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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Could the Cornhuskers Help Further the Argument to Fire Jerry Kill?

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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Husker Locker had the opportunity to sit down with Michael, a passionate Minnesota Golden Gophers fan and creator of (Warning: Language can/will be for those of the mature variety). While the site and his feelings towards coach Kill are controversial, we felt that such a zealous individual would be ideal in gaining perspective on Nebraska's upcoming renewal of this now-annual contest.
HL: What’s your connection with Golden Gopher sports?
M: Growing up in Minnesota fostered a fondness for the Gophers even though I’m far too young to remember the Gophers’ glory years—then again everyone is far too young to remember the Gophers’ glory years--and moving from the state when I was still in grade school actually made the bond stronger as I sought to derive some sense of personal identity from the teams of my home state.
Jim Wacker was the coach when I was a child so that identity was largely non-existent defense, critical turnovers and losing to Michigan by 40. Fortunately, things have changed.
HL: You're obviously not a fan of Jerry Kill’s hiring, but why is that?
M: I hold no personal animosity towards the man and he is most likely a moderate step up from Tim Brewster. However, considering the significant investments the University has made in terms of an on campus stadium, new practice facilities and other program improvements it didn’t make sense to me to go cheap on a coach once again when they were in a position to hire so many other better candidates.
It’s not even a question of bringing in a “name” candidate. There were intriguing coordinators out there like (former Maryland offensive coordinator and current Vanderbilt head coach) James Franklin that would have had a chance to inject positivity into the program and grow with it. Kill just feels like a bad fit for the program. He’s a small time coach in a big time conference.
HL: How did Minnesota go from hanging tough with Southern California earlier in the year to getting blown out by Purdue?
M: USC is a fiercely mediocre football team whose flaws are sometimes masked by a few special skill position players. The linebacking corps used to be the strength of their defense and they lost all their starters there after the 2009 season. The following year their secondary experienced a similar exodus.
They’ve bled a ton of top end talent out of the program without replenishing it in the same way they have in recent years. USC is depending on a significant number of underclassmen for key contributions out of necessity rather than talent pressing for playing time.
Despite all that USC hardly broke a sweat heading into the half up 19-3. In the second half they seemed to let up either from taking the Gophers lightly or maybe just from wearing down from lack of depth. Ultimately, the Gophers capitalized on two USC turnovers to make the game close but didn’t have the talent to close.
Since then the Gophers, by Kill’s own admission, have gotten slower. These are well-conditioned athletes that started hitting their stride at the very end of last season, so their sudden break down seems curious. Max Shortell basically told Kill he’d hit a wall physically. I think a lot of this has to do with overtraining on the part of the Gopher staff.
When Kill came in he promised to push the kids hard with up-tempo practices and that philosophy seems to be wearing the team out.

HL: It seems like this Gopher staff can’t quite pin down whom they want under center between Marqueis Gray and Max Shortell. Is there any particular reason for this?
M: Gray has suffered some health problems this year after injuring his toe against USC. As Husker fans probably remember with Ahman Green in 1996, turf toe can linger for weeks or even months. However, the staff was already planning on splitting time between the two before the injury ever occurred.
My guess is they don’t believe in Gray but with Shortell failing to differentiate himself from Gray as a passer, and in fact being a significantly worse passer in third down situations, it’s hard to justify his continued playing time in light of the rushing advantage Gray has over him.
From a work ethic and attitude perspective, Gray is everything you could ask for in a player. The staff’s sense of urgency to push him aside for a true freshman is one of the more perplexing things about this season.
HL: Do you think a different Minnesota team will show up fresh off of a bye week?
M: If I’d seen any sign of improvement on a game-to-game basis I might think there was a chance of this, but if anything Minnesota has grown even more woeful as the season has worn on.
I don’t have much confidence in the Gophers’ staff and their ability to inspire confidence in their players or to construct a game plan that maximizes their strengths. Hopefully Kill et al. will be smart enough to let the players rest over the bye. Nobody has their legs under them especially at the lines.
HL: On to this weekend’s game, what does Nebraska have to do well if nothing else to win this Saturday?
M: Nebraska is vastly superior along the lines and at the skill positions, so it really comes down to fundamentals. The closest thing Minnesota has to a weapon on offense is MarQueis Gray and his rushing ability.
He’s at his most dangerous when plays break down and the opposing defense breaks contain. Nebraska needs to stay home on defense and not break weak side containment. If they can do that bottling up Minnesota’s offense won’t pose much of a threat.
The mismatch is even worse between Nebraska’s offense and Minnesota’s defense. The only real talent along the lines heading into this year, defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, was cut loose in the off-season by Kill.
They have a line that doesn’t rush the passer or contain the run, a group of linebackers that are slow to react and can’t shed blocks and a secondary that plays like it’s terrified of the ball. As long as Taylor Martinez doesn’t make any unforced errors they should be able to simply overpower the Gophers.

HL: Are there any particular areas that you feel Nebraska could exploit especially well?
M: The Gophers are exceptionally vulnerable down the seams due to poor linebacker play and questionable safeties. One of their starting linebackers, Lamonte Edwards, entered the season as a halfback. If Nebraska can hit them in the mouth early down the seams Claeys will revert into blitzing and create huge opportunities down the field if Nebraska can pick up Minnesota’s blitzes.
In the run game they’re weak on the edges due to ponderous linebacker play and ends that are very aggressive about getting up the field but are too easily rerouted around the quarterback. Runs to the outside could prove huge early on and if Minnesota does start blitzing there will be massive opportunities in the draw, counter and screen games.
HL: Despite the lopsided losses, Minnesota must be able to do a few things well. What does Nebraska need to be able to defend against/account for?
M: Wide receiver Marcus Jones is an elusive return man with great acceleration and impressive speed once he gets outside. If not for a holding call against Michigan he would have scored touchdowns on a 90-plus-yard kickoff return in back to back games. He doesn’t get enough help for Nebraska to have to worry about squibbing it, but any over-pursuit could be dangerous.
The other wildcard is true freshman running back David Cobb who sat out the Purdue game with a hamstring injury. He’s the most talented back on the roster and makes quick decisions and even quicker cuts. If he’s healthy and can contribute he could help build up a play action game with Gray.
HL: What has to happen for the Gophers to have a chance at pulling off the upset?
M: You never say never in college football, certainly not in world where Appalachian State can beat Michigan in the Big House, but this is about as long as long shots get between two major conference programs.
USC helped keep Minnesota in the season opener with unforced errors, but I don’t think Taylor Martinez will put the ball in the air enough to create enough turnover opportunities to make it a possibility. With nearly 250 yards per game on the ground all Martinez has to do is hand it off to Burkhead and tuck it and run now and again.
HL: Finally, what individual statements do you have for both Minnesota and Nebraska as they clash for the first time since 1990?
M: Minnesota: Keep the ball on the ground and do the best you can to shorten the game.
Nebraska: I’m not going to say hang 60-plus on the Gophers to further expose Kill because that would make me a bad fan, but hang 60-plus on the Gophers to expose Kill.
Welcome to the Big Ten, we are the maroon carpet you will be striding into the conference on.
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