As Big Ten play begins, Maryland opens up its conference slate against undefeated Minnesota. Our Golden Gophers expert is Jack Warrick, the football beat writer for The Minnesota Daily, who's given us insight on Maryland's upcoming opponent. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
How has P.J. Fleck changed the culture of Minnesota football thus far? Is there a different feeling around campus towards the team?
He has put more excitement and energy into the program. Everyone seems to think he is the guy to take the program to the next level. He has a lot of slogans such as "row the boat." You will never hear anyone with the football team say, "I'm feeling good today," the answer is always "I'm feeling ELITE" — another slogan the coach brought to the program.
There is for sure a different feel around campus since Fleck came here. People joke and use his sayings a lot, but it seems that the students have been won over by this young, high energy coach. He's a lot different than Tracy Claeys, who got fired after last season.
Who have been the biggest playmakers for the Golden Gophers this season?
The usual suspects are Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks — the two Gophers co-starting running backs. The offense is dominated by the run and these two get most of the touches. The next running back on the depth chart, Kobe McCrary, stepped up last week and had three touchdowns when those two were injured. Top receiver Tyler Johnson has been the best wideout for the Gophers and one of the best in the country, but he had a quiet game against Middle Tennessee.
On defense, Steven Richardson is the big man up front and will get double-teamed. Jonathan Celestin is a big-time linebacker who has had some giant plays this season, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. — the son of the three-time Pro Bowler of the same name — leads the backfield.
Minnesota is coming off its bye week. Was there anything the coaching staff was looking to improve on?
They didn't say anything in particular, but Fleck said the team went through some individual stuff for most of the first week and then started focusing on Maryland toward the end of last week. The bye week helped in that the two starting running backs will be back after recovering from the injuries.
Maryland will win this game if…
Max Bortenschlager can be effective for Maryland and the Minnesota hype turns out to be just from playing weak teams the first three weeks. The Terps quarterback situation is really the key. If Bortenschlager can figure it out and get the ball to those playmakers like D.J. Moore, they can beat the Gophers, who haven't had a real test this year — while Maryland has with that first win over Texas.
Minnesota will win this game if…
The two running backs who were injured last week come back at full speed and strength, and the defense keeps playing the way it has been playing — very well. They haven't given up any points in the second half this year.