The Golden Gophers are off to a 1-0 start after waxing New Mexico State 41-10. This weekend, it’s Minnesota versus Fresno State on Saturday evening. Here’s what to watch for:
The Rodney Smith show was in full effect against the Aggies. This weekend, I expect to see the younger running backs get more carries. (Ibrahim health?) The freshmen need the experience, and they may as well get it against a non-conference, non-Power Five opponent when they’ll likely have some success. As an added benefit, giving Ibrahim and Williams more carries will save some wear-and-tear on Smith. The Gophers will need him healthy down the stretch, especially with Shannon Brooks missing the season.
The same applies at wide receiver. Everyone knows what Tyler Johnson can do. This is a prime opportunity to find out more about Chris Autman-Bell and Rashod Bateman, as well as the young tight ends.
As for freshman QB Zack Annexstad, he needs to continue to avoid mistakes. His completion percentage against NMSU wasn’t great (48.5%), but that’s to be expected with a freshman QB and young receivers. Overall, I was very impressed by Annexstad. I especially like seeing a young dual-threat guy who doesn’t take off as soon as his first target isn’t open.
The Gophers added coach Marcus West to the staff this off-season to be in charge of the pass-rush. So far, so good for Coach West. Minnesota finished the game with four sacks, in addition to other gaudy stats. This has the potential to be another big week for them.
I really, really hate to see Smith and Antoine Winfield, Jr. being used on kick and punt returns. It just increases the risk of injury, and they’re both so valuable to the team in their regular positions. That said, I understand why Coach Fleck has them do it as they’re both pretty good at it. But against non-conference opponents, is it really necessary?
Kicker Emmit Carpenter was 2/3 on field goals, making two from inside the 30-yard line and missing from 40. The Gophers really need Carpenter to be closer to his 2016 form when he was 22 of 24 for the season. Last year, he made just 14 of 20 attempts.
Minnesota versus Fresno State: Bottom Line
This is another winnable game for Minnesota. It’s also an ideal opportunity to give the younger players some meaningful snaps while limiting the mileage on guys who will be crucial in conference play.