By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
December 31, 2008 * 5:30 * NFL Network
Sun Devil Stadium * Tempe, Arizona
The Jayhawks kicked off the season 5-1, but soon stumbled across a murderer’s row of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Texas in a five-week stretch (all losses). As fast as the Gophers (7-5) went from instant overachievers (4-0) to January 1st bowl contenders (7-1), they became a team in a tail-spin after losing their last four. Nevertheless, posting a 7-5 record was a significant achievement after their abysmal 1-11 2007 campaign.
When the Gophers Have the Ball
Minnesota’s run under Coach Tim Brewster this year certainly drifted towards disappointment with their November woes. The struggles can be attributed to the loss of, junior receiver Eric Decker. Decker was the fulcrum of the Minnesota offense leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, yards from scrimmage and receiving touchdowns. Crisp route running and soft hands provided him the tools to be almost more productive than the next three receivers combined. Rushing has not been a particular strong suit, but the Gophers piece-meal ground game gained just under 1,000 yards (11 touchdowns) between a freshman DeLeon Eskridge and quarterback Adam Weber. “Quick strike” won’t be the descriptor for the Gophers’ offense – it will be more of a ball control offense in this one.
When the Jayhawks Have the Ball
Contrary to their opponents, Kansas has had little trouble scoring often, averaging 33 points per game. It comes as little surprise that another Big 12 team churned out massive yards and scoring behind the arm of their gunslinger, two-year starter Todd Reesing. Quite simply, when Reesing is on, the Jayhawks have a good chance of winning – in six of their seven victories he has averaged 330 yards and 2.67 touchdowns per contest. Reesing’s two main targets are Kerry Meier (hauling in 87 receptions, seven touchdowns) and big-play receiver Dezmon Briscoe (15.5 yards/catch, 12 touchdowns). When they are not throwing the ball all over the field, which has accounted for 70 percent of their total yards from scrimmage, Jake Sharp and Angus Quigley moved the ball on the ground at five yards per carry and combined for 14 scores.
Minnesota has shown they can contend in the Big Ten conference, especially when their defense hands the ball over to the offense. Weber to Decker has been the catalyst for the Gophers’ success on offense, but if Decker played for Kansas, he would have finished third on the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Kansas’ Reesing finished eighth in the FBS in yards, 12th in touchdowns (28) and 21st in rating (146). The ability of the Jayhawks to pass the ball coupled with Minnesota’s anemic passing defense (in a rush-oriented Big Ten conference no less) ranked 88th in the FBS (232 yards/game) it seems unfair to think this game will be close. Furthermore, the Gophers’ bread-and-butter is winning the turnover battle, but Kansas is good at protecting it. Not much is leaning in Minnesota’s favor. The Gophers must hope Reesing continues to be interception-prone (7th worst in quarterbacks with at least 15 attempts/game with 12 interceptions) to have any hope.
Kansas Jayhawks (7-5, 4-4)
Pass: Todd Reesing – 3,575 yards, 28 TDs
Run: Jake Sharp – 796 yards, 11 TDs
Catch: Dezmon Briscoe – 1,206 yards, 12 TDs
Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-5, 3-5)
Pass: Adam Weber – 2,585 yards, 14 TDs
Run: DeLeon Eskridge – 652 yards, 7 TDs
Catch: Eric Decker – 925 yards, 6 TDs
The CFI Prediction: Kansas 46, Minnesota 27
Photo Credit: Jeff Jacobsen/Kansas Athletics, University of Minnesota Athletic Communications