What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an opposing team's blogger, they answer. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: Jeffrick, from SBN's actually pretty alright (GRR HATE WEEK) Minnesota blog, The Daily Gopher.
1) Let's start off with a little actual news -- what are the odds MarQueis Gray actually plays this weekend? Is Jerry Kill playing us all or is Gray really too injured to play?
I'd be very surprised if he plays. He suffered a high ankle sprain in the Western Michigan game two weeks ago, which everybody says takes a minium of 3-4 weeks to heal. Kill listed MarQueis as a "possible" backup last week, yet he didn't dress. He said in Tuesday's presser he's likely out, and while he may list him as a possible backup again and with travel with the team I doubt he dresses.
2) Along those same lines, what do we need to know about Max Shortell? He seems like a more prototypical dropback passer -- how accurate is that assessment? Who are his favorite targets?
Well first of all, Max Shortell is a ginger, and as we all know, gingers will steal your soul. (Ed. note: So, so true!) So not only do you have an AIRBHG stealing your running backs, now you have a ginger Minnesota Gopher QB stealing Floyd and your souls. You obviously have no chance.
Shortell is definitely a classic drop-back passer, and the offense has looked much different with him behind center than Gray. They maybe ran two QB runs with Shortell last game against Syracuse, whereas they'd call Gray's number almost every other play. Max can sling it, and he'll challenge the Hawkeye secondary.
His favorite targets are all from Minnesota (not sure if that's good or bad) and the best one thus far is an undersized whitey walk-on in AJ Barker (really not sure if that's a good thing either). A redshirt junior, he came into the season with zero catches, but through four games leads the team with 14 catches for 283 yards and four scores. The other top options thus far as a couple of sophomores in Devin Crawford-Tufts and another whitey in JUCO transfer Isaac Fruechte. Both are 6'2 and pretty quick. Slot receiver Marcus Jones is arguably the most dangerous receiver we have with the ball in his hands, it's just that they haven't thrown to him very much. Not sure what that's about.
3) The Minnesota defense has been one of the biggest surprises of the season so far. They appear to have an aggressive defensive line that's generating a good pass rush and a ball-hawking secondary. Where did this come from? How surprised are you to see Minnesota winning games with defense?
Is this what a defense is supposed to do? Generate pressure, force turnovers, and cause the opposition to...what's the word...punt? I think it's punt. Yeah, we're not used to this in Minnesota. Like, at all. Against a pretty good Syracuse offense last Saturday night, I started expecting the defense to get pressure, sack the QB and get the ball back. And you know what? Shockingly they did! They're not going to force five turnovers every week (to put that in perspective, the team intercepted a total of four passes all of last season), and the Gophers haven't exactly played a juggernaut schedule, but they've been better and better every week, and that has to mean something (at least that's what we tell ourselves).
DC Tracy Claeys has built a good defense wherever he's been with Coach Kill. Their last season at Northern Illinois Claeys' D was ranked 14th in the country. I know it's only a MAC school, but that still says something. This is shaping up to be the first good defensive line we've had in a long, long time as Jr DT Ra'Shede Hageman (3 sacks, 3.5 TFL and a forced fumble) is the first DT the Gophers have had since...well maybe ever who commands a double team. Senior DE DL Wilhite has been a force so far leading the team with 4.5 sacks and 5.5 TFL.
The secondary has been a real surprise as I thought this would be the worst position group on the team yet besides the d-line they've been arguably the best. Soph S Derrick Wells is a converted corner who out of nowhere is the team's leader in tackles (21), picks (2), and pass break ups (5), and senior corner Michael Carter picked a really good time to finally start playing like the four star recruit we recruited back in 2008. He was starting by the end of his freshman season in 2009, then got "Cosgroved" in 2010 (for the uninitiated that's the act of being "coached" by former defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, who takes good players from the previous year and then turns them into total crap), took all of 2011 to recover from being Cosgroved as he barely played, and has this season morphed back into a good player with a pick and 5 pass break-ups thus far.
4) How big are you dreamin' now that the Gophers are 4-0? 9-10 wins? January bowl games? Or are you waiting for the other shoe to drop?
Are you kidding me? I'm a Gopher fan - hope for the best but expect the worst, and the worst usually seems to happen. I predicted this would be a six win team before the season, and I'm sticking to that as they just need to find two more wins in the B1G to get there. While the Big Ten has been "down" so far, I doubt the Gophers are favored in any game the rest of the way with the exception of Illinois and maybe Purdue at home. But that's it. Still, even six wins this year should be seen as a great accomplishment for Coach Kill and his staff considering what an absolute gong show this program was when they took over for Tim Brewster's three-ring circus of WIN! FIGHT! TRY! two years ago.
5) Be honest: what depravity have you filthy northerners been up to with Floyd? Is that poor bronzed pig going to be scarred for life after spending the last two years in the frigid north?
Depravity? Try restoring a sense of normalcy. We don't have some crazy Iowa fans leering at him suggestively, or ignoring him because they're so used to having him around. No, Minnesota keeps him in the comfy confines of a brand new stadium, and surrounds him with fans who appreciate and respect him. And occasionally we feed him beer from fine Minnesota breweries like Surly, Summit, and even Grain Belt. We also tell him he'll only be in Iowa for a day and then we're bringing him right back.
6) Okay, prediction time -- who ya got?
Tough one to predict, but I'll take the Gophers +6. Wait we don't get the points? Fine, I'll still take Minnesota to win outright. Expected a shootout last week with the Gophers and Syracuse but got a low-scoring game, and the Hawkeyes have played mostly low scoring games then got into a bit of a shootout last week, so who really knows? The Gophers won by one point and three points the past two years with neither team scoring 30. While Minnesota seems to be rolling this will be Shortell's first road start - and the team's first real road test- of the year (I don't count the opener at UNLV considering there were maybe 12,000 people there and over half of them were Gopher fans), and Iowa is usually good at home against non-MAC, non-1AA and non-Iowa State teams. It'll be rowdy, it'll be close, but in the end the Ginger Giant Max Shortell will steal your souls, break your hearts, and take Floyd back to Minnesota for another year. 24-20 Gophers win.
Thanks for being a good sport, Jeff. Be sure to check out Jeff and the rest of his vile Gopher-loving comrades over at The Daily Gopher. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter at @jeffricktdg, as well as The Daily Gopher at @TheDailyGopher. The Iowa-Minnesota game is in Iowa City, IA on Saturday, September 29 at 11am CT, with television coverage from ESPN2.