The Gophers' morale is high after two straight wins to open the season, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday in his weekly press conference, but there's a wariness too. The team realizes, he said, that the schedule is about to get tougher.
This week, that means a matchup with Western Michigan, a Mid-American Conference team that lost to Illinois 24-7 in its opener, but bounced back with a rout of FCS-level Eastern Illinois, 52-21, last week.
In particular, Kill said, the Broncos present a challenge to the Gophers' offense, because Saturday will be the first time they face a 3-4 defense, a more flexible and unpredictable setup, with four linebackers who can drop into coverage or move up to the line of scrimmage, than Minnesota has taken on yet.
"That's a whole different deal, which we haven't see here," Kill said. "So that will be a challenge for us."
And in particular, for quarterback MarQueis Gray and the Gophers' corps of freshmen and sophomore receivers. The group has produced yardage beyond what the coaching staff had hoped, considering its inexperience, Kill said, but now will need to react to a series of different defenses.
"We're going to go against cover-one, we're going to get press coverage, we're going to get people in our face," Kill said of the variety of defenses the Broncos have displayed in their first two games. "So we'll see how we react to that."
On other points, Kill said:
-- Senior receiver Brandon Green is obviously hampered by a lingering knee injury, which is affecting his speed.
-- He's pleased with the pass rush, particularly since the Gophers have pressured opposing quarterbacks without needing linebackers to blitz. They've done it mostly by rotating "eight or nine guys out there, to get fresh bodies," he said.
-- Cornerbacks Troy Stoudermire and Michael Carter played much better against New Hampshire than they did in Las Vegas. "They had a good ballgame on Saturday," Kill said. "And then you throw the (younger) kids in there, and we feel like that group is certainly improved."
-- Christian Elder is now the starting punter, shoring up one position that had been a problem for some time.