2008 Insight Bowl Preview - Kansas vs. Minn.
Minnesota's Eric Decker & KU's Todd Reesing
Minnesota's Eric Decker & KU's Todd Reesing
Posted Dec 28, 2008

Kansas vs. Minnesota - The 2008 Insight Bowl Preview & Prediction

2008 Insight Bowl

Minnesota (7-5) vs. Kansas (7-5)

Dec. 31, 8:00 p.m. ET, NFL Network

$1.2 million   Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe AZ

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National Rankings
Minnesota Kansas
Total Offense
91st  322.25 ypg 22nd  431.25 ypg
Total Defense
74th  378.42 ypg 93rd  402.17 ypg
Scoring Offense
82nd  23.42 ppg 27th  32.67 ppg
Scoring Defense
49th  23.33 ppg 87th  29.50 ppg
Run Offense
104th  105.83 ypg 80th  128.92 ypg
Run Defense
70th  146.83 ypg 32nd  126.67 ypg
Pass Offense
57th  216.42 ypg 8th  302.33 ypg
Pass Defense
88th  231.58 ypg 113th  275.5ypg
Turnover Margin
10th  1.00 46th  0.25
N Illinois W 31-27
at B Green W 42-17
Montana St W 35-23
Fla Atlantic W 37-3
at Ohio St L 34-21
Indiana W 16-7
at Illinois W 27-20
at Purdue W 17-6
Nwestern L 24-17
Michigan L 29-6
at Wisc. L 35-32
Iowa L 55-0
Florida Int'l W 40-10
La Tech W 29-0
at USF L 37-34
SHSU W 38-14
at Iowa St W 35-33
Colorado W 30-14
at Oklahoma L 45-31
Texas Tech L 63-21
Kansas St W 52-31
at Nebraska L 45-35
Texas L 35-7
Missouri W 40-37
Position Ratings
relative to each other
M 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 5
2.5 RBs 3
3.5 Receivers 4
2.5 O Line 3
3.5 D Line 4
3.5 Linebackers 4
3 Secondary 2.5
4 Spec Teams 3
3.5 Coaching 4.5

By Pete Fiutak

The last time Minnesota played in a bowl game,
Texas Tech staged the greatest comeback in bowl history to win 44-41 in overtime. The collapse turned out to spark a complete change in Golden Gopher football with head coach Glen Mason being fired and Tim Brewster being brought in.   

Mason came to Minnesota from Kansas, where he sparked a few successful years of KU football, but there was nothing like last year’s 12-1 breakout season complete with an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech
. Mark Mangino’s team wasn’t able to build on the momentum with a disappointing 7-5 season, but for a program that’s not used to having a ton of success, going to bowl games is still big.

The 2007 Jayhawks were nearly flawless. Outside of a rough first half against Missouri, KU seemed to make every big play, answer every challenge, and do everything right. This year’s team wasn’t nearly as tight, didn’t have anywhere near the same running game, and failed to show the same magic … until the Missouri game.       
Coming full circle from a year before, the Jayhawks came though in the clutch when it couldn’t in the 2007 loss, beating the Tigers in a 40-37 last second thriller. It was a vital capper to an ugly second half of the season when the program got put in its place in losses to Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Texas. KU had an easy schedule in 2007, and it had to pay the piper this year getting the three killer teams from the South along with the road trip to Lincoln, and while the non-conference schedule, overall, wasn’t that bad, the one big chance against a name team, a trip to South Florida, ended in a disastrous 37-34 loss.
Kansas might have had a rough second half of the year, but that was nothing compared to the problems Minnesota had. Nearly flawless over the first half of the year on the way to a stunning 7-1 start, the Gophers were leading the nation in turnover margin thanks to an ultra-aggressive, big-hitting defense and a tight offense that took advantage of everything chance. With three home games in the final four, the opportunity was there for an epic year, there was even an article or two written about a possible Rose Bowl trip, and then came the throw.
In the final minute or regulation in a 17-17 battle against Northwestern, Minnesota chose to push the ball down the field rather than play it safe and go into overtime. An Adam Weber pass went off Eric Decker’s hands and into the arms of Northwestern’s Brendan Smith, who weaved his way to a 48-yard pick six with 12 seconds to play. In one horrendous play, Minnesota went from being a mistake-free team that managed to make almost all the big plays, to the 2007 version that went 2-10 and couldn’t do anything right. However, at least last year’s team was competitive in the losses.

The Northwestern loss was followed up by a bizarre 29-6 loss to Michigan, a hard-fought 35-32 loss to Wisconsin, and one of the worst games every played by a Big Ten team in a 55-0 home loss to Iowa with 101 yards of total offense. With a new stadium next year and a still-improving team, a win over Kansas would go a long way to healing the November wounds while allowing the program to start anew.

Last year’s Insight Bowl was a dud, Oklahoma State blew away Indiana, but three of the previous four had been decided by a touchdown or less. If Minnesota is the Minnesota that lost its mojo after the Northwestern loss, then get the remote ready for the other bowl games coming up later in the day. If KU comes in overconfident and starts sputtering, then this might be one of the bigger shockers for anyone who saw the Iowa-Minnesota game.
Players to watch: While Jake Sharp has done a good job of carrying the Kansas running game on his shoulders, the offense has revolved around junior QB Todd Reesing. As he goes, so go the Jayhawks. Banged up late, he gutted it out against Missouri to throw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in the fun shootout, but he also threw two interceptions. Having to press more this season, he threw 12 interceptions after giving away just seven in 2007. Five came in back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Texas Tech, but he wasn’t always as sharp throughout the year as he needed to be. Against a Minnesota defense that lives on coming up with big plays, Reesing has to take the plays that are there and he can’t force his throws. If he doesn’t throw any interceptions, Kansas will win.
On the season-turning pass play against Northwestern, Eric Decker injured his ankle and was never right for the rest of the regular season. He tried to play through it, but he was a shadow of his former self after dominating for the first two months of the year with three grabs in the final three games. A great baseball player, he has a decision to make this off-season on whether or not he wants to devote himself full-time to football, because his worth to the Gopher offense is immeasurable. With 73 catches for 895 yards and six touchdowns over the first nine games of the year, he made plays short, deep and everywhere in between. There wasn’t anyone to step up and replace his lost production.
The star of the Gopher defense is pass rushing terror Willie VanDeSteeg, a relentless playmaker who cranked out 9.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 49 tackles. He was one of the few players who did a good job during the November slide, and it’ll be his job to make sure Reesing has to hurry his throws. The KU pass protection is sketchy, at best, so this could be a big showcase for the senior.
While Reesing has been the Kansas offense, he wouldn’t have had the season he’s had without the help of a former quarterback. Three years ago, KU had a big-time battle for the starting quarterback gig with Kerry Meier throwing for 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and running for five scores in 2006. Reesing took over the job going into 2007, and the rest is history. Meier became a wide receiver/tight end with 26 catches for 274 yards and two scores last year, and then he blew up this year as he became more polished and more vital with 87 grabs for 932 yards and seven touchdowns. He fought through injuries to catch 14 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, against Missouri.

Kansas will win if... there aren’t any big turnovers. Minnesota picked off 14 passes in the first nine games, and didn’t come up with an interception in the final three losses. The defense forced 12 fumbles in the first eight games, and four in the final four, all losses. It’s no coincidence that three of the four forced fumbles came against Wisconsin, a tight 35-32 loss. Kansas hasn’t been bad when it comes to giving up the ball and it can’t give Minnesota any easy chances. If the turnover margin is even, Kansas shouldn’t have too much of a problem; it has more offensive firepower.  
Minnesota will win if
... Decker gets on a roll. Minnesota doesn’t have a running game, at least it didn’t at the end of the year, and there’s no need to pretend there will be any semblance of balance in this game. The KU secondary has given up a ton of yards, allowing over 275 per game, and it can be dinked and dunked on to death. Weber is a nice runner, but he scaled things back a bit after trying to do everything as a freshman. He needs to hit Decker early and often to keep the chains moving, show that the Iowa game, and all of November, was an aberration. The offense has to prove it can keep up with KU.
What will happen: Minnesota will play better than it had over the final few weeks of the season, but it won’t be nearly enough. The Kansas offense will get Sharp and the running game going early and Reesing to be efficient throughout. Decker will catch 10 passes, but the lack of a Gopher running game will prove costly.

Line: Kansas -10 ... CFN Prediction: Kansas 38 … Minnesota 17      

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