For the first time since 2009, the Minnesota football program qualified for a bowl last season, putting up an admirable fight versus Texas Tech before falling 34-31 in the Meineke Car Car Bowl in Houston. Jerry Kill’s squad will look to return to the post season and post a W for the first time since 2004. Penn State will visit TCF Bank Stadium for the second time on November 9th.
- Head Coach – Jerry Kill, 3rd season (9-13)
- 2012 Season – 6-7
- Key Departures – QB MarQueis Gray, CB Troy Stoudermire, LB Mike Rallis, CB Michael Carter, LB Keanon Cooper, DE D.L. Wilhite
- Key Returnees - QB Philip Nelson, RB Donnell Kirkwood, LT Ed Olson, RT Josh Campion, C Zac Epping, NT Ra’Shede Hageman, LB Aaron Hill, CB Derrick Wells,
Philip Nelson took over the starting job last year versus Wisconsin, and while he struggled with accuracy (49.3 completion percentage), he also showed flashes of the talent that made him a former Minnesota player of the year. The good news for the Gophers is with 4 starters back on the offensive line, and a talented featured back in Donnell Kirkwood, they should not have to rely heavily on Nelson under center.
Kirkwood is not what you would call a game breaker, but he’s a natural fit for the power rushing attack (hello Maryland-I!) the Gophers have employed, which lead to 926 yards and 6 scores for the junior from Florida. If Kirkwood isn’t enough for you, sophomore Rodrick Williams provides even more power out of the backfield, plus some speed. James Gillum should add one more option.
When the Gophers go to the air, junior Isaac Fruechte should be the top target. He only caught 19 passes a year ago, but did miss time down the stretch. On the other side of the field, Derrick Engel will represent Minnesota’s deep threat.
On the line, the Gophers will need to replace leading sacker D.L. Wilhite, but return an excellent nose tackle in Ra’Shede Hageman, who came up with 6 sacks a year ago. He will be joined by junior Cameron Botticielli on the interior. Michael Amaefula will take over for Wilhite, while Ben Perry, Therien Cockran and Alex Keith should also be a part of that rotation.
They must also overcome the loss of both Ralis and Cooper at linebacker, who lead the Gophers in tackles a year ago. Aaron Hill appears primed to step into a more featured roll. The challenge will be finding another outside linebacker, and someone to man the middle. Damien Wilson could be an option for the latter, while De’Vondre Campbell may end up manning the former. Both Wilson and Campbell come to the Gophers by way of the JUCO ranks. Senior James Manual will also compete for an outside spot.
The strength of the defense should be in the secondary, specifically cornerback Derrick Wells, who can also slide over to safety in a pinch. If Wells shifts to safety, Jeremy Baltazar will see more time at corner.
With a solid identity established on offense around the power running game, plus the return of so much experience on the line and at tailback, expectations have cautiously raised around the Minnesota program. That rushing attack should allow the Gophers to protect an average at best quarterback position, and help a younger defense find its way by keeping the ball out of the oppositions hands. It’s not hard to see 5 wins on the Gophers schedule, and with several toss-up games, the odds would seem to be in favor of getting to at least 6, and returning to the post season.
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