Baptism By Fire for the Gophers
No early cupcakes here- it’ll be a baptism by fire for the Gophers as they open against number four Ohio State. The last time Minnesota faced a top-5 opponent to start the season was 2015 when they lost 23-17 to number two TCU. Here are three reasons that might not be a bad thing:
Taking Advantage of a Rookie Quarterback
While the Buckeyes have plenty of experience at receiver, including senior Chris Olave, they do not have a quarterback on the roster who has thrown a pass in college. C.J. Stroud has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster; last year, in garbage time against Michigan State, he ran 48 yards for a touchdown.
The Gophers have several experienced players returning in their front four. Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo are both very capable pass rushers. (The two of them against Ohio State’s veteran offensive tackles, Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere, is definitely a battle to watch). This will be the first chance to see some of Minnesota’s transfer players as well. Nyles Pinckney from Clemson and Val Martin from N.C. State has the potential to be huge additions (both literally and figuratively) for the Gophers.
Senior Coney Durr leads a Minnesota secondary that also has the potential to feast on young quarterback errors. Coach P.J. Fleck has recruited well in the defensive backfield, and a few 2020 freshmen could be poised for breakout seasons. Sophomore Tyler Nubin made some big plays a year ago and is joined by quite a few juniors and seniors on the two-deep.
The (Big) Boys are Back in Town
All five starters from the Gophers’ 2020 offensive line are back, as well as 2019 starters Curtis Dunlap Jr. (injured in 2020) and Daniel Fa’alele (COVID opt-out). The 6’9″ Fa’alele had really started to come into his own in the second half of 2019. With the size and experience upfront, and Big Ten Running Back of the Year Mohamed Ibrahim toting the rock, the Gophers should be able to run the ball, even against the senior-laden defense for the Buckeyes.
Even if Minnesota is on the wrong end of a lopsided game, they’re getting it out of the way early. Better to have a rough start and work your way into the rankings mid-season than to finish the year by giving the voters an impression of you getting your doors blown off.
Our Ohio State reporter Nick Manchester has you covered for more on this match-up.