Know Your Foe - Minnesota

With No.20 Wisconsin ready to host border-rival Minnesota in the 120th meeting of the series, Badger Nation Publisher Benjamin Worgull talks with Golden Sports Publisher Travis Erickson for his take from the Golden Gophers' sideline.

MADISON - With Tim Brewster badly needing a win – perhaps to save his job – and the Gophers desperate to break a six-year losing streak against Wisconsin this Saturday, we ask Golden Sports and Fox Sports North contributor Travis Erickson about what the Gophers need to defend and exploit in order to get a victory at Camp Randall.

Things have not gone smoothly for Tim Brewster in his fourth year with the Gophers (15-28 in his tenure). How hard have some of these losses been and has there been a common theme in the defeats?

Erickson: Every loss is hard, but two that sting the most from this season are the losses to South Dakota and Northwestern. It was inexcusable for Minnesota to let an FCS opponent come into TCF Bank Stadium and steal a win. South Dakota outcoached and outplayed the Gophers. Minnesota hasn't recovered from that game losing their next three games, more recently to conference foe Northwestern.

Minnesota took a 21-14 lead into half time against the Wildcats and held that lead until a 54-yard drive that resulted a field goal to make the score 29-28 in favor of Northwestern. That loss hurts because the Gophers had the lead late in the fourth quarter but they couldn't finish. Minnesota had two opportunities to preserve the win either by stopping the Wildcats last possession or by scoring on their final drive, but they just couldn't get it done in those critical situations.

Minnesota's inability to make a crucial play in critical moments, combined with poor defense, and sloppy special teams play have been the common themes in the losses this season.

What are the reactions of the players in the program and fans outside of the program about Brewster and the direction of the program?

Erickson: Obviously the fans, players nor coaches are happy with the way the season has started. As much as the fans hate to see their team off to a rough start it's tougher on the coaches and players who put so much effort into competing in those games. The players seem to be behind coach Brewster and are optimistic about the rest of the season.

When fans start a chant to fire the head coach during a game it says something about the state of the program. This season seems to be the breaking point for even the staunchest of Tim Brewster supporters. A record of 14-24 over the first three years and a 1-4 start to this season, with loses to South Dakota and Northern Illinois at home, are results that wouldn't sit well with any Big Ten fan base.

Fifth-year senior Adam Weber has been having a solid season under center for the Gophers (fourth in the conference with 239.8 passing yards per game, with nine touchdowns, four interceptions). Is he the bright spot about this team and how has the offense adjusted to dual-threat quarterback MarQueis Gray being a primary receiver?

Erickson: Adam Weber had definitely been one of the bright spots about the team thus far. He is playing how a fifth-year senior, fourth-year starter at quarterback should play. Weber really struggled last year adapting from a spread offensive philosophy the Gophers used his first two years, to a pro-style offense they implemented last year. There were doubts heading into this season whether he would be able to settle into the new scheme but he's really played well after spending a year immersed in the new offensive style.

Part of the reason for his improvement over last season has been the improved pass blocking of the offensive line. The Gophers are tied for 21st in the nation is sacks allowed per game allowing only one per contest which is substantially better than last season when they allowed over three sacks a game. Their play as a whole is another bright spot for Minnesota.

The offense has adjusted well to MarQueis Gray's new role as a primary receiver. During the offseason, one question that kept coming up was who will step up into the number one wide receiver role that was vacated when Eric Decker graduated. Gray has flourished as a primary target this season and has given the offense a go-to type of player that Decker was for the Maroon and Gold. He's only going to get better as he learns to combine his freakish athleticism with the proper technique of his new position.

Minnesota has always struggled to get a decent run game to match its passing game. What do Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge bring to the table and does Minnesota have a plan for attacking UW's tough run defense?

Erickson: Duane Bennett was off to a torrid start to the season before he got dinged up in the USC game, which has stunted his production. When he was healthy he brought a slashing, aggressive style to the Gopher backfield. He showed the ability to make explosive plays and fight through contact for extra yardage. While his production has declined since week two, he has already surpassed his season rushing total from last year.

With Bennett hampered, DeLeon Eskridge received 22 carries last week and responded with 119 yards and one touchdown. Eskridge isn't quite as explosive or shifty as Bennett but he runs with same aggressive mentality and does a great job consistently gaining yards after contact.

Minnesota's plan for attacking Wisconsin's tough run defense will be repetition. The Gophers will run early and often in hopes of wearing the defense down. Coach Brewster prides himself on effectively establishing the run and winning the time of possession battle so he will attack the Badger run defense from the opening kick-off.

Where do you think Minnesota has the biggest advantage in this game and where do you think Minnesota has the biggest disadvantage of this game?

Erickson: Minnesota's biggest disadvantage is its defense against Wisconsin's offense. Minnesota's weaknesses on defense are Wisconsin's strengths on offense. The Badgers excel at running the football and being efficient passing the football. The Minnesota defense ranks 96th and 116th nationally in those categories.

The biggest advantage Minnesota has over Wisconsin is turnover margin. Minnesota has done a solid job this season of not losing possession of the ball on offense and forcing turnovers on defense.

Minnesota has lost six straight games to Wisconsin, tied for the longest in the series' long history. What is your prediction for Saturday's contest?

Erickson: I think Minnesota will keep the game closer than the 22-point would suggest, but it's tough for me to pick against Wisconsin at Camp Randall where the Gophers haven't won since 1994. I'll say Wisconsin wins 30-20.

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