Minnesota Overview: Big Ten West's Disappointment
Ricky: Minnesota was one of the favorites to win the Big Ten West this offseason. The Golden Gophers were coming off an eight-win season and their only legitimate threat appeared to be Wisconsin. We’re at the end of October now, and they’ve limped to a 4-3, 1-2 record. Things aren’t getting any easier, with Michigan coming to town Saturday and Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin looming. Zach, what has contributed to Minnesota falling back to the Big Ten’s cellar?
Zach: I actually picked Minnesota to win the Big Ten West, and I continued that belief after their close defeat to TCU at home during the season opener. But after wins coming with a three point difference against both Colorado State, Kent State and Ohio, followed by an embarrassing shutout by Northwestern has the Golden Gophers searching for answers. Turnovers have been an issue for Minnesota, who sits in the cellar of the FBS in that category. The Golden Gophers also need to find a consistent running game, as they’ve rushed for less than 100 yards in two of the past three games. Let’s talk about their offense, how does it stack up against Michigan’s defense?
Ricky: I think this is a very favorable matchup for Michigan’s defense. Minnesota is a subpar offensive team, ranking 110th in scoring offense (20.4 points/game, 85th in rushing offense (156.71 yards/game) and 95th in passing offense (194.3 yards/game) amongst FBS teams. As you pointed out, life after David Cobb hasn’t been easy for the running game. Second-year freshman Rodney Smith has led the Golden Gophers thus far, totaling 66.71 rushing yards per game. There’s a familiar face at quarterback in Mitch Leidner, who ranks near the bottom statistically amongst Big Ten starters but is just above Michigan’s Jake Rudock in passing yards per game. We talked Michigan’s defense vs. Minnesota’s offense. What do you expect from Rudock and company against the Golden Gophers’ D?
Zach: Michigan has an above average offense, nothing speculator but better than I think most expected. When the Wolverines won five straight games before losing to Michigan State, they averaged 226.4 rushing yards on the ground per game, but faltered to 62-yards against the Spartans. That will need to change this weekend, and it will fall into De’Veon Smith’s hands, after Jim Harbaugh announced that Drake Johnson will sit out with an undisclosed injury. Smith totaled just 2.4 yards a carry two weeks ago. Do you believe Smith will booster an impact on Saturday or will the struggle continue?
Ricky: I believe Smith will bounce back against Minnesota. He’s a physical back and that style wasn’t going to work against Michigan State’s run defense. Johnson’s continued absence is key, though, as I see him as a perfect compliment to Smith in the backfield. Once healthy, Michigan should be able to take advantage of that pair. I’m intrigued to see how Ty Isaac and Derrick Green play against the Golden Gophers. Isaac recorded two carries against Michigan State while Green had zero. Zach, as you know Michigan has struggled on the road since the Lloyd Carr years. This is a night game in Minneapolis for the Little Brown Jug. There’s a lot of meaning on this matchup for Minnesota. Can Michigan end its road woes Saturday against a somewhat quality team?
Recap: Nebraska 48, Minnesota 25 (Oct. 17)
A few months ago, some thought Minnesota’s game against Nebraska would have Big Ten West implications. Well, it did, just not at the top.
Behind strong quarterback play from Tommy Armstrong Jr., the Cornhuskers pummelled Minnesota 48-25 on Oct. 17. Armstrong completed 18-for-26 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
Minnesota fell behind 24-14 at halftime and weren’t able to chip away at the deficit in the second half. Quarterback Mitch Leidner finished 26-for-40 passing for 301 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
One week after piling 326 rushing yards on Purdue, the Gophers’ running game fell back to earth. They rushed for 65 yards on 26 carries, and their two rushing touchdowns came from non-running backs Leidner and wide receiver KJ Maye.
Minnesota couldn’t get its running game going, and couldn’t stop Nebraska’s. Huskers running back Terrell Newby rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
Key Players To Watch
In the past three contests, Leidner has thrown four interceptions, adding on to the argument Minnesota turnover the ball over is a serious question.