#34 Minnesota Football 2015 Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Overall Rank: #34
#5 Big Ten

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Coach Jerry Kill has done great things at Minnesota. After a 3-9 season in 2011, the Golden Gophers have gone to three straight bowl games and went into the last week of the 2014 season with a shot at winning the Big Ten West. They ended up losing to Wisconsin 34-24 and missing out on the Big Ten title game, but they will get another shot at it this year.

2014 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2014 Bowl: Citrus Bowl vs. Missouri (L 17-33)
Coach: Jerry Kill (25-26 at Minnesota, 152-99 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Mitch Leidner, QB, 452 yards
Passing: Mitch Leidner, QB, 1,798 yards
Receiving: K.J. Maye, WR, 298 yards
Tackles: De’Vondre Campbell, LB, 75
Sacks: Theiren Cockran, DE, 4.0
Interceptions: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, 5

Other Key Returnees: RB Berkley Edwards, OL Josh Campion, CB Eric Murray, S Damarius Travis, LB Jack Lynn, DB Jalen Myrick, P Pete Mortell

Key Losses: RB David Cobb, TE Maxx Williams, OL Zac Epping, OL Tommy Olson, LB Damien Wilson, S Cedric Thompson, DT Cameron Botticelli

Coach Kill’s success has come with a strong defense and this could be the best group he has had at Minnesota. Getting to the quarterback was not the Golden Gophers best defensive quality, but it should be better this year with the return of Theiren Cockran. An increased pass rush will make an already talented secondary even more dangerous. Cornerbacks Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray are two of the best in the conference. Boddy-Calhoun picked off five passes in 2014 and Murray added one. The opposition usually avoids Murray’s side of the field and that led to lots of opportunities for Boddy-Calhoun and he certainly took advantage of them. The Gophers do need to replace linebacker Damien Wilson, who led the team with 119 tackles, but De’Vondre Campbell is back and some youngsters played well in the spring.

Minnesota’s offense was pretty one-dimensional behind running back David Cobb. He rushed for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns and now Minnesota must find a replacement or two…or three. Rodrick Williams is the big bruising back and Berkley Edwards showed potential in limited carries as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Rodney Smith will be in the mix too. Cobb had 314 carries last year and Minnesota will stay on the ground as much as possible, so there are plenty of opportunities for all three backs. Minnesota is trying to change the focus of their passing game though and use a no-huddle offense with a short passing attack in an effort to get the ball out of quarterback Mitch Leidner’s hands more quickly. Short passing is nothing new to Minnesota. Last year departed tight end Maxx Williams easily led the team with 36 catches for 569 yards and eight touchdowns. Nobody else on the team caught more than 18 passes. K.J. Maye figures to play a more prominent role in the passing game and there are high hopes for redshirt freshman Jeff Jones. But the balance of the Minnesota offense hinges on Leidner. He can run the ball and make things happen, but he completed just 51.5 percent of his passes for 1,798 yards.

The Bottom Line:
Minnesota has a big opportunity to make a statement on day one of the season when they host TCU. The Gophers also get key Big Ten West rivals Nebraska and Wisconsin at home. They do have to go to Ohio State, but if everything goes well, this could be a 10-2 Minnesota team this year. If that is going to happen, Leidner will have to be more efficient and effective in the passing game and somebody will have to replace Cobb’s production. Minnesota’s defense will be able to keep games close, but it remains to be seen if the offense can win those games.

Projected Bowl: TaxSlayer Bowl

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 215.5 (28th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 141.8 (119, 13)
Total Offense: 357.3 (103, 9)
Scoring Offense: 28.4 (66, 6)
Rushing Defense: 174.7 (74, 8)
Pass Defense: 193.5 (18, 4)
Total Defense: 368.2 (39, 7)
Scoring Defense: 24.2 (33, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.77 (15, 2)
Sacks: 2.08 (68, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 1.62 (29, 4)

Madness 2016 NFL Draft Rankings:
#75 Eric Murray


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