Minnesota Gophers looking to stay perfect against Middle Tennessee

CORVALLIS, OR - SEPTEMBER 09: Head Coach P.J. Fleck of the Minnesota Golden Gophers watches the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Corvallis, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
CORVALLIS, OR - SEPTEMBER 09: Head Coach P.J. Fleck of the Minnesota Golden Gophers watches the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Corvallis, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) /

Coming off a dominant victory over a less than stellar Oregon State Beavers team, the Minnesota Gophers look to stay perfect at home against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders on Saturday.

The Minnesota Gophers top off their non-conference bouts with a Conference-USA school in Middle Tennessee State. The match-up on paper favors Minnesota, as they have been in all of their non-conference games. It really is a shame that the Gophers could not put together a more formidable non-conference schedule, as that may come back to haunt them once Big Ten play begins on September 23rd. None the less, this contest does deserve a closer look as Middle Tennessee has a semi-quality win over Syracuse on the road.

With a similar team last season, the Blue Raiders went 8-5, finishing fourth in Conference-USA. Their non-conference schedule included two SEC opponents, Vanderbilt and Missouri. They lost to Vanderbilt but they upset Missouri, who ended up finishing last in the SEC in 2016.

Middle Tennessee State opened up their 2017 season at home against Vanderbilt again. Yes, Vanderbilt is one of the lower rung teams in the SEC, but getting an SEC team to come to your stadium is nothing to scoff at.

Vandy was able to handle Middle Tennessee pretty handily, winning by a score of 28-6. The Blue Raiders junior quarterback, Brent Stockstill (Head Coach Rick Stockstill’s son) threw for 166 yards and a touchdown. Of those 166 yards, junior wideout Richie James hauled in 112 of those yards. It seems from watching the tape and looking at the stats, James is the prime target for Middle Tennessee through the air.

Outside of James, the offense seemed to struggle against the size and athleticism of the SEC. As a team, they only totaled 215 total yards in the game, and they only put up six points. The defense also seemed to struggle with the superior conference, giving up 367 total yards, 296 of them through the air. So, the Gophers could key in on a weak secondary, just looking at the results of Middle Tennessee’s first game. However, it is tough to judge a team solely based on one game, especially against a far more superior conference.

Related Story: Gophers rout Beavers

Perhaps a greater showcase of the team Middle Tennessee can be was in their 30-23 win over Syracuse last Saturday. The ACC is not the SEC in terms of football, and the ACC has never been a noted football conference either. None the less, it is a “big name” conference in collegiate athletics. Syracuse is an iffy football school to begin with, but the Blue Raiders did show up against the Orange.

Stockstill threw for 269 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. James reeled in 96 yards threw the air with a touchdown. They piled up a total of 363 yards compared to Syracuse’s 308. The defense seems to be their weak point, and as we saw last week, the Gophers can key in on that.

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  • It is worth noting that Stockstill is suffering from a shoulder injury and it is apparently “too early to tell” if he’ll play on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore John Urzua would likely take the reigns if Stockstill cannot suit up.

    With a solidified quarterback in Conor Rhoda, Minnesota could air it out frequently against a seemingly feeble Blue Raiders secondary. That being said, if Middle Tennessee game plans for the pass, the Gophers have had a productive ground attack. Junior running back Rodney Smith is averaging 84 yards per game. Also, running back Shannon Brooks is averaging 80 yards per game so far. Brooks also got into the end zone three times last week against Oregon State.

    If anything, the Blue Raiders will forecast for a heavy ground attack from the Gophers. This leaves the door open for Rhoda to spread the ball around the field on that weak secondary. After his stellar play last week, do not be surprised if Coach Fleck lets him sling it around more often.

    Both Rhoda and P.J. Fleck had nothing but good things to say about Middle Tennessee State:

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    Granted, it is still unclear if Stockstill will even play come Saturday, so Fleck and the Gophers may not even meet this “tough QB”. It’s not that Fleck and Rhoda’s statements are false, because MTSU has athletes and Stockstill is a good Conference-USA quarterback. However, their past performances do not necessarily affirm that they will be effective come the weekend.

    For the defense, the Gophers should not have an issue in handling Stockstill (if he plays) and Richie James through the air. They seem to be the only consistent weapons for the Blue Raiders. If Middle Tennessee is left without Stockstill, the Gophers odds only increase. However, the Gophers did have a seemingly easy game against Buffalo two weeks ago, and they hung around. I do not think we see something like that this time around. Minnesota seems to have found its groove after the second half in Oregon last Saturday.

    On a more fun note, the Gophers released the helmets they will be wearing this weekend. Take a look:

    Personally, I love them, although they do not stack up to the all white look they sported against Oregon State. These helmets are going to be accompanied by gold jerseys and gold pants to celebrate Goldy the Gopher’s birthday.

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    Anyway, expect a nice win for the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. Middle Tennessee has that upset capability, but I think the Gophers are in too good of groove to lose this game.

    Prediction: Gophers 30, Middle Tennessee 13