Game Preview: #17 Gophers Take on Maryland, Hope to Go 8-0!
Seventeenth in the nation. Undefeated. Atop of the West division in the Big Ten. All three describe not Wisconsin. Not Iowa. But the 17th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gopher football team that just keeps on rolling with the schedule they have been blessed with. And I say that because their schedule has been very friendly. However, they have taken advantage of it and completely dominated on the field.
The Gophers have another chance this weekend to continue their winning ways when they take on the Maryland Terrapins at home. The last two seasons, however, Maryland has got the best of the Gophers pummeling Minnesota last year 42-13 in College Park, and then winning a close one in Minneapolis two years ago, 31-24. And the Terrapins hold the advantage in the all-time series with a 3-1 record against Minnesota.
But with Minnesota on a nine-game winning streak overall and Maryland slumping, the Gophers have a shot to beat them for the first time in three years. The Gophers have not won nine games since the 1941-42 season and they are still tied for the fourth longest winning streak in the country. Also, as of Sunday's AP poll, the Gophers are now ranked #17 in the nation, which is their highest ranking since 2004.
To add to another milestone, Minnesota's 7-0 start is the first time since 1960, and its 4-0 conference record to start Big Ten play is the first since the 1967 season.
Maryland will have to deal with a high powered scoring offense from Minnesota, which has tallied 154 points in the first four games of Big Ten play. That is the most points Minnesota has scored in that span since 1916.
This Minnesota offense is lead by what I think is one of the best wide receiver trios in the nation. Tyler Johnson, Chris Autman-Bell and Rashod Bateman have combined for 1,426 yards and 15 touchdowns on 80 catches. Those numbers are comparable against WR trios on some of the nation's top teams including Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma.
And it also helps to have a consistent quarterback. For once, it feels like this team finally has a damn quarterback that can make a simple throw. Tanner Morgan has completed over 66 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions. On a heavy run team, he has still managed to throw for over 1,600 yards this season.
And talking about the running game, how fun has it been to watch the Minnesota running backs? This team does not have one, not two, but three solid running backs to choose from. Between Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Mohamed Ibrahim, they have combined for 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. Smith is leading the team and is third in the Big Ten with 786 yards on the ground.
Minnesota's defense has also been impressive. They have only allowed 31 points in the past three Big Ten games, and only 17 of those have been allowed by the defense as Illinois scored two defensive touchdowns. They have also allowed under 300 yards per game this season while Maryland is allowing over 400 yards per game. Quite a swing between both teams, and that does not look good for Maryland as they take on a Gopher offense that has put up over 400 yards in four straight games.
In addition, the Minnesota defense is also extremely "hands-on" as they have nine interceptions on the season, which ranks 11th nationally and second in the Big Ten. Antoine Winfield Jr. leads the way on both the team and the Big Ten with four interceptions.
And the O-line you say? Well, they have been holding up great! It has given up only one sack in the last three games, allowing zero sacks in the last two weeks.
Maryland faces all this firepower from Minnesota while it has been struggling to gain any traction. The Terrapins started the season 2-0, heavily outscoring opponents 142-20, but have since gone 1-4. They suffered a tough loss last week to Indiana losing 34-28.
I will say this! Maryland does have talent and experience, and they will be a tougher team to beat compared to the Gophers last three opponents (Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois). They are lead by a solid running game with Javon Leake rushing for 499 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Anthony McFarland, who broke the school freshman rushing record last season with 1,034 yards and four touchdowns, has 340 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns on the year.
As for the quarterback play, Maryland has seen two guys make the start behind center this season. Tyrel Pigrome has got the start the last two games, throwing for a career-high 210 yards and two touchdowns in last week's loss to Indiana.
The more experienced man for the job, Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson, who missed the last two games due to injury, is expected to return Saturday. He has thrown for 968 yards and 10 touchdowns in five starts this season. This a quarterback that could potentially create issues for the Minnesota defense if they are not on top of their game.
This is a Maryland team that is allowing over 400 yards per game as mentioned above, but they are also putting up over 400 yards per game offensively. This team can move the ball down the field. It will definitely be a step-up from Rutgers.
The Gophers will take on Maryland at 2:30PM CT on ESPN. No. 17 Minnesota will look to go 8-0! That is amazing! A win will also propel them higher in the rankings!
Row the boat, Ski-U-Mah, Go Gophers!