We have freaking lost 4 games in a row against this coach that I have a great disdain for, and nothing would get the Matt Rhule era off to a better start than a win and to beat this freaking loser.
Gone is steady Tanner Morgan from this Gophers offense, and Athan Kaliakmanis who they refer to as the “Greek Gunslinger” takes over for him. He is PJ Flecks first real mobile QB and the first in Minneapolis since 2016. If many remember, we actually weren’t doing too terrible against Minnesota until Morgan left the game and Kaliakmanis came in and gave us fits with his legs. Morgan had 5 rushing attempts for 1 yard, and all of a sudden the backup came in against us and had 3 rushing attempts for 27 yards. DC White loves playing against Morgan-type QBs, so how we do against a mobile QB will be a big deal. But I love our athleticism defensively to help counter the mobility. With the questions surrounding Kaliakmanis it reminds me a bit about the questions Gopher fans had about Morgan in 2019 who inevitably led them to 11 wins. Kind of scary.
Minnesota also loses their all-time leading rusher in Mo Ibrahim. Ibrahim was the B1G leader in rushing, rushing touchdowns, and carries last year, and the Gophers leaned on him heavily behind that massive OL (more later). Their backup was Trey Potts, who transferred to Penn State even though he was the person who was slated to start this year. So the backfield will look much different this year. Losing these two, the Gophers hit the portal and brought in Sean Tyler from Western Michigan who was 5th in the MAC in rushing yards. Tyler is a speed back that reminds me a bit of Rahmir Johnson. Behind him is redshirt freshman Zach Evans who played sparingly last year in an effort to maintain his redshirt status. They also have a 6th year senior that really hasn’t played since 2018 for them at RB, but he gives them some depth. The centerpiece of the Gophers recruiting class and their top rated player, was Darius Taylor who was nearly a consensus 4 star recruit. So they will also have him to lean on but he is a true freshman.
The Gophers have a deep WR room coming back, and with Ibrahim gone, I believe they will try to utilize them to get more balance in their offense. Chris Autman-Bell is one of their top receivers, but he got injured in only 3 games for them last year, so let’s see what he looks like game 1. On the other side of him is Daniel Jackson who missed the first two games of the season last year, but led the team with 37 receptions for 500+ yards and 5 touchdowns once Autman-Bell was gone. Highlights of him are in my 3-3-5 link down below. Dylan Wright and Michael Brown-Stephens were poised to have good years for the Gophers, but both transferred out. Corey Crooms transfers in to help bolster the room from Western Michigan where he had 814 yards and will be a very shifty slot receiver for them. They also bring in Elijah Spencer from Charlotte who had 85 catches and over 1300 yards in 2 seasons for them, he was the freshman of the year in their conference in 2021.
Back at TE that we’ve mentioned in the 3-3-5 article is Brevyn Spann-Ford who had 42 receptions for 497 yards, earning 3rd team all-conference honors. Nick Kallerup will also see a ton of time for the Gophers as their second TE, a thin group in 2022 that was lucky to stay healthy.
The offensive line has somehow turned into a strength of PJ Fleck teams, as Barrett Ruud once told me that the Gophers have the biggest and most impressive looking line in the B1G. Gone are 3 starters from their OL last year, as they lose their 2nd round NFL draft pick center John Michael Schmitz. They also lose both starting guards Alex Ruschmeyer and Chuck Filiaga. They do return their 13 game starter at LT Aiereontae Ersery, so they should be good there. They also have their starting RT back, but he will move to RG this year in Quinn Carroll. So I think they feel good about 2 spots there. Their 2nd round draft pick sat out the bowl game to prepare for the draft, and Nathan Boe started in his place which seems like the logical choice at center against the Cornhuskers. They basically have position battles at LG and RT, but as always they’ll be trotting some massive humans that are very well coached out there.
The defensive line was bound to take a stepback in 2022 after their breakout defense in 2021. They rotated close to a dozen guys in, but never really materialized into greatness (or goodness?). They were hoping for people to step up and no one really did. They lose DE Thomas Rush (12 starts) and DT Trill Carter (13 starts) along with a handful of rotational backups. The 2022 group was decently stout against the run but just couldn’t figure out how to get pressure on an opposing offense who passed the ball. Logan-Redding at DE and Baugh at DT will more than likely start, and again they will be the ones to help aid in the rush defense. Striggow was a part-time starter last year but led the team in sacks with 3.5 and will more than likely move into a full-time starter role. They also bring in Chris Collins at DE who was at North Carolina last year in an attempt to get pressure on the quarterback.
The Gophers seem to be pretty weak at linebacker, where they only return one starter in Cody Lindenberg but he was their #2 tackler last year. Mariano Sori-Marin who was a four year starter and the teams leading tackler is gone. Braelen Oliver who was #7 in tackles for the Gophers entered the portal, and Donald Willis who had 5 starts entered the portal as well. That leaves a redshirt freshman with no experience to start at the SAM LB spot. As a constant theme, they went to the transfer portal and Western Michigan again to bring in Ryan Selig who had 136 tackles for the Broncos to bolster their defense.
In the defensive backfield, the Gophers lose a starting corner who was the #6 tackler on the team and a starting safety who was the #3 tackler on the team, both were NFL draft picks. So you can’t just replace guys like that. They return a safety and a cornerback, and bring in Tyler Bride from Georgia Southern to help bolster their secondary as their primary defense is a 4-2-5.
Minnesota is going to shift to a bit more passing after losing Ibrahim and 3 stud linemen. It makes sense with the WRs they have returning. While I have no doubt they will still try to run the ball to establish the line of scrimmage and play ball control, I expect a lot more RPO and quick passes to the TEs than years prior. Minnesota was 115th in the nation passing last year, while I don’t think they’ll go full air raid, they may go from around 20 attempts a game to closer to 30.
Defensively, they lose quite a bit and could struggle early while getting new faces acclimated. But their defense was 7th in total defense and 3rd in scoring defense a year ago. They won’t just forget how to play on that side of the ball.
I think both teams are going to try and control the clock while Fleck figures out his offense and Rhule figures out his team. The new running clock on first downs is going to make this game seem like it’s going to fly by, and will limit the amount of opportunities each team has. Hopefully Nebraska can hop out to a quick lead and try to hold it.
I think this comes down to two things. First, can our OL keep a very underwhelming DL from last year and depleted LB crew away from Sims and control the line of scrimmage? Second, what does their OL that lost a lot of pieces do against our DL and LBs? It all starts up front, as all games do.
While it wouldn’t shock me if Rhule wins, as i’ve had two players tell me they are going to Minneapolis and coming home with a ‘W’, I just don’t think we are quite ready yet.
Husker Prop Bets I would Take:
I wanted the unders but it’s down to 43 now
If you are interested in watching some film on how Minnesota may attack our 3-3-5, I did an analysis of Minnesota vs Syracuse in the bowl game this summer when we launched our t-shirt site:
Nothing is required, just helps with site fees