So many questions for the Golden Gophers football program heading into last week's opener against USC. The Gophers answered with a valiant effort, improved play in the second half, and a close loss 19-17 that came down to the final drive. It was a good beginning, but there's still much we don't know about this team.
A few things to ponder when watching the game Saturday (2:30 CST on the BTN)...
How do they handle New Mexico State?
You'll never hear a college football coach say one bad thing about an opponent they're supposed to be better than. Kill is already on record this week saying he's treating this game like "the Superbowl" so there's no way he's going to let his team take New Mexico State lightly. But whether coach wants to hear it or not, the Gophers are favored by 20. They haven't beaten a team by at least 20 points since September 20, 2008 when they stomped Florida Atlantic 37-3, but they're expected to be three touchdowns better than the Aggies.
Let's be honest- this team is not very good. NMSU were just 3-9 a year ago, and got thumped in their opener against Ohio 44-24. They were down 44-10 with three minutes left in the third quarter, and had just 160 yards of offense to that point. They managed just SIX rushing yards on 23 carries for the entire game. This is a game the Gophers SHOULD win, and while a close game with USC was celebrated, it won't go over well if Minnesota struggles to beat New Mexico State.
Quarterbacks and more after the jump...
MarQueis Gray played well at times, and Max Shortell definitely made an impact in relief. Q keeps his starting job for this week (as he should!), and we'll see if he get loose in the run game, and airs it out in the passing game. JDMill made a good point in the podcast about how the Gopher runners- and especially Q when he ran the ball, weren't getting to the edges. Most of the run game seemed to be designed to go up the middle. Will they unleash Q to the outside a little more, where he could really be dangerous?
And assuming Q stays healthy, will we see Shortell at all in a regular game situation?
How's the running game- and who's running it?
The Gophers cracked the 100 yard mark last week with 110 yards, but it took them 34 carries (just 3.2 YPC) to do it. For an offense that's supposed to be run-based, those numbers will need to improve as Minnesota prepares for the B1G slate. We thought we'd see three, four, or even five different Gopher tailbacks carry the ball in the opener, yet of the 16 carries that went to a running back, 15 of them were made by senior Duane Bennett. Will we see the carries spread out this Saturday, or will Bennett be the bell cow for Jerry Kill's offense?
Where's the pass rush?
The Gophers failed to register a sack against Matt Barkley and USC- I'm not even sure his uniform got dirty. While that's discouraging in some ways, it was also a testament to just how good a QB Barkley is, and how incredibly fast he was getting rid of the football every time he dropped back to pass. The Gophers were able to slow down the Trojans offense in the second half despite being a lack of pressure, but that's going to be tough to pull off against most teams. And against New Mexico State? We're going to need to see some sacks.
How are the other corners doing?
Senior Troy Stoudermire is clearly the best corner on the roster, and USC stayed away from him as much as possible in week 1. It proved a successful strategy as Robert Woods had his way with whichever corner that wasn't #11 that tried to cover him. NMSU has no one even remotely close to the caliber of Woods, but you can be sure they saw that tape, and will try picking on Brock Vereen, Kyle Henderson, and the rest until the prove up to the task.
Those are some of the things I'll be watching. Anything else you'll be looking for- well, besides hopefully getting to see Jerry Kill's first win as Minnesota's head coach?