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Previewing Minnesota

The Hoosiers meet another team in the midst of an existential crisis

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Minnesota vs Auburn Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

This football season has sucked for Indiana, frankly. Last week’s lost was bad enough to leave portions of the fanbase wondering whether 2019 and 2020 were complete flukes, resigning to the fact that Indiana is who they always have been - a mediocre football team (personally, I’m not there yet). The light at the end of the tunnel, however dim, has come from Tom Allen’s recent press conferences, when he’s recognized that some coaching changes are in order and promised to be active in the transfer portal to rebuild this roster.

Minnesota fans are similarly restless about their future under P.J. Fleck, but as of two weeks ago, they’ll have to deal with seven more years of him. Since inking his lucrative new deal, Fleck’s team has dropped two straight games and now seemed destined for some obscure bowl game in the middle of December. Indiana will have a chance to add to that post-contract regret this Saturday, but don’t hold your breath. Let’s see what the Hoosiers are getting into.

The Record

Minnesota sits at 6-4 right now after the aforementioned losses in the last two weeks. The Golden Gophers dropped a close game against #20 Iowa last week, losing 27-22 in Iowa City. Iowa is playing nowhere near the level they were at when the Hoosiers met them week one, so that score shouldn’t be too alarming to Hoosier fans. The week before, Minnesota lost 14-6 at home to Illinois, a team unlikely to make a bowl in Bret Bielema’s first year as head coach. Minnesota also dropped an early season matchup with Bowling Green State, a fact that I would find much more amusing if Indiana’s 2014 loss to BGSU wasn’t burned into my memory.

As far as the other common opponents between Indiana and Minnesota, the Gophers hung around with Ohio State in week one, losing by a final score of 45-31. That game looked promising for Minnesota, but in hindsight can probably be attributed to C.J. Stroud getting acclimated to the college game in the first half. The Gophers did have a good game against Maryland, beating them 34-16 the week before the Terps turned around and beat Indiana 38-35.

The Players

Minnesota’s offense is led by senior quarterback Tanner Morgan, who played a big role in the team’s surprisingly successful 2019 season. Morgan has been unable to replicate his 2019 magic though, with only two games so far this season with more than 200 passing yards. He has seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, and has been sacked 17 times, costing the Gophers 130 yards so far this year. Understandably, some fans are calling for him to be benched, but Fleck is sticking with him.

Indiana will have to focus instead on the Gopher’s running attack, as they currently have five runningbacks on the roster with at least two touchdowns. Trey Potts was the go to back earlier this year before he went down with a season-ending injury a month ago. Ky Thomas has taken the majority of the carries in his absence, averaging 5.1 yards per carry on 101 attempts. Mar’Keise Irving, Bryce Williams, and Mohamed Ibrahim have been the other three backs getting the most touches and they each average more than five yards a carry themselves.

Defensively, the Hoosiers will need to figure out how to block (or not, they probably won’t) Boye Mafe and Thomas Rush. Mafe leads the Gophers with six sacks, though Rush isn’t far behind with 5.5 sacks of his own. Mafe has also forced a fumble this season. Nyles Pinckney, another defensive lineman, adds another one and a half sacks. Tyler Nubin leads the defensive secondary with two interceptions, though Justin Walley has been more disruptive with six passes defended compared to Nubin’s one.

Team Stats

Minnesota’s offense is ninth in the conference in yards per game, averaging 365.8 compared to Indiana’s 306.8. Their running attack, averaging 205.6 yards a game is the third best in the conference, behind only Michigan and Wisconsin. Their passing game, on the other hand, is actually worse than Indiana’s, gaining just 160.2 in the air versus the Hoosiers’ 188.2. Yikes. Nonetheless, Minnesota is averaging almost a touchdown more than Indiana, scoring 25.5 points per game.

The Gophers have relied heavily on their defense in their six wins, and their 296.7 yards against per game is good for second in the conference. Their running defense has been a little better than their passing defense, in terms of conference rankings, but even the pass defense comes in at fourth in the conference in yards against per game (196.8). The Minnesota defense has allowed 19.2 points per game, which does not bode well for an Indiana team that has struggled to find the endzone in any capacity this season.