Minnesota expert gives his take and prediction on Saturday's game
Nebraska will hit the road for the fourth time this week when the Huskers travel to Minnesota.
We caught up with The Gopher Report's Alex Carlson in this week's "Ask the Expert" breakdown to get some more insight on the match-up.
What is your read on this Gopher team after losing to Bowling Green and then following it up with a gritty win at Purdue?
"It showed a lot of mental resolve. To travel to Purdue, 11 am game in terrible conditions with pouring rain, it would have been very easy for the team to succumb to the circumstances and not play well. In the Bowling Green game, the team clearly thought they could come in there and run the ball at will and walk out with a win. In reality, they couldn’t muster up anything in the air which led to Bowling Green being able to hang around and then pull away at the end. But to come back and travel to Purdue and come out on the road victorious showed a lot of heart."
What can you tell us about running back Trey Potts and the injury that kept him hospitalized for six-day in Indianapolis? Without Potts, what does the Gopher running game look like?
"We have not heard specifics but that it was some sort of an internal injury. It isn’t believed to be serious as far as what I’ve heard, but it will keep him out for the rest of the year as he can’t play contact sports for a bit. So he will be out for the rest of the season, which takes away the two top running backs from the start of the year in him and Ibrahim.
"Without Potts, it will be most likely a committee approach but true freshman Mar’Keise Irving will probably start. He has been the #2 behind Potts in the last few games. He has 25 carries for 112 yards and a 4.5 YPC average. He’s a bit smaller at only 5’10”, 190-pounds but has impressed with his quickness. This is a team that runs the ball about 70% of the time, so having multiple running backs will be key. Ky Thomas was a highly recruited running back as a redshirt freshman but only has played in one game this season. Veterans Cam Wiley and Bryce Williams have played a lot in their career, but as of recently have been phased out for the younger backs."
Overall, what is the biggest strength of this Gopher team through five games? What is their biggest weakness?
"The biggest strength so far as been their offensive and defensive lines. Offensively, they were down an All-American running back and Trey Potts is still 2nd in the Big Ten in rushing entering this week. Defensively, they are only giving up 77.0 rushing yards per game and have 12 sacks on the season. While I think the rushing yards stats may be a little skewed due to the pass defense struggling, but the front seven has been much improved from a year ago.
"The biggest weakness would be the passing games on both sides of the ball. The Gophers are last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game offensively, 141.8, and 10th defensively giving up 230.8 yards per game. Chris Autman-Bell is the team’s best receiver and has missed a couple of games as well as Texas A&M transfer Dylan Wright who has impressed. That has hurt the statistics, but this team has struggled to consistently create plays down the field. On the other side of the ball, Coney Durr has been a three-year starter now and is a veteran but the team is still looking for consistent play opposite of him."
Where do you see Minnesota having the biggest edge in this game against Nebraska?
"On the ground. Nebraska does struggle a bit against the run, giving up 133.9 yards per game which is 11th in the Big Ten. The Gophers, vice versa, have the 2nd leading rusher in the Big Ten and are sixth total in the Big Ten in yards. Minnesota wants to play a control-the-clock, run the ball type of style even without Potts, so that is one area that if the Gophers are still able to establish a run game that it could keep the ball out of the explosive Nebraska offense."
What concerns you most about this match-up against the Huskers?
"The offensive firepower, particularly in the passing game. Adrian Martinez looks have taken a step so far this season and has the offense rolling. For a team that puts up almost 32 points/game and 270 yards/game through the air, that is Nebraska’s strength going against Minnesota’s weakness defensively. If the Cornhuskers are able to toss the ball around the yard at will, it could be a long day for the Gophers."
Finally, what is your score prediction and breakdown for Saturday’s game in Minneapolis?
"Nebraska has been playing some good football lately, just have had a brutal schedule so far. Minnesota has had a couple of solid games, and then a couple of duds that it has had to squeak by. It will be leaning on a true freshman running back, and a quarterback that has had a slow year. Given that Nebraska’s offense has been running at a high level, I think the Gophers have a chance to give up some big plays and I’m not sure they’ll have the offensive firepower to keep up. I will go 31-21, Nebraska."