Throughout the season I'll chat with a media member who covers the opponent each week and bring you that interview in a Q&A format here in the Golden Gopher Football Blog. This week, I talked to Steve Sipple who covers the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the Lincoln Journal-Star.
GopherSports.com: What's the biggest storyline around the Husker program heading into this week's game?
Steve Sipple: The biggest storyline? Well, last week was a bye week. But it wasn't without news. Senior defensive tackle Jared Crick, the preseason Big Ten defensive player of the year, suffered a torn pectoral muscle against Ohio State, and Bo Pelini disclosed last week that Crick's season was over. To what degree will Crick's loss impact the defense? That was the key question.
GopherSports.com: How much does the loss of Jared Crick hurt the Blackshirts?
Steve Sipple: Going into the season, Nebraska felt very confident in its defense because it had excellent players on all three levels - Crick up front, Lavonte David at linebacker and Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback. Dennard is just now rounding into form after suffering a quadriceps injury in August. David has been excellent, but Nebraska needs another defender to raise his play to such a high level. Dennard may be heading in that direction. Crick obviously was a candidate to get to that level. He hadn't been explosive as many anticipated (22 tackles, one sack).
GopherSports.com: Who or what has Nebraska's attention as it prepares for the Gophers?
Steve Sipple: Two things stand out: Minnesota's propensity for ample movement on defense, and MarQueis Gray's mobility. Gray's mobility and athleticism definitely have the defense's attention.
GopherSports.com: Taylor Martinez is a household name around college football and Rex Burkhead is becoming one. Who are some other players on the Nebraska squad that stand out to you, but my fly a little under the national radar?
Steve Sipple: It's hard to imagine too many linebackers who are better than David. Dennard's injury set him back, but he's a surefire NFL corner. True freshman return man Ameer Abdullah is definitely someone to watch closely.
GopherSports.com: Are there any matchups or 'game-within-a-game' situations that are of particular interest to you this week?
Steve Sipple: Nebraska moved the ball in the second half against Ohio State largely because the Husker offensive line was effective in its man-to-man blocking scheme. Minnesota, however, uses a lot of movement defensively, making it difficult to employ a man-to-man scheme. The Huskers may have to settle for more zone blocking. Also, as NU assistant offensive line coach John Garrison pointed out, sometimes all that movement makes O-linemen play timidly. I'll watch for that.
GopherSports.com: How does Nebraska win this game?
Steve Sipple: Nebraska wins this game by showing up ready to play, by not overlooking a struggling Minnesota team.
GopherSports.com: How does Minnesota win this game?
Steve Sipple: Minnesota wins by playing a near-perfect game (no turnovers, few penalties and mental errors) and by forcing Nebraska into several turnovers. Minnesota must find a way to slow Nebraska's ground game, obviously.