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Posted on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Minnesota football beat writer breaks down how the Gophers could upset Michigan

By Kyle Meinke

The Minnesota football team is 1-3, lost to an FCS team last week and is coping with the health problems of its head coach, Jerry Kill.

None of those things bode well for the Golden Gophers heading into their game against Michigan Saturday at Michigan Stadium (noon, BTN).

What has to happen for Minnesota to pull an upset in the Big Ten Conference opener? We asked that question, and more, of Minnesota beat writer Phil Miller from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Q. Minnesota is coming off a loss against FCS-member North Dakota State and also fell to New Mexico State. What's plaguing the Gophers this year?


Phil Miller

Phil Miller: A little of everything, which is often the case for a rebuilding team. MarQueis Gray has the athleticism the Gophers expected from their new quarterback, but his inexperience -- he hasn't been a starting quarterback since 2007 -- shows far more than they hoped. He's throwing the ball like he's not sure he wants to, and the lack of confidence is only getting worse as the results continue to be mediocre. His offensive line has some good drives and some very bad, putting even more pressure on the QBs. None of their receivers has had a breakout game, and no tailback has approached 100 yards yet.

And most of all, the Gophers' lack of a pass rush is giving the defense little chance of stopping anyone. They have been picked apart by quarterbacks week after week -- the completion rate is 67 percent, and even that seems low -- mostly because they don't seem to know they're allowed to bother the QB. It gives the secondary little chance. They've blitzed, they've stunted, they've tried moving players around, even reassigned a tailback to the defense in hopes of generating a speed rush. But so far? One sack, and that's after having only nine, fewest in Division I, last year.

Q. Jerry Kill is in his first year as Minnesota's coach. What is his style like, are his growing health issues a concern and how have the players taken to him?


Minnesota coach Jerry Kill leaves the field after losing to North Dakota State last Saturday. He checked himself into the Mayo Clinic the next day.

AP Photo

PM: His style is no-nonsense, no-coachspeak, no-bull -- and after four years of Tim Brewster, the change could hardly be more noticeable. He was not a popular hire, coming from Northern Illinois after the athletic director promised to hire a big name -- even flew to San Diego State to interview some coach whose name slips my mind -- but Kill won over the state quickly with his honest style. And the players love his tough-love approach, really adopted him fast.

That's why the seizures that afflicted him in the sidelines Sept. 10 and have continued to recur are absolutely a growing concern. He has been hospitalized during the football season in six of the past 12 years, but this episode seems to be worse than in the past. Kill has never missed a game, though I'm guessing that this week will be the first time, because after another seizure at home on Sunday, he checked himself in to Mayo Clinic to try to take care of this for good. Not sure how much it will affect the team in the short term.

It's obviously a distraction, but Kill's staff has been with him forever -- eight coaches have worked under him for a decade or more -- so continuity shouldn't be a problem.

Q. Who wins in a foot race: Denard Robinson or Marqueis Gray?


Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray.

AP Photo

PM: MarQueis Gray weighs 245 pounds -- I don't think it would be much of a race. I've heard Gray compared to Shoelace (do you still call him that?) but he's much more similar to Terrelle Pryor -- fast and elusive, but big enough to take on the occasional linebacker, too. He may not have the sheer pull-away-from-a-cornerback speed that Robinson does, but he's also 6-foot-4, so theoretically, he should be able to move around and see over the defense to find a receiver.

Hasn't happened yet, though, and the coaching staff believes it's because Gray spent the last two seasons playing receiver while Adam Weber quarterbacked. Now that Weber is a Denver Bronco, Gray is having a hard time making his reads, then putting the ball where it needs to go. As Kill has said several times, you'd love to see what he could do if he had not gone three years without doing much throwing.

Freshman Max Shortell has been getting more snaps lately, first because Gray is cramp-prone, and also because he just looks more natural throwing the ball. The pair basically split time in the second half last week, and the coaches will not hesitate to make a switch if Gray can't complete his passes.

Q. What will be Michigan's biggest matchup disadvantage against Minnesota?

PM: Um ... punting?

Had to think about this one awhile. The Gophers do have some talent at receiver; there is reason to believe that with a more traditional passer, wideouts Da'Jon McKnight and Malcolm Moulton and tight end Eric Lair could put up some big numbers. Hasn't happened yet, and it's caused some frustration. But the best answer, I guess, is in the running game, where Gray and human bowling ball Donnell Kirkwood will face a rushing defense that looks, from a time zone away, like a generous bunch. Kirkwood has only played two games due to a hamstring injury, but he has energized a rushing attack that was bogging down unless Gray carried the ball. Kirkwod will stay between the tackles, and he's very low to the ground, so he'll plow his way to some yardage.

But no kidding, the Gophers' punter, Dan Orseske, has been pretty good too.

Q. Minnesota is expected to finish toward the bottom of the Big Ten, but can spring an upset of Michigan if ...

Gray does a decent imitation of Robinson. He gained 171 yards on the ground, a new school record, in the Gophers' lone victory. Sound familiar? The Gophers' are more likely to win a shootout than a defensive battle, because a pass rush that couldn't touch USC statue Matt Barkley isn't likely to surround Denard Robinson in the backfield very often. But Gray can gobble up yardage in big chunks when he gets rolling, so teams have begun stacking the box against him. If he forces them to do that, then figures out how to hit his receivers over the top, the Gophers theoretically can be a pretty explosive team.

Michigan 38, Minnesota 28. -- It's difficult to imagine the Gophers having much more luck stopping Robinson than San Diego State did, so even if the offense shows signs of life, which is plausible, they're going to give up some big plays.

Read more from Phil Miller at

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


1st Down

Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 8:21 a.m.

If Jerry Kill coaches this game, I sincerely hope for his sake that he takes it easy and sits in the box upstairs...and has plenty of EMT support sitting near him. IMO he should take the week off and rest... lets hope he does the best thing for his health.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 6:01 p.m.

I will not be surprised if Michigan is sitting on 28 by late in the second quarter. Denard WILL start hitting 60+% soon, and if he does Saturday it's a blowout early. The Gophers' D looked very slow against NDSU, imagine vs Denard, Vincent, Fitz, et al. Gophers may have a spark or two on offense but nowhere near enough to stay in the game. Gardner will finally get significant playing time, thankfully.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 5:42 a.m.

Hope your right about Gardner.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 5:18 p.m.

Minnesota is overmatched in all aspects of the game! A close game against USC is not saying as much as it would in previous years. Denard will jump in the Heisman rankings after this game and the coaching staff wont let down until they get to half a hundred. Michigan does not have the ties to Minnesota with their coaches like they did against Western/EMU/and SDSU which in my opinion lowered the aggressiveness of the offense later in the games. No score prediction again: Michigan is a 20 point favorite and I could see it being closer to 40 if the offense clicks better (I dont think Minn. is as good as any of the teams Mich has played yet). I also think the D gets a score and the special teams breaks out. Go Blue!


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.

This is Coach Hoke's first B1G Ten game as the UM coach, so we WILL be ready to play and we will not be looking past Minnesota. Look for our team on both sides of the ball to continue to improve. UM 41 Minn. 14 Go Blue !

Lorain Steelmen

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

This michigan team is not going to look past anyone all year. Each week WILL be a test. I think the Wolves win this one, 35-14, but will there be some injuries that have season long impact? Time will tell. I suspect that Mike Martin has been injured, for the first three games, because he 'stepped forward' against the Aztecs. We need him to stay healthy...ditto Robinson.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 3:26 p.m.

Honestly.. 38-28? Why is this prediction absurd? Well... - Minnesota's never played against Denard. - Minnesota's rush defense is on the lousy end of poor. - Michigan's defense is improving weekly. - Minnesota lost to North Dakota State 37-24, for cryin' out loud!


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 1:48 p.m.

I do't get the feeling that UM is in danger of overlooking any team on their schedule....they realize as well as anyone that they are far from being a dominant team...especially with Hoke, Mattison and Borges reminding them of that fact daily. I hope UM is able to to jump out to an early and comfortable lead, and then use this game as an opportunity to work on the running game (with Denard doing nothing but handing it off to tailbacks) and the passing game. Borges needs to stop relying solely on Denard's legs to move the ball. They HAVE to develop more options on offense or we'll be toast when he inevitably gets dinged up. UM 30 - Minn 17


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

The fact Minnesota almost (and should have) beat USC, shows they are capable of beating Michigan. I wouldn't get too cocky and over-confident. Michigan has had a lot of luck roll their way in the 4-0 start. I believe Michigan will win this game, but I can easily see this thing coming down to field goal if Denard continues his INT's and the defense fails to create a turnover.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 5:41 a.m.

The fact that Minnesota almost beat USC means little. North Dakota State beat Minn soundly. Does that mean North Dakota = USC? Heck no. Comparing teams by comparing who they've played is pointless. Minn has no play makers and will lose by a wide margin.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

Provided U-M prepares well and takes Minnesota seriously, U-M should win 31-14 or something along those lines. If they take the Gophers for granted, anything can happen. U-M has better talent than Minnesota but is not good enough to just show up and win.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 11:33 a.m.

Michigan is so busy looking ahead to Northwestern and the green gladiators, perhaps an upset is in the making. This is an emotional week for the Gophers who want to win one for illness stricken Coach Jerry Kill. Denard Robinson is once again proving he's NOT very good at passing the ball, and that could add up to a Minnesota victory. We also have to consider the possibility of football injuries taking place on the field - which may swing the momentum. Right now the Michigan players are basking in past glory (NOT concentrating on beating Minnesota). I question whether or not the Wolverines are truly ready to play BIG TEN CONFERENCE FOOTBALL. We shall see.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 5:35 a.m.

The only ones looking past the Gophers are the fans. As Hoke has said before, they will be taking it one game at a time. Im not sold that Minnesota is any better than an average MAC team.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 5:52 p.m.

This is one of the silliest, unsubstantiated comments I've ever read here.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

How do you know that the Michigan players "are basking in past glory (NOT concentrating on beating Minnesota)?" Are you some kind of clairvoiant? Perhaps you can see into the future, a sort of Nostradamus? I love all of the football "experts" on line. I guess everyone has a right to an opinion, even if it's wrong, and dumb.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:24 p.m.

Glass always half empty?? "It's Lindley and Hillman vs Shoelace. Me thinks the deck is stacked against us. This game will prove once and for all whether Michigan is for real, or merely a carbon copy of the last 3 seasons. Can the Wolverines hold together against a truly great team?"


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 10:27 a.m.

If your not good on the defensive front 7, Denard will eat you alive. 38-28 might be a little generous. I'd say UM played a better team last week. Sorry Gophers, this one will be ugly.