Minnesota gets one month to figure out Rivers, Wolfpack

One month.
That’s how long Minnesota’s football team has to learn everything there is to know about North Carolina State, its opponent in the Micronpc.com Bowl on Dec. 28.
And according to Gophers coach Glen Mason, his team will be learning from scratch.
“I have not seen one iota of them,” Mason said last week after the bowl committee invited the Wolfpack to join Minnesota in southern Florida. “But I do know they like to throw the ball.”
In four weeks time, Mason won’t be the only one around here who knows North Carolina State likes put the ball in the air.
His players will have it tattooed in their heads, thanks to a young man by the name of Philip Rivers.
The 19-year-old quarterback — who will be a teenager for two more weeks — is a true freshman playing like a fifth-year senior.
In 2000, Rivers has thrown for an impressive 3,054 yards and 25 touchdowns, while being picked off just 10 times.
His play is the main reason the Wolfpack are 7-4 and heading to the postseason, much to the surprise and delight of North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato.
“When we got him into spring practice, we realized he had a lot of special qualities like leadership, poise and toughness,” Amato said. “But we didn’t think he’d be this far along at this point.”
Three of the lucky Gophers who will be worrying about Rivers the most grew up within spitting distance of Pro Player Stadium, where the bowl game will be played.
Defensive backs Trevis Graham, Clorenzo Griffin and Delvin Jones are among eight Minnesota players from the Miami area.
One of the others is cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, who broke his leg in the Indiana game, but might make it back in time for North Carolina State.
But as the season proved for the Gophers defense — with the exception of Purdue and Drew Brees — Minnesota wasn’t burned as badly in the air as they were on the ground.
The Gophers defense is ranked third in the Big Ten against the pass, but seventh against the run.
A stronger pass defense will benefit the Gophers, because North Carolina State will look to the air before going to the ground.
The Wolfpack’s leading rusher is Ray Robinson, who isn’t averaging much more than 70 yards a game on the ground.
But as Amato joked, North Carolina State may change its offensive game plan from an aerial assault to an option attack in hopes of hurting the Gophers.
When Mason heard the idea, all he could do was laugh.
“If you watch our defense against the option, you probably will go to the wishbone,” Mason said.

John R. Carter covers football and men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]