Minnesota Gophers vs. Georgia Southern Preview
Two weeks ago, all did not look good for the Gopher football squad. Almost losing to an FCS school does not look good for a Division I team out of the Big Ten with high expectations.
PJ Fleck said in the post game press conference after his team's 28-21 victory over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits that there is no such thing as a bad win. True Mr. Fleck, but there is such a thing as an ugly win. And that was an ugly win. No way looking around it! The Jackrabbits may have been ranked in the top five in the FCS, but the Gophers were playing at home. It was most certainly an ugly win, and the Gophers looked slow and out smarted on every side of the football.
Then came the next week against the much tougher Fresno State Bulldogs out of the Mountain West who went 12-2 last season and only lost to USC the previous week by eight. Not to mention it was in Fresno, which maybe doesn't matter so much being Fresno is no Clemson or Bama, but still, it was a road game.
With much surprise, the Gophers improved drastically from the week before, making better blocks to open holes for the running backs, and the defense finding ways into the backfield to create pressure on the quarterback, everything that was missing from week 1. This improvement lead to an overtime thriller that ended with an interception by none other than RS Senior Antoine Winfield Jr. which sealed the Gophers' victory.
Now week 3 approaches, the Gophers are 2-0 and there is much more optimism heading into this week than a week ago.
The Gophers take on the Georgia Southern Eagles out of the Sun Belt conference. They come in 1-1 on the season having lost to #6 LSU 55-3 in week 1, and then defeating Maine out of the FCS 26-18. So not a hot start by any means for the Eagles.
They are lead by head coach Chad Lunsford who enters his second full season after leading the Eagles to a 10-3 record and bowl win a season ago.
While the passing game has been almost non-existent this season, the one thing the Eagles have going for them is their running game. They have three players over 130 yards rushing including quarterback Justin Tomlin who had 132 yards on the ground last week against Maine. On top of that, Running back Matt LaRoche has 171 yards rushing and running back Logan Wright has 151 yards rushing to start the season
This will be the first ever meeting between the Golden Gophers and Georgia Southern, and of course, every Minnesota fan wants to win this first meeting to improve to 3-0 for a fourth straight season.
The keys to the game listed below will put the Gophers on track to give them their third victory.
1. Line Play
The Gophers defensive and offensive lines were the weak points in week 1 and showed improvement last week. The Gophers defensive line was able to create much more pressure against Fresno State notching 5 TFL and 4 sacks compared to 2 TFL and only 1 sack a week prior. This needs to keep improving to establish their presence on the defensive side of the ball.
In addition, the offensive line has been brutal to watch in the first two weeks despite winning both games. They allowed 2 sacks in week 1 and then 4 in week 2. In addition, they have allowed a total of 13 TFL in the first two weeks combined. The offensive play needs to play well in order to give ample time for Tanner Morgan to throw the football, and create holes for Rodney Smith and Mohaem Ibrahim to run through. If the O-line struggles like it had to start the season, it will not be an easy game.
2. Tanner Morgan Continue to Shine
The one position that has been brutally inconsistent over the last five decades has been the quarterback position. Redshirt Sophomore quarterback, Tanner Morgan has been extremely fun to watch despite offensive line struggles. He has made excellent plays to get out of pressure and create plays that have been ultimate game deciders. Morgan has completed over 70 percent of his passes to start the year with 410 yards passing and 3 TD. If he plays smart, throws accurately and utilizes his stellar receiving core lead by Chris Autman-Bell and Rashod Bateman, the Gophers will be well on their way to victory.
3. The Red Zone
Every single time the Gophers have been in the Red Zone this season, they have scored. To the lay person who does not know what the Red Zone is, well it is a simple google search away. Minnesota is a perfect 8/8 in the Red Zone scoring a total of 53 points. So their offense is extremely efficient within scoring distance. And not to forget, I also like to call it the Seth Zone because it seems like whenever they get close to the goal line, they bring in 6'4" power, Seth Green to plow there way in for a score. The "Seth Zone". I like the ring to that!
However, on the other end of things, the Gophers defense has yet to stop a team from scoring in the beloved Red Zone. Opponents are also perfect, scoring on all 7 attempts with 46 total points. It kind of cancels out if the Gophers score, but the opponent enters the Red Zone and scores every time.
All in all, the Gophers have to keep scoring in the Red Zone, but they need to tighten up on defense and make this the game where they find a strategy to stop a team in the Red Zone. If the defense can find a way to do that with their ability to score in the Red Zone offensively, it might be a rough day for the Eagles.
Georgia Southern is no University of Georgia out of the SEC by any means, but they will still be ready to come into Minneapolis and snag a win. I have said a few times in this preview that the Gophers are much improved, blah blah blah. How many times have we heard that the Gophers are going to do better and are much improved, and then they go on to a lay an absolute goose egg? Oh, never (sarcasm intended). So you never really know. If they can just stick to the keys to the game, they will be fine. But who am I to say what they need to do to
win the game. It's all in Fleck's hands now!
Row The Boat, Ski-U-Mah, Go Gophers!