Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented by Bridgestone

Presented by Bridgestone
Minnesota (7-4) vs. Virginia (6-5)
December 30, 2005 - 12:00 p.m. ET
ESPN - Nashville, Tenn.

Minnesota Website Minnesota Roster Minnesota Schedule Minnesota Statistics
Virginia Website Virginia Roster Virginia Schedule Virginia Statistics

Minnesota will be making the familiar trip to Nashville on December 30 for the Music City Bowl.  It will be the Gophers third trip to the home of country music in the past four years, and they will be looking for their third win.  A win would also mark the third consecutive bowl victory for Minnesota.  The fourth straight bowl appearance is also a school record.

Coach Glen Mason in his ninth year on the sidelines for the Gophers has led his team to six bowl games in the past seven years, compiling a record of 7-4 this season.  Meanwhile Al Groh and his staff have steered the Cavaliers to a 6-5 record and have also appeared in six bowl games over the past seven years.  Last year in the MPC Computers Bowl, Virginia lost an overtime heartbreaker to Fresno State.  The team, which finished in fifth place in the Coastal Division of the ACC, will have to prepare for Minnesota sans both their offensive and defensive coordinators along with their associate head coach, as all three have taken head coaching jobs elsewhere.

Virginia posted a 1-4 record on the road in 2005, while the Gophers were 3-2 away from home, including a win at Michigan.

Virginia Bowl History:  6-9
Minnesota Bowl History:  4-5

Minnesota on Offense...
A trio of All-Americans have led the Gopher offense to being the second-ranked rushing attack in the country this season.  Junior running back and third-team All-American Laurence Maroney has rushed for 1,355 yards during the regular season and ran in for 10 touchdowns.  Joining Maroney with over 1,000 yards is sophomore running back Gary Russell, who also had 18 touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.  Paving the way for the pair is repeat first-team All-American center Greg Eslinger, who is a large part of Minnesota's success on the ground.  Eslinger was rewarded with the Outland Trophy for the nation's best interior lineman, and the Rimington Award for the nation's best center.  Rounding out the All-American trio is offensive guard Mark Setterstorm who was vital in helping the offense put up just under 500 yards per game, a new Minnesota record. 
Junior quarterback Brian Cupito threw for 2,267 yards and 15 touchdowns in his second year as a starter.  His offensive line allowed only three sacks and very little pressure, which allowed Cupito to complete almost 60 percent of his passes.  Overall, the Gophers scored 36.2 points per game and outscored their opponents by more than a touchdown per contest.  They also averaged 6.4 yards per offensive play and scored 52 touchdowns.

Pts./ Game
Pts. Allowed/ Game
Time of Possession
Yds Allowed/ Game
Yds/ Game
Yds Allowed/ Game
Completion %

Virginia on offense...
The Cavaliers rank fifth in the ACC in scoring, averaging 26 points per game, but struggled in four games, in which they didn't break the 20-point mark. The Cavaliers running back-by-committee approach, which features four running backs, ranked in the middle of the conference in nearly every rushing class. The crew averages only 91 yards per game on the ground. Each back has carried the ball more than 50 times but none has more than 600 yards. Leading the way, Wali Lundi has ran for 558 yards and eight touchdowns. Backing him up, Jason Snelling has 325 yards and two scores.

Quarterback Marques Hagans has thrown 2,134 yards on 188-of-311 passing, but he also carries the burden of 12 interceptions against his 13 touchdowns. Hagans' height (5'10") and stationary style of play creates opportunities for aggressive defenses to break up passing opportunities. Despite his lack of scrambling ability, Hagans is third on the team in rushing with 284 yards and three touchdowns.
Minnesota on Defense...
Defensively for the Gophers, John Pawielski led the way with 83 tackles, but three of his teammates also contributed over 50 and six others totalled more than 40 to share the responsibility.  Mike Sherels recovered two fumbles to lead the defense while Pawielski, Keith Lipka and Anthony Montgomery, a second-team All-Big Ten honoree had one each.    The defense forced 12 turnovers in all, and 54 tackles for loss including 14 sacks. 
Minnesota gave up only 18 points to a strong Michigan State offense two games ago and will hope to reoplicate that effort against Virginia.  John Shevlin and Dominic Jones stepped up for the Gophers in that game and had 10 and eight tackles, respectively, while four others added seven.

Virginia on defense...
Under Groh, the Cavaliers have been known for their intense defensive pressure. This year, the unit yielded only 22.5 points per game but surrendered 4048 yards. The often permeable line will have quite a battle with Minnesota's colossal offensive line and aggressive running game.

Junior linebacker Kai Parham leads the Cavaliers with tackles (89), tackles for a loss (12.5) and sacks (8.5), and will need to be the same great player in this bowl game for Virginia to be successful. Also baring the brunt of the linebacking corps attack, Brennan Schmidt has 58 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss of 38 yards.

The Cavaliers' secondary has an advantage on its opponents in interceptions, picking 16 passes on the year to its adversaries' total of 12, but the Cavaliers have only been able to create 65 yards out of their interceptions this year. Marcus Hamilton leads the unit with five picks for 28 yards. Chris Long has made 37 stops and broken up six passes. 

Keys to the Game...
The biggest factor in this year's Music City match up is whether Maroney and Russell, Minnesota's two 1,000-yard rushers, can take advantage of the Cavaliers' inconsistent rushing defense that ranks 59th in the country. The Cavaliers' gave up 250 and 333 yards in their most lopsided losses of the season to Maryland and No. 7 Virginia Tech, respectively. If Setterstrom and Eslinger can clear the path they have been making for the Gophers, they could put up big numbers against the Cavs.

On the other side of the ball, the Gophers' defense has given up an average of 407 yards per game. In 2005, the Gophers have watched opposing quarterbacks average almost 250 yards in the air against them. Against a somewhat Cavaliers' offense, the Gophers will have to step up the pressure on Hagans to secure victory.

Minnesota fans have grown fairly accustomed to Nashville over the past couple years, and the Gophers are hoping they can add another Music City Bowl trophy to their trophy case. Consistency and experience have been the key for Minnesota's success, pounding out its typical offensive production, so having a familiar backdrop for this postseason appearance certainly favors the Gophers.