Let’s hear from Blake Ruane
Thursday means it is blogger Q&A time. This week we hear from Blake Ruane, who is the expert on Gopher football over at The Daily Gopher, the long time Minnesota SB Nation site:
T-Mill: Minnesota has been absolutely dominant through four games. Who is playing better, the offense or defense?
Blake: Genuinely a tough call but I think I have to go with the defense. The first-team defense has yet to allow a touchdown. Minnesota has allowed 24 points as a team this season but 21 of them have come in the fourth quarter against the second-team defense. It’s a very athletic defense and they play fast. They can read and react quickly and even recover quickly if they’re out of position.
The defense has been sound at every level, but the secondary has been a cut above the rest. It’s a veteran group, aside from sophomore cornerback Justin Walley, that has lived up to expectations. Michigan State has one of the most talented receiving corps in the Big Ten, including All-American receiver Jayden Reed, and the Gophers smothered them.
T-Mill: Is Minnesota’s start due to improvement, a weaker schedule, or both?
Blake: I think the level of competition is certainly a factor. New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and Colorado are not good football teams. Jury’s out on Michigan State at this point, though they were technically a Top 10 team a couple weeks ago. With that said, I would caution against overlooking the way the Gophers have dominated each of those opponents.
Just last year, Minnesota beat Miami (Ohio) by five points and lost to Bowling Green. This is not a program that has been known to stroll through the non-conference schedule, regardless of who they’re facing. Something about this team feels different, and that blowout win over Michigan State on the road felt like this program puting the Big Ten West on notice.
T-Mill: What has gotten into Tanner Morgan?
Blake: He is operating an offense tailored to his strengths. To be blunt, previous offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford Jr. was a bad hire. The passing game cratered during his two seasons with the program because his offensive schemes were ineffective and he was very inflexible in how he adapted his offense to the team personnel and how opposing defenses would game plan against him.
Since being reunited with former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca, Morgan seems like a new man. He has never looked more comfortable going through his progressions. Under Sanford, he’d frequently lock in on a receiver and telegraph his throws. Under Ciarrocca, he is completing passes to his third or fourth progressions at times. Morgans looks poised in the pocket and has not panicked under pressure. He is also making difficult throws into tight windows.
It’s the type of play you’d expect from a quarterback making his 44th consecutive start this Saturday.
T-Mill: Mo Ibrahim looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. Did he come back stronger?
Blake: Honestly? I think he might have. I was one of the people encouraging people to temper their expectations for Ibrahim coming into this season as he worked his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. But he looks better than ever. His vision and patience are still elite, and he continues to run through tackles and pick up yards after contact. I don’t envy anyone who has to try to tackle him.
T-Mill: If Aidan O’Connell is a no go on Saturday how does the Minnesota defense handle a very different QB in Austin Burton?
Blake: I’m sure Minnesota is preparing for both quarterbacks, but I don’t know if the game plans for each of them will be markedly different. Priority one will be creating as much confusion as possible, especially up front. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi takes great pride in disguising the Gophers’ pass rush with his pre-snap looks and he was in Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne’s head for much of last week’s game. Minnesota already plays a lot of zone coverage in the secondary and I expect that will continue against Purdue, especially if Burton is starting, since he is the more mobile quarterback.
T-Mill: What is your pick?
Blake: I’m going with Minnesota. I think Purdue will be a tough out, especially if O’Connell plays, but Fleck’s had Brohm’s number for a while now and the Gophers just have the better team this year. I’ve got Minnesota winning by double digits, though that may not be the smartest bet considering the last three contests between these two teams have been one-score games.