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September 5, 2012

Behind Enemy Lines: New Hampshire

The University of Minnesota will kickoff on Saturday against FCS opponent New Hampshire. New Hampshire is coming off a 38-17 victory in their season opener against Holy Cross. Al Pike from the Fosters Daily Democrat joined GopherIllustrated.com to help Gopher fans learn more about the Wildcats.

LT: Minnesota fans know little to nothing about New Hampshire football. What can you tell us to get to know them a little bit better?

AP: UNH has been one of the most consistent teams in the country over the last eight years. They've made the FCS playoffs eight years in a row, the longest active streak in the nation, although they haven't made it past the quarterfinals. They lost in the second round last year, 26-25, at Montana State on a blocked extra point with six seconds left. They've been ranked in the top 25 nationally for 113 straight weeks, the longest streak by far in the CAA and second-longest in the country to Montana.

They have a blue-collar approach under a blue-collar coach in Sean McDonnell, who played for UNH in the 1970s. Former quarterback Ricky Santos won the Walter Payton Award as the nation's best offensive player in 2005. Former wideout David Ball is the all-time leading receiver in FCS (formerly Division I-AA) history and broke Jerry Rice's mark of 51 career touchdown receptions with 58.

LT: New Hampshire had a very good quarterback in CAA Offensive Player of the Year Kevin Decker last season. It appears that redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich started game one, what can Gopher fans expect to see out of him? Who else should Gopher fans keep an eye on?

AP: Sean Goldrich did indeed make his first career start against Holy Cross. He's a dual threat. He passed for 193 yards and also led the Wildcats in rushing with 71 yards. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over, which is paramount in the Wildcats' spread option attack as is good decision-making.

Receivers Joey Orlando, the son of former NFL player Bo Orlando, and R.J. Harris combined for 19 catches, 204 yards and three TDs against Holy Cross. Both can go deep and both can turn short completions into long gains. The ground game is a three-pronged attack with Chris Setian, Nico Steriti and Jimmy Owens. They operate behind a veteran offensive line.

LT: Senior linebacker Matt Evans won the Buck Buchanan award last year as the national defensive player of the year, just how good is he? What do you believe are the strengths and weaknesses of the Wildcat defense?

AP: Evans is an instinctive player who plays with a high motor sideline to sideline and has a nose for the ball. He led the CAA in tackles last year and was second nationally in the FCS. Barring injury, he'll be UNH's all-time leading tackler by the time he graduates. It's incumbent on the defensive line, anchored by Jared Smith who is on the Senior Bowl watch list, to keep Evans clean so he and fellow linebacker Alan Buzbee can make plays.

The linebackers are the strength of the defense along with free safety Chris Beranger. The secondary was bolstered by the addition of versatile senior Dontra Peters, who led the team in rushing the past two seasons. The original plan was to play Peters both ways, but if the rushing game produces like it did against Holy Cross (279 yards) and no one gets hurt, he'll likely remain at cornerback full-time. He had an interception last week in his first start at corner.

LT: Will Matt Evans and the rest of the Wildcat defense be able to slow down MarQueis Gray and the Gopher offense?

AP: That's tough to say. UNH had a rough time defensively last season, ranking last in the CAA in the four major defensive categories. They didn't tackle well and consequently gave up too many big plays. They're not built to be a shut-down defense. They will give up yardage, that's just the way they play. They rely on team speed, pursuit to the ball and creating turnovers. They forced three against Holy Cross.

LT: The past two seasons UNH has lost to FBS opponents Pittsburgh (2011) and Toledo (2012). What are your thoughts on the possible outcome against Minnesota?

AP: Before losing those two games, UNH had won five straight against FBS opponents, including a victory at Northwestern. So they are capable of pulling the upset. I don't think they'll beat the Gophers, but I think they'll make it competitive if they hold onto the ball. Minnesota wins, 30-21. Typically a tough road team, UNH seems to enjoy playing these games in big venues, especially coming from a place where the players have dubbed their facilities The Dungeon.


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