Northwestern is just under 24 hours away from kickoff. I'll give you my regular preview soon but wanted to break out the Q&A into a separate post. Lake the Posts was kind enough to give me some very candid answers to a few simple questions as we all get ready for the game tomorrow morning.
1. The big news this week is that Tyrell Sutton is out and C.J. Bacher is likely out. What can we expect from Kafka and Conteh on Saturday?
Unfortunately, Sutton was out a large chunk of last year and Conteh was a serviceable replacement. However, Omar has been much more of a horizontal runner this year and less vertical, meaning he was much more physical and pounding last year. Our O-line has been great for pass protection but is not opening up big holes. Sutton's loss is felt on the screen pass as he was an exceptional receiver and this is where the drop-off is felt bigtime. Kafka started in 2006 before Bacher came in as Kafka got hurt with a similar injury. Kafka is a solid running QB in the spread and the general consensus was that he is not as good a passer, but based on Bacher's disappointing season, most fans are anxious to see how he manages the game.
2. When MN traveled to Illinois they were upset because we were the "homecoming opponent." Then we were again at Purdue. Northwestern (and I guess Indiana) are also popular homecoming opponents around the Big Ten. Do you buy this perceived disrespect or is it a motivational gimmick for the coaches?
More motivational gimmick. Most homecoming dates are made more than a year in advance for planning purposes. And it is also standard for October, in most cases for Homecoming, which usually means one of two choices. When a school, like Iowa, moves Homecoming to September b/c of the Cats, or Minnesota moves it to November, b/c of the Cats it gives a little more credence to the disrespect card in my mind.
3. 7-1 vs. 7-1 would have made this game incredibly exciting. Still 7-1 vs. 6-2 is something nobody would have predicted in August and is vitally important for both teams. Tell me why this game is more important for Northwestern than it is for Minnesota.
Easy. Prior to the Indiana game, the consensus was the bar at NU had been raised to mean 6-6 will forever be disappointing for NU fans under Fitz. Those chats were being had thinking an absolute worst case scenario was 8-4 for us this year. Now, we will likely be underdogs in every game. A 6-6 finish or even 7-5 doesn't do much to elevate the program in the media's eyes, it impacts attendance, which is a slow build until we get really good and it can impact recruiting. The positive momentum of the 2008 campaign, that is a foundation for the next several years, is in jeopardy. It also will be a major statement for our coaching staff in showing their ability to respond to adversity and make a statement that we are fighters. With the annual beat down to the Buckeyes waiting in the wings, a loss to Minnesota likely ensures a three game losing streak heading into the Big House.
4. The biggest area of weakness for the Gopher offense is offensive line. Only Ohio State has given up more sacks and we struggle to open rushing lanes. Northwestern is leading the Big Ten in sacks is this a match up the Wildcats can exploit? Can they gain a big enough advantage that this can lead to a win?
Absolutely it is an area we'll be exploiting, yet Indiana's O-line was in worse shape than yours and it didn't impact the game. Our DE were in the grill of the QB all day, but our pass rush up the middle wasn't there, enabling Ben Chappell to step up in the pocket and throw bombs all day. We simply have to win the TO battle and some key sacks that jar the ball loose to make it the difference. The TO margin of the Gophers is #1 in the nation, so this would be a stretch.
5. Assuming both of these teams go bowling this year. Make a prediction as to which prestigious bowl will invite Minnesota and Northwestern to attend.
I'm going with Minnesota in the Rose Bowl. While I don't believe your as good as say, the 2007 Illini team, you're solid. If you beat us, which I think you will, the game to me is the Iowa game. I keep showing people your schedule and challenging them to pick the loss for you. Then I convince them.
I'll throw in my two cents. First Minnesota is not going to the Rose Bowl. Even with an 11-1 finish and Penn State going to the BCS title game we are not going to Pasadena. I believe that even if Ohio State loses and we are the clear cut #2, they will pick Oklahoma or anybody else over Minnesota. I know Illinois went last year but they at least had a win @ Ohio State on their resume. Our schedule was just too weak and although the Rose Bowl loves their traditional Pac 10 v Big Ten match up they also know USC vs. Minnesota would get terrible ratings compared to USC vs. OK.
Secondly, LTP's answer to #3 made this game sound like it will make or break the Northwestern program for the next decade. I'm telling you Gopher fans, this team is wounded but they are not dead. They will give us a run for our money and we'd better be prepared. Fortunately they have appeared to be mentally ready for everybody we have faced in the first eight games, this better not be the exception or it will be a bad loss.
This week the program is starting to build some momentum and get some recognition by not just the local media but we are on the national media's radar as well. Losing this game would remind everyone that they were right to ignore us for six or seven weeks and we'd drop like a lead balloon. The next three weeks and our bowl destination will take care of itself but we really need to take care of the team in front of us this week.