Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - When Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and his team previewed their 2012 schedule before the season kicked off, they circled two dates in particular. These dates in particular were keyed in on based off of performances from the year before. The dates circled? October 27th game against Purdue and the November 3rd game against Michigan.
One year ago, both of these match ups took the Gophers on the road, first to Ann Arbor and then a week later to West Lafayette. Both the 2011 Purdue Boilermakers and the 2011 Michigan Wolverines took it to a young and inexperienced Gophers football team. Michigan shut the Gophers out by a score of 58-0 and the next week Purdue pounded Minnesota 45-17.
Those performances led this year's Gophers to pick out those two match ups as two retribution games for their 2012 campaign.
Last week, the Gophers got began their retribution campaign getting payback against a struggling Purdue team. Behind freshman QB Philip Nelson, the Gophers pounded the Boilermakers by a score of 44-28 sending Purdue to a record of 3-5 on the season and 0-4 in the Big Ten. Seeking even more retribution, the Gophers immediately began preparations for this week's opponent, the Michigan Wolverines.
With the 58-0 drubbing fresh in the minds of many Gophers players, Minnesota is preparing to face a Michigan team with a tough defense and an offense that features one of the most dynamic players in college football today.
Last year Denard Robinson torched the Gophers for 51 yards rushing, 169 yards passing and three total touchdowns leading the Wolverines to their biggest blowout win of the season. This year, the Gophers are keying in on stopping Robinson as they believe if they are able to keep him in check, the Wolverines will become a very beatable team.
"He's electrifying," Jerry Kill said of Robinson at his weekly press conference. "There's nobody like him...there's not many people that say they'll challenge [Usain] Bolt in the 40, you know? He's that explosive of a kid."
Looking at his talent today, Robinson was under recruited coming out of high school. Standing only six-feet tall and weighing only 190 pounds out of high school, Robinson still managed to catch the eye of then Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez.
"I think Coach Rodriguez didn't care about his size," Kill said Tuesday. "He just cared about his athletic ability and they certainly made the right choice."
That athletic ability that Robinson has, will likely cause the Gophers some problems this weekend that they don't see on a regular basis and likely won't see again this season. With 6,250 yards passing and 49 TDs through the air, Robinson has also run for an additional 4,175 yards and 41 touchdowns on the ground. His elusiveness on the ground makes him a tough tackle and his 4.32 speed in the 40 yard dash makes him darn near impossible to catch if he breaks loose.
Normally, the Gophers will arrange their scout team to emulate what the opposing offense will bring to the field. Preparing for Michigan raises an interesting problem as nobody on the Gophers can replicate that sort of speed.
"I don't think you can [simulate it]," Kill said earlier this week. "There aren't many people like that around. I don't know how fast Percy Harvin is but it's like that. I mean, he gets out of there and it's over."
"You try to do everything you can to simulate it, but you're never going to simulate exactly what he is," Kill continued.
Freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner from Lakeville Minnesota was assigned the role of playing Robinson in this week's practices but still the coaches had to make some concessions to accurately represent Robinson's speed.
"Mitch can run," Kill said. "But he'll be the first one to tell you he don't run 4.3. It's hard to prepare for. I think it's more about your assignments and not giving him running lanes and making sure that you keep him inside the pocket, and you don't want to get out of a pass rush lane because he's going to duck in it."
It should be noted that Robinson missed much of last week's game for the Wolverines after injuring a nerve in his throwing arm. In two quarters of play, Michigan backup QB Russell Bellomy was only able to complete 3 of 16 passing for 38 yards in a 23-9 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. According to Michigan Coach Brady Hoake, Robinson should be ready to go for Saturday's game at TCF Bank Stadium. Still, anytime you have a mobile quarterback on the field, they are one bad hit away from an injury that could sideline them for the remainder.
Despite the Wolverines being favored to win by 12.5 points, Jerry Kill and the Gophers think that they have a good chance to walk away Saturday afternoon with the Little Brown Jug in their possession for the first time since 2005. By now, it's no secret that the Gophers path to victory or defeat will come through the legs of Denard Robinson.
Aj Mansour covers the Twins, Vikings, & Gopher Football for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions on this post or others in the designated comment box below. For Golden Gopher updates and breaking news follow Aj on Twitter @AjMansourKFAN