Last year’s matchup between the Beavs and the Gophers in Minnesota saw the home team winning 30-23 with a fourth quarter comeback. Now, Minnesota comes west after starting the year 1-0 with a new rising star head coach in P.J. Fleck. The incomparable GoAUpher, manager of SB Nation’s Minnesota blog The Daily Gopher, answered a few of our questions about this weekend’s game.
1. I know it's only been one game, but what's been your impression of new head coach P.J. Fleck?
The impression goes WAY beyond the first game. Whether or not he's the coach for you, Fleck has been making an impression on Minnesota fans from the literal moment he stepped off the plane and took questions on the tarmac from local media. In my opinion he's a huge breath of fresh air and energy for the program. He makes me excited just listening to him.
As for impressions based on Week 1?
- I love his energy on the sideline and how he interacts with his players.
- He's not afraid to win ugly, which I think is a perfectly acceptable option right now even when it makes watching the game frustrating.
- His press conferences will be more interesting to watch than the ones we had under Tracy Claeys (or even Jerry Kill much of the time).
WATCH: P.J. Fleck addresses media following Minnesota Football’s win over Buffalo
2. Wideout Tyler Johnson had a monster day last week against Buffalo. Is that the kind of production CFB fans can expect from him all year?
I hope so? Honestly I don't think we know for sure yet. I think that it's the type of day he's capable of having every week, but we need to see him deliver against better defenses than Buffalo before we know for sure. He's got the athletic ability to be a consistent stud, but we'll have to see if his route running and other skills are good enough when matched against better defenders. We'll also need to see if the QB's can consistently deliver the ball as the defenses get better. He's got be me really excited to find out the answer to this question though.
3. The Gophers are still trying to find "the guy" at quarterback. How would you characterize the difference between QBs Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft?
The offense under Demry simply offers more options. He's a legitimate running threat and he's able to sell and execute Fleck's preferred RPO looks more effectively than Rhoda can. The only thing seemingly keeping him from being QB1 right now has been consistency with his decision making and his throws. He didn't show anything overly negative in that regard against Buffalo so the hope among most Gophers fans is that he'll earn the job over the course of the Oregon State game.
You should probably expect to see the Gophers continue to bring out Rhoda and Croft in a preset order on Saturday night. The Gophers scripted every series (in terms of who was QB, not in terms of all play calls) against Buffalo. I'd be shocked if they got away from that until at least the 2nd half this week.
4. The Gophers have had solid defenses the last few years. Who are some of the standouts in that group this year?
Antoine Winfield Jr. is the number one name to know. The sophomore defensive back had 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBR's, and blocked a field goal. He'll be starting at safety again against OSU, but Fleck has said they'll move him around as needed to take full advantage of his talent so don't be shocked if he ends up at CB sometimes too based on matchups or scheme. I'd also keep an eye out for senior LB Jonathan Celestin. He's the TDG staff's pick for leading tackler this season and should be an anchor for the defense as the year goes one.
If you hear the names Adekunle Ayinde or Antonio Shenault called a ton that's probably bad news for the Gophers. Shenault is listed as a starting corner, but he is the weaker of the two starters and got picked on a lot by Buffalo. Ayinde is a backup safety who plays hard but who doesn't seem to have enough to consistently excel at the P5 level.
5. In your mind, what's the one thing Oregon State should zero in on in order to beat Minnesota this time around?
Win the line of scrimmage on defense. The running back position is the most talented and deepest skill position the Gophers have. Minnesota would love to run all over the Beavers and use early success in the run game to set up the rest of the offense. The easiest way to defeat them is to hold the running game in check and force the quarterbacks to beat you with their arms. The offensive line for the Gophers struggled generating run block push and at pass protecting in week 1 and is easily my biggest concern going into this week's game.
6. Prediction time: who wins and what will the final score be?
I think Minnesota is going to be in a lot of close games this fall and Oregon State will not be an exception. Gophers win a tight one on the road, 20-17.