1. Eric Decker. The all-conference selection set a school record with 76 catches that went for 925 yards. He's a two sport athlete (baseball) with a ton of athletic ability and the tools to be a game breaker with the ball in the air or in his hands. Kansas' struggles against the pass are well-chronicled and Decker could make them pay if they're not ready for him.
Will it hurt us? Probably – at least to an extent. A while back we touched on his production and what it means to the offense, so we know they'll try to get him the ball. However, he's also coming off arthroscopic knee surgery as well as a few other injuries, so his effectiveness may be limited. Perhaps even more important is his lack of help. Whereas Kansas has 2 guys with his type of numbers, Minnesota doesn't have another one in his same stratosphere. Ideally, this will mean that we're able to key on him and make other guys prove to us that they can handle his workload. But the fact remains that as long as he's on the field, even if he isn't making catches he's having an effect because of the attention we'll be giving him.
2. Defensive line. As we've all seen countless times over the past couple years, the best way to disrupt our offense or any other spread is to rush the passer. Particularly this year as we break in RS freshman tackles, speed rushers off the edge have proven difficult to contain. It just so happens that the Gopher d-line is pretty formidable. Specifically, they rank 25th in the nation in accumulating 2.5 sacks/game. Which just so happens to be the exact same amount as Texas Tech and Nebraska – each of which gave us a lot of trouble
Will it hurt us? You'd have to think so. Keeping with the comparison of Nebraska and Tech, it's reasonable to assume we'll have some trouble with them. Priority #1 will be containing William VanDeSteeg, their 6'4 256 senior DE. A pass rushing specialist VanDeSteeg has a very impressive 18 tackles for loss. 9.5 of those tackles came on sacks totaling 69 yards lost. In all he has 49 tackles and he's mixed in a few batted balls, QB hurries and a blocked kick so we're going to have our hands full. Mix in Garrett Brown and his 3 sacks and 7 TFLs from the DT position and you've got yourself a solid defensive line capable of making life tough on Todd.
3. Turnovers. As should come as no surprise, Minnesota has had a great year in regards to TO margin. They're currently tied for 12th nationally with a 1.0 margin having taken 30 away (16 F, 14 Int) while only giving up 18 of their own (10 F, 8 Int). Like any over-achieving team, ball security and takeaways are as important as anything else and Minnesota is no different.
Will it hurt us? It sure could. We haven't been terrible this year, but we haven't been great either having caused 24 (9 F, 15 Int) and lost 21 (9 F, 12 Int) for a .25 margin (t-46th). The most concerning number there is the 21. Causing 24 is pretty solid (2/game), but losing 21 of our own means we haven't valued the ball nearly enough this year. And against a ball-hawking team like Minnesota that likes to pressure the QB, this is cause for concern and could easily be the deciding factor.
4. Pass defense. Or lack thereof. While I think our pass defense numbers are inflated due to competition and we've certainly looked better the last two games, it's still a concern. Minnesota certainly isn't OU. Hell, they're probably not even K-State (offensively). But they're not terrible either. Through the air they've averaged 6.8 yards/attempt. Coincidentally, that's exactly what we've given up - with that number rising to 11/completion.
Will it hurt us? It sure will. Weber has completed 63% of his passes and while Decker is his favorite target, he has six other with double figure catches, led by Simmons with 32 and Kuznia for 31. He'll be spreading the ball around and if we're not sound with our assignments and getting some pressure he's plenty capable of moving the chains and putting up points. Now, with that said, I think we're also plenty capable of shutting them down. They've only averaged about 16 first downs per game (and allowed 19) against a rather questionable schedule. For comparison, we've averaged 23 (and allowed 21) against one of the toughest slates in the country. We also average a full yard more per play. Unless you really think Big XII defenses are awful (I don't) that is an enormous difference that shouldn't be ignored.
5. The Element of Surprise. Obviously the staff and players will have seen a great deal more of the Gophers than myself. But they're still an unknown in more ways than one. First off, they seem to be changing their offense which could make preparation tough. And secondly, they're playing with house money. They opened as double-digit underdogs and had all of one win last year – just getting here is a big step in the right direction, so the pressure rests squarely on the Jayhawks.
Will it hurt us? Not immensely. I do think they'll try some trick plays of some sort and make a concerted effort to run more than they have as a way of ball control. But while the pressure may be on us, it's still just the Insight Bowl. Most of these guys played in the Orange Bowl a year ago and handled the demands admirably, so I wouldn't expect them to flounder in Tempe. The bigger concern here would be over-confidence, but given that we're still not well-respected nationally, I'd be much more apt to believe that they'll come out wanting to make a statement.
Note for those making the trip, I found this little nugget over at CFN. I'm not sure whether or not 150,000 people in one place is a good thing or not, but use this information as you will.
The Insight Fiesta Bowl Block Party is a New Year's Eve celebration in downtown Tempe that annually attracts 150,000 people and more than 40 bands on several stages. The fans from the four teams competing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Insight Bowl are able to enjoy the event, and the Insight Bowl has been held in the afternoon on December 31 just down the street in Sun Devil Stadium. The event has a national headliner each year, including the Goo Goo Dolls, Billy Idol, Barenaked Ladies, LeAnn Rimes, Hootie & The Blowfish and Live, to name a few. Legendary band Styx will perform at this year's event. The Block Party has been named one of the top ten places in the nation to ring in the New Year by USA Today, and "The Place to Party" by The Sporting News.