These questions hit hard and JDMill from The Daily Gopher patiently answers. In hindsight, what hurts the most is that I forgot to make any "silver or bronze gopher" jokes. "Do you think this year the Gopher's will go platinum?" etc. etc...
Q: It seems like the game plan of the Golden Gopher's has been to grind down opposing defenses until they cant respond to the run game anymore. How will the Golden Gopher's offense adjust if the Spartans put up lots of points early and/or do better than the first three teams at controlling the clock?
A: Boy, that's the million dollar question right there. My guess is that the Gophers would have to get down by 3 TD's before they'd change the gameplan drastically. This isn't a coaching staff that is going to panic if they get down 10 points. They'll continue to try to grind it out and control the clock. Having said that, we don't really know what this team has yet in terms of passing ability. You're likely going to see our backup QB, Mitch Leidner, starting his first collegiate game due to a hammy injury to starter Philip Nelson. Mitch went 7/8 for 105 yards passing and also rushed for 76 yards last week against Western Illinois (an FCS school). Mitch is a bit of an unknown commodity, but everyone seems to be pretty comfortable with him running the offense if it's the run heavy, pass to keep the defense honest, scheme this offense is built to run. If things get out of hand and Mitch needs to put up throws to get us back in the game... I really have no clue what to expect.
Q: Do you see the Golden Gopher passing game opening up at all this week? And will your answer change depending on whether Leidner or Nelson starts?
A: Because the quality of opponent jumps up quite a bit this week, I do see the passing game opening up somewhat, but I don't see the Leidner or Nelson question really affecting that part of the gameplan. I sincerely, at this point, believe that the game plan is identical no matter which of those QB's starts. The problem, however, is the receiving options. We just don't know who our go-to receivers are yet. Through 3 games we don't have a single receiving option that has broken the 100 yard barrier... for the season. Our best receiving option is probably RS Freshman TE Maxx Williams who is crazy athletic and has 99 yards receiving and a TD so far. He'll become a bigger weapon as the season progresses, and that could really start this week.
Q: I listened to the Golden Gopher's game against Western Illinois last week and Minnesota's secondary was having trouble covering the Western Illinois receivers. As the Spartans are a pass-happy team, what do you think the Golden Gopher's will do to stop the pass?
A: Our secondary is probably the deepest unit on the team, but that depth has already been tested this season. Starting CB Derrick Wells has missed time with shoulder trouble and his replacement Brien Boddy-Calhoun has now been lost for the season with an ACL injury. Despite the depth and talent of this secondary, they are young and that is manifesting itself early in the season. Our CB's are giving 10-12 yard cushions constantly, which has driven me batty, and there have been mistakes downfield that have lead to problems. The problems are not schematic and they are not due to talent, it's been almost exclusively due to missed assignments and mistakes. I'm hopeful some of that got corrected this week as this will be the first week all season that our secondary is in tact from one week to the next.
Q: The Golden Gophers have been good at stopping the run at the line of scrimmage, but when opposing running backs break into the secondary they seem to be able to break off a good amount of yardage with eleven 10+ yard runs and four 20+ yard runs. Do you see any adjustments being made to stop this happening against the Spartans or do you think they will be focusing on stopping the pass?
A: The run D was a major problem in 2012, especially when it came to RUTM (runs up the middle), and I haven't personally seen a lot yet this season that makes me more comfortable with that. Last year the problem was a LB group that was slow and undersized with a severe lack of talent in the middle. The LB group this year is pretty much a complete overhaul of last season's group, but again, like the secondary, these guys are young. These guys have a lot more raw athleticism and speed than last years group, but they don't have experience. I'm confident that the LB group continues to make strides in shedding blocks and filling gaps, but they are going to need to be active in pass defense this weekend. From a run D perspective, I think the scheme has been pretty straightforward so far, and I don't expect that to change this Saturday. I think the pass defense will be a bit more aggressive to try to cause some confusion in the passing game for Fales, which is a bit of a departure from what has been happening so far.
Q: Wow, your special teams... Wow. They've blocked multiple kicks and been a major factor in each game. Who and and what make the Golden Gophers so good on special teams?
A: Jerry Kill has taken a special interest in the special teams and I think it has really shown. The Gophers special teams are a unit for reserve players, the best players on the team are playing a role. Ra'Shede Hageman is the best defensive lineman on the team and he plays on the FG block team. He was the one who put a big paw up to blog the kick against UNLV, and he also batted the ball forward so that Shabazz could complete the scoop & score. Marcus Jones is a speedster who has now returned a kickoff and a punt for TD's and he plays an important role in our defensive secondary. Special teams is an area where the Gophers think they can beat other teams and they are putting the effort and talent on the field to make sure of it.
Q: Finally, I'm sorry but I have to ask this for our readers even though you've addressed this at the Daily Gopher but... How does Jerry Kill's health issues effect the Golden Gophers as a team?
A: There are two schools of thought here. There is a small but vocal media contingent who believes Kill should step down, and then there are the fans who are completely fine with Kill moving forward. Now that this coaching staff is in the third year at Minnesota, Kill does very little coaching on gamedays. He's in there encouraging kids, talking to the refs, and I'm sure he makes a few calls such as going for it on a 4th down, kicking a FG or not, etc. But the play-to-play coaching is left up to the coordinators and assistant coaches. When Kill has to miss time there is a clear contingency plan in place and by all accounts, that plan was executed to perfection on Saturday. Some think the biggest concern is in recruiting, but several recruits have come forward to say that Kill is up front about his condition and the plans in place, and the current players have all expressed complete confidence in Kill.
Is it a bad situation for a football coach to miss 1/2 a game? Sure it is. But the bottom line is that Kill's situation isn't having an adverse affect on the program, and the program as a whole is definitely moving in the right direction.