Gophers take uncommon approach against Penn State


Nov 2, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Allen Robinson (8) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Illinois 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

After nine games of the 2013 Minnesota Golden Gophers football season, the identity of head coach Jerry Kill’s team is starting to shine through. Heading into the home matchup against the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Gophers are taking an “uncommon” approach to winning in the Big Ten.

Feeling better after an intense battle with epilepsy recently,  Kill will spend is fourth straight week in the press box watching the Golden Gophers. Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will roam the sidelines calling the defensive plays and keeping a close eye on the demeanor of the team.

Things have gone well so far with Kill watching from the confines of the coaches booth. Wins over Northwestern, Nebraska, and Indiana have put Minnesota in position for a chance at winning the Legends Division this season.

The Nittany Lions are the next “biggest game of the year” for the Maroon and Gold. Minnesota is a two and a half point favorite at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday and are overall pretty healthy before kick off.

Last week against Indiana, Minnesota lost starting center Jon Christenson to a leg injury for the rest of the season. Junior offensive lineman Tommy Olson came in for relief of Christenson in Bloomington and will get the start against Penn State. Behind him on the depth chart is starting left guard Zac Epping.

Here is the rest of the Minnesota offensive depth chart.

Left Tackle

58 – Ed Olson 6-7 309 R-Sr. Mahtomedi, Minn. (Mahtomedi HS)

78 – Ben Lauer 6-6 302 R-Fr. Plymouth, Minn. (Wayzata HS)

Left Guard

52 – Zac Epping 6-2 321 R-Jr. Kenosha, Wis. (Tremper HS)

73 – Joe Bjorklund 6-5 288 R-So. Rosemount, Minn. (Rosemount HS)


53 – Tommy Olson 6-4 301 Jr. Mahtomedi, Minn. (Mahtomedi HS)

52 – Zac Epping 6-2 321 R-Jr. Kenosha, Wis. (Tremper HS)

Right Guard

64 – Caleb Bak 6-3 302 R-Jr. Columbia Heights, Minn. (Concordia Academy)

77 – Foster Bush 6-5 303 R-So. Menasha, Wis. (Menasha HS)

Right Tackle

65 – Josh Campion 6-5 326 R-So. Fergus Falls, Minn. (Fork Union Military Academy)

79 – Jonah Pirsig 6-9 308 R-Fr. Blue Earth, Minn. (Blue Earth Area HS)


9 – Philip Nelson 6-2 215 So. Mankato, Minn. (Mankato West HS)

7 – Mitch Leidner 6-4 233 R-Fr. Lakeville, Minn. (Lakeville South HS)


27 – David Cobb 5-11 225 Jr. Killeen, Texas (Ellison HS)

20 – Donnell Kirkwood 5-10 233 R-Jr. Delray Beach, Fla. (Atlantic)


35 – Rodrick Williams Jr. 5-11 235 So. Lewisville, Texas (Lewisville HS)


30 – Mike Henry 6-1 231 R-Sr. Mahtomedi, Minn. (Mahtomedi HS)


88 – Maxx Williams 6-4 254 R-Fr. Waconia, Minn. (Waconia HS)


83 – Drew Goodger 6-5 265 So. Shawnee Mission, Kan. (Northwest HS)

85 – Lincoln Plsek 6-4 265 So. Waco, Texas (Reicher HS)


14 – Isaac Fruechte 6-3 204 R-Jr. Caledonia, Minn. (Rochester CTC)

1 – KJ Maye 5-10 197 So. Mobile, Ala. (Murphy HS)


18 – Derrick Engel 6-2 187 R-Sr. Chaska, Minn. (Winona State)

17 – Logan Hutton 6-1 181 R-Jr. La Marque, Texas (La Marque HS)


4 – Donovahn Jones 6-3 190 Fr. Stockbridge, Ga. (Dutchtown HS)

82 – Drew Wolitarsky 6-3 208 Fr. Santa Clarita, Calif. (Canyon County HS)

On defense, Minnesota will be going up against some dangerous weapons on the Nittany Lions offense. The combination of junior wide receiver Allen Robinson and freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg have rolled in the Big Ten Conference this year and are leading the way in many statistical categories.

The Gophers will have their hands full slowing down Robinson, who averages over eight catches a game for over 130 yards per game — both lead the conference. Hackenberg averages over 250 yards passing per game to lead the Big Ten and Minnesota will need to look back to wins over San Jose State and Indiana to remember how to defend against high-powered throwing offenses.

Here is the Minnesota defensive depth chart for the game against Penn State.


98 – Michael Amaefula 6-2 244 Jr. Arlington, Texas (Bowie HS)

95 – Hank Ekpe 6-5 251 Fr. Lewisville, Texas (Lewisville HS)


46 – Cameron Botticelli 6-5 290 R-Jr. Milwaukee, Wis. (Marquette University HS)

92 – Roland Johnson 6-1 286 Sr. Camden, S.C. (Butler CC)


99 – Ra’Shede Hageman 6-6 311 R-Sr. Minneapolis, Minn. (Washburn HS)

97 – Scott Ekpe 6-4 281 So. Lewisville, Texas (Lewisville HS)


55 – Theiren Cockran 6-6 238 R-So. Homestead, Fla. (Homestead HS)

91 – Alex Keith 6-3 237 So. Columbia, Mo. (Hickman HS)

Strongside Linebacker

57 – Aaron Hill 6-2 231 R-Sr. St. Charles, Mo. (Lutheran HS)

56 – Nick Rallis 5-11 227 R-Fr. Edina, Minn. (Edina HS)

Middle Linebacker

5 – Damien Wilson 6-2 254 Jr. Gloster, Miss. (Jones County CC)

50 – Jack Lynn 6-3 234 R-Fr. Lake Zurich, Ill. (Lake Zurich HS)

Weakside Linebacker

9 – James Manuel 6-2 225 Sr. Indianapolis, Ind. (Warren Central HS)

26 – De’Vondre Campbell 6-5 225 R-So. Fort Myers, Fla. (Hutchinson CC)


31 – Eric Murray 6-0 194 So. Milwaukee, Wis. (Riverside University HS)

3 – Martez Shabazz 5-11 172 Sr. DeSoto, Texas (Trinity Valley CC)


11 – Antonio Johnson 6-0 207 So. Cleveland, Ohio (Shaker Heights HS)

6 – Grayson Levine 5-11 202 Jr. Eden Prairie, Minn. (Eden Prairie HS)


7 – Damarius Travis 6-2 208 So. Pensacola, Fla. (Pensacola HS)

2 – Cedric Thompson 5-10 211 Jr. Calipatria, Calif. (Calipatria HS)


21 – Brock Vereen 6-0 202 Sr. Valencia, Calif. (Valencia HS)

13 – Derrick Wells 6-0 206 Jr. Lehigh Acres, Fla. (Lehigh HS)

Movement of players around the offense and defense to create depth as well as to create some misdirection with their attack, has worked in recent weeks and should be no different against head coach Bill O’Brien’s Nittany Lions. Minnesota will need to control the football and look to dominate the time of possession battle.

With cool, windy conditions in Minneapolis and a near capacity crowd at TCF Bank Stadium, the Golden Gophers hope they have a recipe to stay “uncommon” and shock national football experts with their play.

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