Penn State’s Prey 2019: Minnesota Gophers

The last time Penn State played the Gophers in 2016, it was an overtime victory that changed the entire season for the Lions. Hopefully Penn State, who will be coming off of a BYE week, can handle the Gophers in regulation this time around.

The Minnesota Gophers (7-6, 3-6 BIG) are a dark horse pick to win the Big Ten West. They could be in the hunt for the entire season, but it will be the month of November that will determine the Gophers’ fate. Minnesota hosts Penn State, travels to Iowa, travels to Northwestern, and hosts Wisconsin to end the season.

P.J. Fleck continues to row the Gophers in the right direction and should be excited about the amount of production that is returning on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Minnesota is returning as many starters as anybody and in the Big Ten West, so anything is possible.

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Defense (26.5 PPG, Returning Starters: 6)

Its amazing what one firing can do for a defense. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith was fired in November after poor performances all year long. Enter Joe Rossi who made an immediate impact the following week when Minnesota beat Wisconsin.

Rossi’s best secret weapon is defensive end, Carter Coughlin (110 tackles, 18 sacks, 5 FFs). He will need to be a menace for this defense that did lose its two leading tacklers. Next to him will be Notre Dame-transfer Micah Dew-Treadway.

At the linebacker position expect Thomas Rush, Thomas Barber, and Kamal Martin to get the starts. This group will have to be productive against the run especially later in the season if they want to beat the run-heavy Big Ten West teams.

In the secondary, Antoine Winfield Jr. (89 tackles,  2 INTs,  7 pass breakups) is back after a foot injury kept him out for majority of last season. He will have to grow up fast because the redshirt sophomore is one of the most experienced  defensive backs. Terell Smith (43 tackles, 1 INT, 9 pass breakups) will be the No.1 corner but is still young as well.

Offense (28.9 PPG, Returning Starters: 9)

There is a lot to be excited about when it comes to the Minnesota offense because there is a lot returning. Zack Annexstad (52%, 1,277 yards, 9 TDs, 7 INTs) was set to compete for his starting job but is now injured. Therefore, Tanner Morgan (59%, 1,401 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs) will most likely now be the starter. He will be handing the ball off to three stud running backs in Mohamed Ibrahim, Rodney Smith, and Shannon Brooks. All three tailbacks are lethal in their own right.

Out wide expect Tyler Johnson (1,169 yards, 12 TDs) to be just as effective as he was last year. His sidekick, Rashod Bateman (6 TDs) is beginning to garner opponents’ attention too.

If they can sure up the offensive line, especially at left tackle, this offense has a chance to be the best it has ever been under P.J. Fleck. In a division where offense seems to come at a premium, if the Gophers can be consistent, they could be winners.

Cory’s Take

Penn State hasn’t played in Minnesota since 2013. The Governor’s Victory Bell is on the line. Minnesota might not be as tested as Penn State at this point in the season. I like Minnesota’s team a lot and wouldn’t be surprised if they won the West. That being said, I am not confident in either quarterback’s ability to limit turnovers. Penn State wins, but closer than the experts think.

Too-Early Prediction

Penn State: 31

Minnesota: 21


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