This will be my last chance to speak with you as tomorrow I head for sunny Tempe in hopes of witnessing a third straight bowl win. And while I'm very disappointed in my output for this game (all linked below), I must confess that it's entirely out of ignorance. I just don't know a lot about them. And quite frankly, there isn't much available out there to help me. So ultimately, it seems that everything comes back to my assumption that Kansas is a couple rungs above the Gophers in every facet of the game, save a d-line pass rush.
Their two wins over bowl teams came during the non-conference, at home against Northern Illinois (31-27) and Florida Atlantic (37-3); the latter in much more convincing fashion. Both of these are fine wins, as was their road victory at Bowling Green (42-17). I can't say the same for a 12 point win over Montana State, but wins are wins and it lead to a 4-0 start.
They kicked off their Big 11 season in the Horseshoe and though the score doesn't look bad (34-21), it seems as if they were manhandled before Aosu let up and allowed two late meaningless TDs bringing it from 34-6 to the ultimately respectable final above.
They then ran off three straight wins (their last of the season) with the latter two coming on the road and ultimately leading to a brief stint in the polls. The first came over Indiana (3-9) by a score of 16-7. I don't think there's any way for me to be less impressed by a conference win. I'll tip my cap for the next two, though. Neither Illinois (5-7) nor Purdue (4-8) were anything formidable, but both had some potential – and conference road wins should never be shrugged off. They won the first (27-20) despite being outgained by 238 yards (550 to 312) simply because Juice Williams couldn't hold onto the ball (3 TOs), one of which was a fumble returned for the decisive score. Turnovers were again the difference as they won in West Lafayette by a score of 17-6. This was the game in which Curtis Painter hurt his shoulder which led to a mid-season semi-benching. I won't take away from the win, but as you've surely surmised Minnesota's real wins have come solely because of an opportunistic defense.
As mentioned, they would not win again. They closed the season with losses to Northwestern (24-17), Michigan (29-6), Wisconsin (35-32) and by being utterly humiliated at the hands of Iowa (55-0). Not coincidentally, they didn't win the turnover battle in any of them. However, they were pretty much without Eric Decker (their Kerry Meier) in all but the Northwestern loss and that subtraction shouldn't be underestimated. While the absence of a single player shouldn't lead to the kind of falloff they saw (especially against Michigan) it also can't be taken too lightly. I label him their Kerry Meier for his "safety blanket" like receptions and the many injuries he's fought through (not to mention his apparent do-everything type athletic acumen), but he's also their Dezmon Briscoe in that he's the only one to go over 100 yards in a game (though Kuznia had 98 once). So not only were they losing their possession receiver, but they were losing their big play guy as well. In a highly skewed passing offense, that type of loss is catastrophic.
From what I understand he'll be healthy and ready to go on Wednesday, which means we should expect a competent Gopher offense. I'm also to understand that Minnesota has installed an entirely new power running game to complement their passing attack. In doing so, they've moved all their linemen down from 2-point into 3-point stances and have had to make changes accordingly with personnel. Some may disagree with what Brewster and new line coach/running coordinator, Tim Davis, have done. I'm not one of them. For one thing, even the best passing offenses need a complimentary running game. And Minnesota didn't have one, despite not having a sterling passing attack either. Secondly, they likely understand that they won't be able to stop Kansas. Obviously they'll be scheming to do so and planning on generating enough pressure to force some turnovers, but we've fought through both of those things most games and still usually scored 30+ points. So unless they plan on tearing through our defense like Tech did, they want to elicit some type of ball control to keep us off the field and rest their defense accordingly. And lastly, they're rebuilding. These fifteen extra practices are a coach's dream for a young team and Brewster clearly realized that it would benefit his team not only in the short term, but also in preparing for spring practices to start working on a running game. As we mentioned above, every important victory came because of an opportunistic defense rather than their semi-touted offense. If you improve the latter and maintain the former, you take the next step.
So what do I see happening?
Honestly, I'd expect something like the Fort Worth Bowl in 2005. With Swanson at quarterback and that defense in place, we were much better than Fort Worth Bowl quality. Despite similar records, those just weren't similar teams. And we proved it emphatically. The same is true this year. Our defensive stats are horrific, but they've faced several of the best offenses in the nation. Sure, we left wins on the field in South Florida and Lincoln, but our other three losses came to top-5 caliber teams. If you think our 7-5 is the same as Minnesota's, then you probably aren't reading this blog. And while that guarantees nothing, it sure lets you think that this is Kansas' to lose.
In the bowl picks, I had the Hawks winning 38-20. Thus far, I haven't really changed my mind. Kansas has to do three things: 1) Come to play – no matter what players say, the opponent makes a difference in how you approach the game and they need to take it much more seriously than I am. 2) Protect Todd – Minnesota's strength is their d-line and our offensive line has had its problems; keeping Todd upright sure helps put the points on the board. 3) Take care of the ball – this likely goes hand-in-hand with # 2, but it's worth mentioning anyway. It's often the difference for us and it always is for them. All else equal, we're a much better team than Minnesota, but turnovers have a way of evening the playing field.
In the end I don't see complete domination, but rather a consistent display of supremacy. Sort of like the Texas game, only this time we're on the right end. And I don't mean that it will be a 35-7 type win. Instead, I mean that we'll win every quarter. They're going to make some plays. And they're going to stop us occasionally. But ultimately, the gap is just too large. I see us steadily increasing our lead throughout until we're eventually up by a comfortable enough margin to coast to victory over the last ten minutes or so.
- First Glance at the Gophers
- Bowl Picks
- Gophers Changing Things Up
- Five Reasons Kansas Could Lose
- Five Reasons Kansas Could Win