2008 Opponent Preview: Minnesota

Minnesota Offense:
Adam Weber had a very good redshirt freshman season, though it wasn’t quite impressive enough to get much attention in the preseason. He is expected to start again for the Gophers. Backing him up will be JuCo transfer David Pittman and true freshman Marquies Gray.


Minnesota Quarterbacks Passing 2007
Name Comp Att % Yds TD Int Yds/Att
Adam Weber 258 449 57.46 2895 24 19 6.45
Tony Mortensen 3 4 75.00 34 0 0 8.50
Minnesota Quarterbacks Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Adam Weber 146 617 5 4.23

Minnesota is very inexperienced in the QB ranks, and an injury to Weber could be devestating (especially with the head coach’s son transferring away from Minnesota). Weber looks to build upon his good season last year, and Gopher fans would like him to make better decisions, as he threw 19 interceptions last year.

Amir Pinnix, starter for most of the year, is gone. True sophomore Duane Bennett also got plenty of opportunity to start, and he will be the full-timer this year. Junior Jay Thomas will play behind him. Freshmen will provide depth and get experience for the future.


Minnesota Running Backs Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Amir Pinnix 106 563 5 5.31
Duane Bennett 107 442 3 4.13
Jay Thomas 40 215 1 5.38
Justin Valentine (FB) 14 42 1 3.00
Damola Ogundipe 1 0 0 0.00
Minnesota Running Backs Receiving 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Duane Bennett 18 145 1 8.06
Jay Thomas 7 81 0 11.57
Amir Pinnix 11 66 1 6.00
Justin Valentine (FB) 8 54 0 6.75

Pinnix was the team’s leading RB rusher, but QB Adam Weber actually led the entire team. By the end of the year, Duane Bennett had replaced Pinnix as the starter. Bennett and Jay Thomas will carry the majority of the load, with members of Tim Brewster’s ridiculous recruiting class (especially for a coach who went 1-11 in his first year) filling in where needed. These players are expected to be a better fit for the spread than Pinnix may have been.

White Eric Decker has been described by Brewster as “one of the top receivers in the country,” and the redshirt junior, who led the team in receiving last year, will again be the #1 option. Ernie Wheelwirght graduated, and true sophomores Tray Herndon (#3 in recieving last year) and Ralph Spry will likely be the second and third receivers. The tight end position (which Brewster coached for the Denver Broncos until becoming the headman in the Twin Cities) will be manned by senior Jack Simmons, who was the starter last year despite never reaching full health. As is the case with any position on a crappy team that has a good incoming recruiting class, expect freshmen to challenge for several positions.


Minnesota Receivers 2007
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Eric Decker 67 909 9 13.57
Ernest Wheelwright 66 775 9 11.74
Tray Herndon 22 235 1 10.68
Ralph Spry 23 226 3 9.83
Jack Simmons (TE) 20 202 0 10.10
Nick Tow-Arnett (TE) 10 149 0 14.90
Mike Chambers 6 54 0 9.00
Marcus Sherels 3 46 1 15.33
Michael Kasten 1 7 0 7.00
Minnesota Receivers Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Mike Chambers 1 38 0 38.00
Eric Decker 3 22 0 7.33
Ernest Wheelwright 1 15 0 15.00
Harold Howell 2 15 0 7.50
Ralph Spry 5 8 0 1.60

Brewster’s breathless adoration of Decker may have been a bit much for a player who didn’t even garner all-conference honors last year
. Wheelwright was a big target for the Gophers (both literally and in terms of catches), but replacing him with more spread-friendly players may help out Minnesota’s offense.

At left tackle, redshirt junior Jason Meinke will be the starter, despite having very limited experience. Next to him will be Nedward Tavale, a redshirt junior who started at right guard his freshman year, and about half the games at left guard last year. Center will be manned by Jeff Tow-Arnett, a redshirt junior whose playing time has primarily come at guard so far. Right guard will be manned by returning starter DJ Burris, a redshirt sophomore. Right tackle will be Dominic Alford, a redshirt sophomore who started the last five games at that position last year.

Minnesota will be starting a fairly young line. That could give Gophers fans nightmares, especially with a nearly-green left tackle protecting Adam Weber’s blindside. The spread offense may be able to neutralize a bit of this weakness, though not all of it. The tackles and center are spaced by relatively experienced guards, and Alford actually got some pretty good experience last year.

Offensive Analysis:
Minnesota loses some important personnel, especially in the line, and that may hurt the offense a bit this year. Of course, the offense wasn’t the problem with Minnesota last year, as they put up pretty decent yardage. The main issue on this side of the ball was the turnover. A more experienced Weber may lead the Gophers to some pretty decent numbers this year as well.

Minnesota Defense:

Defensive Line:
True junior Lee Campbell and reshirt senior Willie VanDeSteeg are returning starters at defensive end. In the middle, junior Eric Small will start, after being a part-timer last year. Garrett Brown, the other tackle, is the freshest one of the bunch, as the junior only had 3 starts last year. JuCo transfers Tim McGee and Cedric McKinley figure to play a prominent role as backup DTs, while former Tennessee Volunteer Raymond Henderson, a redshirt junior, will be the main backup at DE.


Minnesota Defensive Line 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sacks
Lee Campbell 40 6 2
Willie VanDeSteeg 29 8 1
Garrett Brown 24 1 1
Todd Meisel 20 1.5 0
Allen Neel 18 0.5 0
Eric Small 18 2.5 1
Derrick Onwachi 16 3 2
Matt Stommes 12 2 0
Raymond Henderson 3 0 0

The defensive line for Minnesota didn’t do much last year, which may have been the source of the defense’s problems stopping people. Only 7 sacks for the entire unit was a complete disappointment, especially considering VanDeSteeg’s all-Big Ten second team performance the previous year. The line adds experience from both the JuCo ranks and Tennessee, and they return most of their starters. This figures to be an improved unit, though the degree of that improvement remains to be seen.

MLB Deon Hightower returns after being second on the entire team in tackles last year. Steve Davis, also a senior, returns as well. Despite not being among the top tacklers last year, this was primarily due to injury. He will take back over on the strong side. Juco transfer Rex Sharpe was in Minneapolis for spring practice, and is expected to be the starter on the weakside. The Gophers don’t have a ton of depth at linebacker, especially with the sad story of top recruit Sam Maresh, who will be unable to play do to a heart defect.


Minnesota Linebackers 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sack
Deon Hightower 70 9.5 0
John Shevlin 63 3.5 0
Mike Sherels 55 7.5 2.5
Steve Davis 54 3 0.5
Kevin Mannion 34 0 0
Nathan Triplett 9 .5 0
Thomas Hennessey 7 0 0
John Hoese 4 0 0
Andre Tate 1 0 0

Davis’s injury could be used as some sort of excuse for the reason that Minnesota struggled so badly on defense. However, there must be more to it than that. Replacing to departing starters with a former starter and a junior college player is better than replacing them with completely green players, and Minnesota will gladly make the best of the circumstance.

Defensive Backs:
Two starters appear to be set in stone in the secondary, and luckily for the Gophers, they aren’t the ones who are returning starters. With Brewster revealing at Big Ten media days that JC transfers Traye Simmons and Tremaine Brock are expected to start at corner and free safety, respectively, the other two positions will likely be left to the incumbent starters, sophomores Ryan Collado at corner and Kyle Theret (who started half the Minnesota games last year) at SS. Dominique Barber is the key player leaving from the secondary.


Minnesota Defensive Backs 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sack
Dominique Barber 100 5.5 3
Ryan Collado 51 2 0
Jamal Harris 44 0.5 0
Kyle Theret 39 2 0
Duran Cooley 34 1 0
Curtis Thomas 28 1 0
Desi Steib 26 1 0
William Brody 12 0 0
Barrett Moen 4 0 0
Daron Love 4 0 0
Michael McKelton 3 0 0
Otis Hudson 2 0.5 0

Brewster’s strategy of getting immediate help with junior college players may be able to pay off in the short term. However, these players are likely to be academic risks as well, so he needs to be careful in future classes. The secondary doesn’t appear to be facing that much of a dropoff (despite losing the team’s leading tackler).

Defensive Analysis:
Minnesota’s defense was god-awful last year, and they have pretty much nowhere to go but up. With an infusion of junior college talent, they may be able to do just that. Brewtser has been critical of effort and talent, rather than scheme in the offseason, so the great recruiting class should bring some immediate help.

Special Teams:

Kicker Jason Giannini was replaced by Joel Monroe las year, and Monroe will return for his senior year. Punter Justin Kucek will be a 5th-year senior.


Minnesota Kicking 2007
Name FGM Att % Long XPM Att %
Joel Monroe 7 9 77.78 54 28 28 100.00
Jason Giannini 1 4 25.00 33 9 9 100.00
Minnesota Punting 2007
Name Punts Yds Avg
Justin Kucek 62 2645 42.66

Giannini was the 2005 and ’06, but when he single-handedly lost the Miami game with 3 missed field goals, he was pulled for Monroe who was really, really good. Kucek is a pretty good punter, too.

Overall Analysis:
Tim Brewster is nothing if not optimistic, and his belief in talent over scheme should mean that nothing much will change for the Gophers right away, until some of the talent they bring in starts contributing all the time. The offense should improve slightly from last year, with similar production but fewer turnovers (the Gophers were almost bottom of the barrel in 2007). Minnesota wasn’t really as bad as the record seems, with 3 overtime losses, and only 4 of their losses (Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, and… Indiana?) coming by more than a pair of scores. Expect slight, but noticeable improvement from Minnesota in 2008.

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