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The Last Gopher Friday Preview Until Pizza Pizza? Minnesota at Iowa, November 21, 2009

Give me or Tressel the Patriots. We would have punted on third down.

- from the "Not Kirk Ferentz" Twitter stream -

Saturday is the end of the college football year, for all intents and purposes. outside of some rivalry games and conference title games. Then onto the bowls. Really, other than Florida/Alabama and Texas (or maybe TCU?) , the 66 or so bowl participants will be taking part in exhibition games in late December and early January in mostly warm climates, of which the most impressive part of the experience is usually the gifts given to the student-athletes that somehow are allowed under NCAA rules (example: last year each Gopher got a Vizio 26-inch LCD HDTV, a Bulova watch, and a Hat at the Insight Bowl.) Besides the gifts, ask Corey Wootton, Willis McGahee or Glen Mason: only bad things really happen in bowl games for the participants.

But back to tomorrow, when Tim Brewster will try for a significant milestone - his first rivalry game win. Last week Brew got his first win in November as a college coach. This week, a Big Ten win in November will increase his record in rivalry games to a robust 1-7. This comes on the heels of Maturi's weird comments to Sid in Thursday's Star Tribune, which indicated an endorsement of the program's direction but a peculiar non-endorsement of the coach. And while we can be literal and say that the only way that Brewster's job comes under fire is if they lose the next two games by 100 in the aggregate, the fact it's even being suggested is foolish in my opinion, but could be suggestive of things going on at Fort Bierman.

Iowa enters this game having endured a rough November thus far. First off, Northwestern put paid to Iowa's national championship hopes in Kinnick, and then Kirk Ferentz's lack of backbone gave away the outright Big Ten Title to Ohio State (pending their beatdown of Michigan). Oh yeah, Minnesota won't be the beneficiary of any Stanzi-balls on Saturday, either.

That really is unfortunate, because the backup QB, freshman James Vandenberg, played rather well in the Horseshoe, completing 20/33 for 233 yards, 2 TDs and 3 INTs (one at the end of the 1st half, one in OT). Playing in front of friendly fans may make him more relaxed. Then again, the pressure of Senior Day and the Pig may make him channel his inner Stanzi and get acquainted with BIG PLAYE TRAYE.

Looking at the rest of the offense, you know what you're getting with Iowa. The big hogs up front are interchangeable and generally awesome. LT Brian Bulaga is the standout. The Hawkeyes like running stretch plays where a TE (normally Tony Moeaki) will go in motion to Bulaga's side, and whichever RB is in the game (Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher, Paki O'Meara) will plow behind those two for big chunks of yardage. As has been the case this year, Minnesota's DTs need to keep Iowa's line occupied so Campbell, Triplett, Lawrence and/or Cooper can flow to the ball, attack the lead blocker, and cut the play back for the help to arrive. If the D-line is pushed around and Iowa's line can get to the second level, this game will get ugly.

That's without mentioning Iowa's passing game, which as mentioned above, went for over 230 yards on Ohio State last week. Marvin McNutt is a former QB with significant height (please grow six inches Carter kthx) and superb speed, and I think every Minnesota fan knows about Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Simmons (who returned to practice Wednesday after recovering from a leg ailment) and Marcus Sherels are carrying injuries which may make them vulnerable in pass coverage.

As for Iowa's defense, yikes. On the line, meet 2007 Cretin Derham Hall grad Broderick Binns (7 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks), along with Adrian Clayborn (8.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and THAT punt block against Penn State) and Karl Klug. The linebackers include A.J. Edds (65 tackles), Pat Angerer (119 tackles) and Jeremiah Hunter (83 tackles), and if you look to the secondary, meet Tyler Sash (6 INTs, 76 tackles), Amari Spievey, and Brett Greenwood.

This is the kind of defense that will give the Gopher offense fits (namely, competent and well-drilled). Iowa rarely sends its linebackers on blitzes because the front four can get pressure by itself. In almost every Gopher game this year we've watched this happen, so I'm even more concerned about tomorrow's game. Other than against Sparty, the Gophers, since the Penn State game, have had horrific pass protection which has led to Adam Weber looking like a true freshman in the pocket.

And sorry everyone, but this isn't the game to fully let MarQueis Gray loose on the football world. Brewster had his chance last week and decided not to, which suggests either coaching stubbornness or player incapabilities at this point. Gray, at this point in his development, would have been most effective against a team with slower defensive players who were frequently blitzing him and leaving him wide open running lanes, such as on November 14th at TCF. The last place you want Gray deciphering coverages is against a Norm Parker-drilled defense of veteran players, whose LBs don't even need to blitz you to get pressure.

So tomorrow you can expect Weber to be in the pocket, with lots of max protect (TEs and RBs) to provide support for Alford, Wills and Carufel in the hopes that Weber is given more than 3 seconds to wait for his WRs to break free from what are excellent Herkeye defensive backs. Once again, Hoese and Tow-Arnett will likely be utilized extensively in the passing game, trying to break the tackles of those excellent LBs. Blergh.

Oh, and have I mentioned that Brandon Green missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury and is questionable for Saturday? Calling Messrs. McKnight, Stoudermire, and yes, Carpenter, please be ready for action.

Anything else? Yeah. The forecast Saturday: around 55 and sunny.

Also, an aside: yeah, I recognize this is a conspiracy theory, BUT. The slate of games on Saturday is one of the least attractive collection of games I can ever remember this late in the season (thanks Florida and Alabama, among others, for scheduling soup cans this weekend). One of ESPN/ABC's featured games is Kansas at Texas.

Anyone else find it uniquely coincidental that ESPN is releasing an amazing slow drip of information from multiple sources (where have these former players been since August?) about Kansas HC Mark Mangino's bad temper and abuse at practice the same week it needs to drum up interest in a rather lackluster prime time game? At all?


So what about Saturday? Minnesota has a chance here. It needs to attack Iowa's defense straight-on, because it can be run on. Weber cannot expect to spend much time, if any, looking in the pocket, and Fisch should not abandon the running game and put Weber into obvious passing situations.

As for Minnesota on defense, they need to roll support over to whoever is guarding the tall McNutt. Of course, this leaves the Gophers susceptible to either Johnson-Koulianos or Moeaki, but, you've got to try something.

Bottom line: games this year in Iowa City have been close. Northern Iowa, Arkansas State, Michigan, Indiana and NW were really all very tense, close games. Saturday SHOULD be no different. If the Gophers are not competitive, however, I guess Maturi will be having a discussion with Mr. Brewster about what is expected when the Gophers get their new TVs in Arizona. I don't see it happening.

Iowa 27 - Minnesota 20.